Waqaf: From a Word to a Civilisation

Dayana Zahari | Friday, July 31, 2015 | 0Comments |

The thousand-year-long Islamic period of
Turkish civilization is based on the institution of the charitable foundation,
an institution made up of three components: charity, donated properties, and

Khairat is the plural of khair, a Quranic
concept meaning charity. “Every tribe and every people has their own way and
method of doing things.” God commands, “Be zealous in doing good things;
surpass each other in doing good.” (Quran, II/148) The Turks made that command
the basic principle of their civilization, perceiving as charity every act and
idea that fosters tranquility and contentment. Every virtuous and benevolent
act was considered good deed, from greeting people with a smile to establishing
the virtuous institution that were conceived and partially realized by
al-Farabi (ca.872-951) and raised to a pinnacle by the Ottomans. Such acts,
which I term systematic good works, include all the structures that surrounded
a great mosque, such as schools, and dervish lodges, hospitals, soup kitchens,
fountains and drinking fountains, caravanserais, tombs, graveyards and the
like, in other words, organizations of civil society that served people gratis
from the cradle to the grave. To complete the picture, the founders had shops,
inns, baths, markets, bazaars and houses erected. Flower gardens, truck gardens
and fields, even whole villages, were donated, thus constituting the second
component of the waqf concept. The term waqf refers to the act of regulating by
law the relations between good deeds and the properties donated. Good deeds
constitute its philosophy and objective at both the intellectual and the
phenomenal level, donations constitute the emans by which that objective is
perpetuated, and the waqf forms the legal underpinning and conditions. The
written document in which all these things are recorded is the endowment deed.
During the Islamic period of Turkish history, cities were developed by adding
green areas to the sites of these good deeds based on a balance between faith,
thought and action in harmony with their surroundings and without harm to the
natural environment. The appearance of hundreds of Muslim Turkish cities from
Kashgar to Sarajevo was a concrete expression of the way Turks conceived the
relationship between nature, man and God through good works. Given that civilizations
are made up of the spiritual and material integrity of their cities, and that
Islamic period Turkish cities were also characterized by systematic spiritual
and material good works, it would not be far from the truth to claim that our
civilization arose and evolved out of a single word.


The waqf, found its place in Islamic
civilization through a Hadis, of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), consisted of
three significant services.
Waqfs traditionally serve at three
important respects. First, they included a small mosque or larger Friday mosque
and were a place of worship; second, in the case of the larger waqfs, they had
a madrasa and contributed to the training of young people by imparting useful
knowledge; thirdly and lastly, they dispensed alms and charity, such as
distributing food to the poor. It was believed that a person who provided such
services by founding a waqf had performed a good deed that would earn him favor
with God even in death.

Spread not limited to the Islamic world
At the time of the Crusades, the English in
particular during the reign of Richard the Lion-hearted came to the Syrian
region, where they became familiar with Islamic culture and acquainted with the
institution of waqf. When the treasury secretary of the delegation returned to
England, he set up Merton College in 1264, the first of Oxford University’s
colleges. An institution founded based on Islamic law, this college is waqf and
even has a waqfiya or endowment deed. Peterhouse College at Cambridge was
inspired by Merton, as where the Ivy League universities, the leading
institutions of higher education in the U.S., which were also established in
waqf style.

Waqf means hospital, madrasa
The institution of the waqf is directly
linked with Ottoman urbanization, Bursa and Istanbul being the most outstanding
examples. Also, the institution of the waqf was also the basis for the spread
of the Ottomans in Europe as a Muslim power. The money waqfs in particular they
established not only ensured that even people of modest means contributed to
the waqf but they also erected buildings of benefit to society such as schools,
hospitals and soup kitchen in the newly conquered regions. An important point
here: waqfs served Muslims and non-Muslims alike without any distinction, as
evidenced by the mosque, synagogue and church that stand together in the garden
of the Istanbul Darulaceze (Almhouse) today.

The importance of the waqf for the Ottomans
The institution of the waqf prospered for
as long as the Ottoman state was powerful. When it began to wane, Western
support was asked against the Russians on the eve of the 1854 Crimean War. In
return for financial aid, France and England wanted the waqf system destroyed.
Among the reasons for this was the French Enlightenment. The French Revolution
of 1788 hated the Church and wanted all institutions between the Emperor and
the people erased. Since the waqf was an institution of the Church, they wanted
to destroy it as well, and demanded that the Ottoman waqfs be dissolved. During
the reign of Mahmud II, the Ministry of Waqfs was set up and the Ottoman waqfs
were centralized and gradually whittled away. Following the amendments during
the Republican period, the institution and culture of the waqf in Turkey
acquired its current status and the system gained fresh dynamism.


We asked Deputy Prime Minister and Minister
of State for Foundations Bulent Arinc, who stated that “Waqf culture is a state
of mind. The more people give and share, the happier they are. To keep this
culture alive, we need to increase our support to our foundations, which
represent both the classical and the modern period of our civilization”, about
the recent policies of the waqfs.

Q: What are your starting point when it
comes to waqfs?
A: The institution, which has social
solidarity and assistance at its essence, provides social and economic services
with spiritual and religious sensibilities. The Seljuk and Ottoman
civilizations used the term in this sense and guaranteed that people at every
level of society would benefit from the services provided. While services like
education, health public works and urban planning were provided by waqfs during
that period, the state too supported them as part of its vision for
civilization. Taking that as our starting point, we, too, strive to support the
services of the waqfs. The state has made peace with the waqfs. Our target
is to boost waqf revenues, and to foster the spread of waqf culture once again
in society.

Q: What can you tell us about recent
A: The state is the custodian of the waqfs.
Consequently, waqf revenues have increased 15-fold in the last 10 years, and
upwards of 3,500 waqf monuments have been restored. Waqfs that are on the
records and whose operations are followed are managed with special sensitivity
in a way benefitting our custodianship. In other words, not only is the waqf
spirit of centuries ago being kept alive today, but the health and educational
activities of the waqfs are also being passed on to present and future
generations through waqf institutions by hospitals and universities.


1. Istanbul, a Waqf City
Istanbul was founded on the philosophy of,
and belief in, good works. In other words, Istanbul rose as a city when
individuals eager to found waqfs exercised their freedom of will and donated
property. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror was the first ruler to rebuild Istanbul
in a new and original way of this own free will.
The hand of the conqueror
The Conqueror inaugurated the comprehensive
reconstruction of Istanbul after conquering the city in 1453,  virtually rebuilding it, 93 years after the
conquest, 2,515 waqfs are known to have been set up in the part of Istanbul
inside the defense walls. This means a total of 27 new waqfs added each year
and a minimum of two per month. To comprehend the Conqueror’s good works and
reconstruction activities in Istanbul, it is essential to first understand the
Ottoman waqf system.

2. Revenue Waqfs
Economically profitable investments were
sometimes registered as investment or revenue waqfs in Seljuk cities. Revenues
generated from rooms in inns that had been donated as such waqfs were used, for
example, to cover the expenditures of the city’s madrasas.

3. Soup Kitchen Waqfs
In the Anatolian Seljuk cities, waqf
founders often donated property in the form of buildings, which they allocated
for charitable institutions known as imarat (soup kitchen) to serve the entire
population. They also donated a portion of their wealth to create an annuity
trust whose revenue was used to keep the soup kitchen going by covering its

4. Posterity Waqfs
Posterity waqfs were established on land allotted
to dervishes – the most important agents in the Turkification of Anatolia –
starting in the marches or border regions. These small dervish lodges
constituted new centres of Turkish settlement as well as financing the
expenditures of such settlement.

5. The Haremeyn Waqfs
The Hijjaz was ruled for centuries with
love and respect under the Ottoman practice to develop and secure the Hajj
pilgrimage routes, to maintain and repair the water ways, to supply the needs
of the poor in the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina, and to remember the local
notables every year with expensive gifts dispatched in Imperial Processions.

6. Social Security Waqfs
Operating as the Ottoman social security
institution, these waqfs helped people in distress and need. Used as a hospital
in Ottoman times, the Bayezid II Complex in Edirne was awarded the Council of
Europe Museum Prize in 2004.

7. Women’s Waqfs
Women’s waqfs also occupy an important
place among Ottoman institutions. According to 16th century records, 916 of the
2,515 waqfs established in Istanbul between 1493 and 1546 were founded by
women. These figures are very significant for showing women’s contribution to
social and economic life. Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam (Bath), commissioned to
Mimar Sinan in the 16th century is an active waqf today.

8. Waqf Libraries
Another aim of waqfs was to promote public
education. To this end, public libraries were built as part of the complexes
commissioned by the sultans. Sultan Mahmud I is noteworthy for having had three
such libraries built: Hagia Sophia Library (1740), Fatih Mosque Library (1742)
and Galatasaray Library (1754).

9. Dervish Lodge Waqfs
Waqfs set up by benefactors to meet the
needs of the dervish lodges ensure they could provide their full line of
services are called dervish lodge waqfs. These waqfs could be founded either by
the original owner of the lodge or by its officials.

10. Waqf Waters
Public service was the Ottoman state’s
raison d’etre. Providing water for public use and drinking was therefore a key
waqf objective, and weirs, wells and fountains were common all over the city.

Skylife March 2014 edition. Turkish Airlines. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Take some time and leave a comment, I greatly appreciate it.

© Copyright 2015 | All Right Reserved to Dayana Zahari | Design by #KieraRashidDesign