• Book Title:
 Held In Trust Waqf In The Islamic World
  • Book Author:
Pascale Gazaleh
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Introduction Pious foundations: from here to Eternity?

For centuries, waqfs (endowments or foundations) were a crucial part of the political, economic, and social history of the Arab and Muslim world. As service-providing institutions, waqfs were a major source of education, health care, and employment. As urban landmarks, they shaped the city and contributed to the upkeep of religious edifices.1

 By definition, these endowments were conceived to generate income and therefore played a crucial role in both rural and urban economies, helping channel surplus from the countryside to the cities. Rulers and subjects, Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike, could establish them; their revenue, while ultimately intended for the community as a whole, could be directed toward private beneficiaries as well.

Waqfs constituted a major resource and as such were a favorite target in reform efforts undertaken by various rulers: in that regard, their status and such related issues as ownership and entitlement were repeatedly at stake in struggles to impose competing definitions of legitimacy and community.

 These essays aim to show that waqf should be seen above all as a collection of specific practices that expressed the intentions of a wide variety of users, rather than as a rigid and unchanging institution. These practices were unified by a common structure that created a specific relationship between a property owner, a property, and those who benefited from its revenues.

Beyond that, however, waqfs were sufficiently flexible to embrace a very wide variety of uses and fulfill widely diverging intentions.

Before commenting further on their founders, beneficiaries, revenue sources, and uses, let us start with a definition of waqfs.

Generally speaking, they had to consist of two main elements: first, a source of revenue, such as a building rented out for residential or commercial purposes, agricultural land that generated taxes, a public bath, or a warehouse; and second, a beneficiary, such as a mosque, a hospital, the poor, members of the founder’s family, freed slaves, or any other recipient of the founder’s choosing.

To be valid, a waqf had to consist of an object or objects originally held in full property; the founder had to be of sound mind and body, and able to dedicate the property in question to God (in other words, a waqf could not be established by a bankrupt founder seeking to protect his property from confiscation); and the waqf had to be permanent, which meant that the revenue it generated had to be renewable, the property had to be subject to renewal or renovation, and the founder had to stipulate means of ensuring the perpetuity of the waqf and the continual disbursement of its revenues.

From this definition, it would be easy to conclude that waqfs, once created, immobilized property and hampered the market forces that might otherwise have affected it. The evolution of jurisprudence, however, as well as the real transactions affecting waqfs show that these institutions, contrary to earlier assumptions, neither led to economic stagnation nor froze up real estate.

Closer examination of the interplay between law and custom—and, more specifically, of the varying legal, institutional, and practical aspects of waqfs in different regions and communities (for example, cash waqfs in Anatolia and the Arab provinces)2—has been necessary to appreciate their dynamism and resilience more fully.

Historians have been able to develop an understanding of how waqfs structured the social and physical landscape through the study of waqf deeds—waqfiyas—from a macrohistorical perspective, and supplemented by chronicles, biographical dictionaries, and topography.

These sources make it possible to estimate the scope of services provided and draw conclusions regarding prices and salaries, the social iden- tity and status of founders and beneficiaries, and the types of real estate or movable goods selected as targets for investment.3

Moreover, individual waqf deeds may be examined from a microhistorical perspective with the aim of recovering the social networks that waqfs created, perpetuated, or bypassed, the family loyalties and rivalries they helped consolidate, and the ways in which founders’ intentions and beneficiaries’ strategies could clash or coincide.

 A meticulous, nuanced study of the ways people understood and used waqf in various practical contexts is what this volume offers the reader, thereby filling a gap in our knowledge of waqf and its uses. It is the fruit of research brought together in the context of the annual history seminar organized and financed by the Department of Arab and Islamic Civilizations of the American University in Cairo on the pioneering initiative of Nelly Hanna, who saw the potential in bringing together young historians from Egypt and other countries who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to exchange ideas and publish their work together.4

In 2005, the theme of this seminar was “The Uses of Waqf: Pious Endowments, Founders, and Beneficiaries.” Some of the participants went on to develop the papers they had presented, producing a work we feel is coherent and timely, contributing as it does to a burgeoning field of historiography.

In the past thirty years, historians have come to question some aspects of ‘Islamic history’ (including, indeed, that ahistorical construct itself), often focusing on institutions that had previously been seen as unaffected by time or place.

Waqfs are among the practices that have received renewed attention on the part of scholars keen to examine them not simply as examples of an Islamic ideal (or of a reality that, all too often, failed to live up to the ideal and therefore reflected the inevitable corruption and hypocrisy wrought by human beings), but rather as dynamic expression of human practices.5

 Recent research, much of it focused on the social, economic, political, and cultural dynamics of the Ottoman period (with a small number of studies in architectural history and jurisprudence) has taken as its starting point waqf deeds drawn up in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the Ottoman Empire’s largest cities.

Thanks to the information they yield regarding founders and beneficiaries, these deeds have made it possible to follow the evolution of families and the strategies they used to negotiate the legal constraints regulating the constitution and transmission of wealth.6

 Looking at specific waqf deeds, it is immediately clear that general statements about Qur’anic inheritance rules imposing a certain division of wealth upon individuals, restricting their free will, fragmenting wealth, and preventing accumulation, are utterly unfounded: the deeds represent a trace of individuals’ concrete, deliberate strategies for the preservation or transmission of wealth. In this new perspective, waqfs may be examined not in order to measure how far they adhered to or departed from some Qur’anic ideal, but to determine which social groups and individuals used them, and how and why these uses changed over time.

I would situate the contributions to the present work firmly within this problematic, as all of them seek to offer insight into the questions of human agency and social dynamics, taking the creation and use of waqfs as their empirical material.7 All of them also illustrate the flexibility and diversity of waqf.

Despite the efforts and extraordinary findings of a few scholars, there is much to discover about waqfs as institutions and practices in Islamic his- tory, politics, and economics. The present work was conceived as an effort to tackle various aspects of their role in shaping trade relations, urban planning, political power, and religious observance. Studying waqf requires a multi- faceted approach. We can look at the identity of waqf founders, the nature of the property they dedicated in waqf, the identity of the beneficiaries, the conditions of access to waqf revenues, and the principles regulating the creation and management of waqf; we can examine the ways in which waqfs shaped the urban fabric, the types of services they offered, and the kinds of activities that coalesced around them.

Each of these elements underwent pro- found changes according to time and place, and tracing these changes allows historians to understand a great deal about how individuals and social groups engaged with, reproduced, or transformed the patrimony they had inherited from their forebears.

Thus, anthropology, sociology, architecture, or law may inform our approach to waqf. Each of these perspectives provides a window onto the ways human agency wrought change over time. One might think that the legalistic perspective would offer evidence of rigid, unchanging principles, yet, as Nelly Hanna’s contribution to the present volume shows clearly, there are many examples of how even the legal parameters governing the definition of a valid waqf could change over time.

 For instance, when the early jurists set out and elaborated the rules that made a waqf valid, they tended to agree that the revenue-generating property had to be characterized by permanence, since the first characteristic of a waqf was its perpetuity, but as some of the contributions to the present volume show, by the seventeenth century people were founding use rights, salaries, cash, and movables such as the equipment in a public bath or a coffee house as waqf.

The social identity and economic class of waqf founders also tended to change over time. For instance, in Egypt, merchants were not among the prominent founders of waqfs during the Mamluk period (1250–1517),8 but began to appear a little more frequently as founders during the Ottoman period, and especially starting in the seventeenth century.9

This was due to several factors, among them the saturation of construction and endowment activity in the heart of the capital. In a related process, the conditions of access to property also began to change during this period, as rights pertaining to property (especially, but not exclusively, urban real estate) came to proliferate and overlap, and became fully commoditized.10 Rather than a single legal relationship uniting an individual with a piece of property in

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