A Peek into the History of Waqf

Waqf has been around for as long as Islam itself has. In history, Waqf has played a major role in sustaining Islamic civilisation and meeting the needs of the ummah. Earlier stories of Waqf mention the contributions made by the Prophet (peace be upon him), as well as his companions and supporters, who donated for the benefits of those in need. A number of Waqf foundations established centuries ago, such as the Kaaba in Mecca, still serve millions to this day. However, the period of the Ottoman Empire, a time recognised today as the highlight of Waqf civilisation. For six centuries, the Ottoman Empire succeeded in eliminating poverty and achieving socio-economic growth in the empire through the Waqf system.

This Empire has been compared to today’s liberal economy system, where the people got what they deserved because they earned it through honest hard work. Throughout the history of the Ottoman Empire, awqaf supported public services, catered to the needs of the poor, and established mosques, schools and hospitals. The benefits provided by this institution was vast, covering people, communities and the environment.

The documents found in the Ottoman archives revealed that there were many types of Waqf establishments apart from buildings. For example, Waqf was used to give food to animals in the mountains so they would not come into the town seeking food in wintertime. Other interesting uses of Waqf includes cleaning buildings and roads, teaching calligraphy, and paying off prisoners’ debts. Waqf donations were about more than building a new mosque, they were also used to repair burnt or damaged properties, roads and bridges.

Unfortunately, the Ottoman era ended in 1922, and the colonial rule reduced the role of Islam from a way of life to a religious believe, As a result, the power and benefits of Waqf diminished and this is how Waqf lost its importance in history. As such the Waqf landscape has never been the same since. Its functioning has changed and the assets—underutilised, mismanaged and lying idle—exists in smaller numbers. Many scholars are studying the conditions of Waqf assets in the contemporary economy and are proposing new ways in which the glory days of Waqf can be restored to benefit the world today.

With the invention of new technologies, new opportunities present themselves. Singapore-based FinTech company called Finterra has introduced a WAQF Chain model which is reviving the Waqf system using the revolutionary blockchain technology. With the ability to provide total transparency, security and immutability, the potential of blockchain is full of promise. The best part of merging the technological concept of the blockchain with the historical and traditional concept of the Waqf is that, at their very core, both focus on upholding a sense of public trust for the benefit of society as a whole both presently and towards perpetuity.