Dialogue on religious endowments
I started today’s session by asking my father about certain phenomenon I
often notice in mosques, holy shrines, and some buildings and amenities. It is
to do with the phrase “waqf, or endowment”, I see inscribed or written on the
buildings themselves or on pieces of furniture therein, and sometimes on copies
of the Holy Qur’an. What does this phrase mean?
- Any person can provide such things you have just mentioned and other
things by way of endowment. If this is done according to shar’ie rules, the
object declared as waqf shall come out from the ownership of the person who made
the endowment and be used for the purposes designated in the endowment, that
could be public or private. The endowment fund or property cannot be bequeathed
or sold, except in certain circumstances.
The person creating the endowment could appoint a trustee to carry out the
affairs of the endowment trust according to the deed of waqf.
* Does waqf have a particular mechanism?
- No, suppose a person built a place for public worship, not necessarily
looking like a traditional mosque building, intending it to be a mosque, then it
shall be deemed thus.
However, there are general rules that should be satisfied to make a waqf
1. Continuity and permanence, in that waqf shall not be in order, if the
person dedicated the endowment appointed a limited period for it to run
* Could you expand on that?
- Suppose you make an endowment whereby you put your house at the disposal
of poor people, to live in for a year; this cannot be recognized as waqf.
2. The person who made the endowment should not be the exclusive
beneficiary, or among other beneficiaries, of the endowment.
* What about a person giving the right of disposal over his property, by way
of endowment, to a given person, his children, or relatives, for example?
- The endowment shall be in order, provided it is enforced at the time it
was made, because private endowments should exchange hands on the spot, i.e. the
donor must part with the property for the beneficiaries forthwith.
* Who should take charge of a public endowment?
- The viability of a public endowment is not contingent on a particular
* Earlier, you mentioned that one of the rules of a proper endowment is
continuity and permanence in that the donor has no right to fix a duration
during which the endowment could run, and on whose expiration his property may
revert to his ownership.
- That is right. However, if there was someone wanting to donate, say, his
property or assets for a particular use during a specified time, he could tie it
up inalienably. That is, on the expiration of the specified period his property
or capital should revert to his ownership.
* Could you expand on that?
- Suppose an owner of a vehicle said, “My car is put away inalienably for
the transport of pilgrims for five years”, it should so be done, i.e. he cannot
change his mind and revoke the promise. Of course, his vehicle shall revert to
his ownership after the expiration of the five years.
* If the person in the example you have just quoted passed away, would this
be a good reason for the vehicle to revert to his heirs?
- No, the property or any other assets that were set aside for such a
purpose would stay during the entire duration specified by the owner. It shall
revert to his heirs on the expiration of the term originally fixed.
* Is it within the right of any person to consecrate his property for the
use of another person for his lifetime?
- Yes, it is within his legitimate right, and once he has made that decision
he cannot go back on it. If he dies, though, his property reverts to his
* Suppose someone said to another, “I grant you and your family this
property to live in”, i.e. without specifying the length of their stay in the
property. What would happen?
- The occupiers of the property have the right to stay indefinitely; that is
as long as they live. It can only revert to the original owner when they all
* And if the owner said to the beneficiary, “I grant you abode in my
property during your lifetime”. Then the owner died. What shall be the
position of the heirs?
- They have no right to evict the tenant. Should he pass away, the property
can revert to their ownership.
* Can the husband consecrate one third of the produce of his grove, for
example, for the exclusive benefit of his wife during her lifetime, provided
that the said portion reverts to his property after her death?
- Yes, he is free to exercise such a choice.
* Can the trustee of an endowment of a mosque exercise the authority vested
in him to lend some items of the furniture of the mosque for the use, outside
the mosque premises, in a wedding party, for example?
- So long as such items were devoted to the exclusive use of the mosque, the
trustee has no right to lend them.
* Is it permissible that such items be rented?
- It is not permissible too.
* Suppose a special fund was set up for the maintenance of a certain mosque,
and that there was no need to utilize the money for that purpose. Can the fund
be diverted for the same use in another mosque?
- If there was no need now, or in the foreseeable future, for that fund, and
it was not feasible to vouchsafe it for the purpose of the endowment in time of
need, it could be spent on all the needs of the original mosque, as the person
who made the endowment had intended. Only then can it be spent on maintaining