Definition of Waqf
Waqf literally means to stop, to withhold the thing (e.g. the house is withheld for the mosque – means that the revenue of the rent from the house is withheld to spend on the mosque).
Waqf is a financial charitable institution established by withholding one’s property to eternally spend its revenue on fulfilling certain needs depending on the choice and conditions made by the founder.
Once the property has been created as waqf, it can never be given as a gift, or to be inherited, or sold. It belongs to Allah and the corpus/waqf property always remains intact.
The institution of waqf is as old as Islam. The history of Islam traces the date of this institution back to the time of the Prophet (pbuh) up to the present time.
Although there is no clear legal reference to the waqf in the Qur’an, early Muslim jurists relied on the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) and the actions of his companions to derive its laws.
Narrated Ibn ‘Umar:
When ‘Umar got a piece of land in Khaibar, he came to the Prophet () saying, “I have got a piece of land, better than which I have never got. So what do you advise me regarding it?” The Prophet () said, “If you wish you can keep it as an endowment to be used for charitable purposes.” So, ‘Umar gave the land in charity (i.e. as an endowments) on the condition that the land would neither be sold nor given as a present, nor bequeathed, (and its yield) would be used for the poor, the kinsmen, the emancipation of slaves, Jihad, and for guests and travelers; and its administrator could eat in a reasonable just manner, and he also could feed his friends without intending to be wealthy by its means.”
(Narrated by al-Bukhari. Reference: Sahih al-Bukhari, Wills and Testaments (Wasaayaa), Chapter: How to write the endowment?, no. 2772)
Early Practice of Waqf
Waqf was frequently created during the lifetime of the Prophet (pbuh). Whenever the Prophet (pbuh) identified a need for any service, he either fulfilled it through the creation of waqf or he encouraged his companions to create waqf to satisfy that need. For example:
- When he felt the need for a regular place for Muslims to perform their daily prayers, the Prophet (pbuh) built two mosques, the Qubah Mosque and al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah.
- He (pbuh) encouraged Muslims to dedicate their weapons for jihad.
- He (pbuh) encouraged Othman ibn ‘Affan to buy a well for the benefit of Muslims.
- The Prophet also encouraged his companions to dedicate waqf for their relatives and children, besides the poor and the needy etc.
Restrictions of Waqf
- Irrevocable: a waqf is irrevocable once a founder declares his property as waqf, and his/her heirs cannot change its status.
- Perpetual: Once the waqf is created it must be perpetual, in order to ensure regular and continual support towards the beneficiaries and the society at large.
- Inalienability of waqf once it is created. No one can ever become the owner to alienate it and that waqf property is thus in nature, like a ‘frozen asset’; it cannot be the subject of any sale, disposition, mortgage, gift, inheritance, or any alienation whatsoever.
Special thanks to Aida Shaiza Ismail Zakri (FB) for this article.