Importance of Awkaf (Endowments) in Islam
"This is what Ali b. Abi Talib, the slave of Allah has laid down about his property, in pursuance of seeking Allah's pleasure so that He may by virtue of it give him entry into Paradise and accord him peace.
A part of the same: It will be administered by Hasan b. Ali (A.S.). He will take from it a suitable portion for his livelihood and spend it on charity. If something happens to Hasan (A.S.) and Husayn (A.S.) survives, he will administer it after Hasan (A.S.) and deal with it accordingly. In the charitable estate of the two sons of Fatima (A.S.), they have the rights as all (other) sons of Ali. I have laid down the administration on the two sons of Fatima (A.S.) in order to seek the pleasure of Allah and nearness to the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) with due regard for his honor and consideration of his kinship. It is obligatory on him who administers it that he retains the estate as it is and spends the usufruct as he has been ordered and instructed. He should not sell the seedlings in the plantations of these villages until the land changes its face by turning them into plants".
The Apostle of Allah (S.A.W.) said: “When a believer (or an offspring of Adam) dies, his actions are interrupted, unless otherwise by virtue of three things: sadaqa jariya (ever continuous charity) [waqf]; knowledge that is beneficial to others; or a righteous child who prays for the parent.” [Bihar al-Anwar, II, 22; Ahmad Hanbal, Musnad, II, 372, No. 8627; Muslim, Sahih, V, 73.]
Imam al-Sadiq (A.S.) reminisced about Amir al-Mu’minin Ali (A.S.): “He was a servant of Allah. Allah had preordained for him the Paradise, yet he declared his property as continuous charity for the prospective poor, and said: O Allah! I did this so that You keep away the Fire from my face and keep my face away from the Fire.” [Mustadrak al-Wasa’il, XIV, 45-46]
Waqf is of high significance among the Muslims. It has had a great impact on development of life conditions and strengthening of various social, cultural, economic, and medical infrastructures of the Muslim communities. To provide social justice, Islam obliged the Muslims to take steps toward removal of poverty as per the instructions by the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.). Similarly, Muslims are held responsible to each other as they are commanded to meet the needs of the needy. Endowment is one of the most evident instances of meeting the needs of the needy people in the society.
A thorough study of endowment and its role is highly significant in that knowledge of its how's and whys would clarify part of the causes and reasons for the magnificence of thoughts and discerning attitudes of the benefactors (waqifs) – who did not overlook the non-Muslims, nor even the birds. Surely, the “good practice” of endowment is adopted from the Holy Qur’an, the Noble Traditions of the Holy Apostle of Islam (S.A.W.), the Imams of Guidance (A.S.), and the sira of great Muslim dignitaries. Many of the “endowments” are definitely rooted in their benefactors’ deep faith and heartfelt convictions.
The Holy Qur’an’s guidance and the dignified and treasured sayings of the Apostle of Allah (S.A.W.) and the Holy Imams (A.S.) concerning endowment have all been aimed at fostering the spirits, purifying the souls, and flourishing the talents of human beings as well as giving direction to all the forces and compassions that are supposed to be reserved for the happiness and perfection of mankind.
The compassions and affections of the benefactors are vividly reflected in the historical monuments and cultural heritages of the Muslim communities. If we take a look at the schools, mosques, tekkyes, bath-houses, bridges, passes, mental asylums, monasteries, caravanserais, and water cisterns which are constructed in the ancient Muslim cities – even in the farthest reaches of the Muslim world – we will notice that there has been an endowed property next to each of these constructions which had sustained their maintenance and survival.
A short glance at the extant endowment deeds would show that the endowments were extremely efficient in providing people’s requirements and played a significant part in consolidating various cultural, economical, social, and hygienic grounds of Muslim communities throughout history.