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History of Cash Waqfs

Having presented the legal debates concerning cash waqfs, we are now in a position to pursue our inquiry regarding the way in which these waqfs actually functioned in history. For this particular problem the most important source that we have are the so-called Cash Waqf Inspection Registers held in the Ottoman archives. There are basically two reasons why we need to refer to these Ottoman sources: First, although, as it has been made clear above, cash waqfs existed and continue to exist in many different countries, their most widespread usage was observed in the Ottoman economy. Second, we are fortunate that the Ottomans were meticulous record keepers. Consequently, the Ottoman archival sources that we have are both plentiful and incredibly detailed. With such a rich source at their disposal, historians were able to do detailed studies of the way these Ottoman waqfs had actually functioned. In the next section a summary of a recent research made on these waqfs will be presented (Çizakça, 1995). Thus the reader will be thoroughly acquainted with this institution as it had functioned in history. In the rest of the chapter information will be presented on cash waqfs existing in the rest of the Islamic world.

A typical eighteenth century Ottoman Cash Waqf Inspection Register contains the following information:

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  1. The name of the waqf and the purpose for which it was established

  2. The name of the mahalle, district, in which the endowment was registered

  3. The name of the trustee

  1. The period of time covered by the census

  2. Original capital of the waqf

  3. Later additions to the capital of the waqf either by individuals or other waqfs

  4. The balance of the new capital thus formed

  5. The return obtained from the investment of the total endowed capital at the end of the year, the so-called, murabaha fi sene-î kâmile.

  6. The purpose for which the annual return was designated, i.e., the expenditure, mesarif. This section was followed by another one called zimem which included the following information on borrowers:

  7. The names of the borrowers

  8. The amount of capital each borrower borrowed

  9. The district where the borrower lived

  10. The religious denomination of the borrowers

  11. Gender of the borrowers

It is noteworthy that these registers provide this information to us in a standard way for a period of more than 300 years. At this point it might be interesting to provide an actual waqf case from the eighteenth century. In the introduction of the document the following information is provided:

“The account of the revenue and expenditure of the Muslim endowments for the purpose of assisting the avarız and nüzül taxes of the residents of the Orhan Ghazi district of the city of Bursa during the trusteeship of Esseyid Halil A a, the trustee of the said endowment from the beginning of the month of Muharram of the year 1200 (1785) until the end of the Zilhicce of the same year”.

This particular cash waqf was endowed with an initial capital of 2,377.5 gru . To this, the profit of the previous year was added which increased the capital to 2,544 gru . After this, we observe an interesting phenomenon. This is the observation that three other waqfs had contributed modest sums to the capital of this waqf. The implications of this will be discussed below. The first contribution, 50 gru , was provided by the waqf of Ay e Hatun for the purpose of reciting the mevlid. The second one, 85 gru , was provided by the waqf of Hatim Hatun also for the same purpose. Finally, the third contribution, 50 gru , also came from the waqf of Hatim Hatun this time for the purpose of buying candles for the Orhan Ghazi waqf. The total capital of the endowment thus increased from the original 2,377.5 gru to 2,729 gru , an addition of 351.5 gru altogether.

This enhanced capital was then distributed as credit to 20 individuals. These investments generated a return of 257.5 gru , murabaha fi sene-î kâmile, which constituted 9.4% of the capital invested. Out of the amount generated, 86.5 gru were spent to assist the payments of avarız and nüzül taxes, to recite the mevlid, to buy candles, to pay the trustee and the bookkeeper and for miscellaneous expenses. The remaining 171 gru was called the ziyade ez masraf and was added the following year to the capital of the endowment.

This, in a nutshell, is a demonstration of how a cash waqf actually functioned. To summarise: the endowed capital was distributed as credit to a number of borrowers and the return from this investment was spent for religious and social purposes. If the return exceeded the expenses, as in this particular example, the remainder was added to the original capital of the endowment the following year. Enhancement of the original capital was not limited to the addition of the previous year’s profit; it also occurred when other waqfs contributed to the waqf as well.


Source: Murat Cizakca, A History of Philanthropic Foundations: The Islamic World From the Seventh Century to the Present. Republished with permission.