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Waqf Founders

Research based upon more than 300 waqfs of fifteenth and sixteenth century Edirne, a frontier town in the Ottoman Balkans, has revealed that the vast majority of the Ottoman waqfs were founded by private individuals rather than the sultans whose waqfs constituted a mere 1 to 2% of the total (Gerber, 1983: 29). The overall number of founders, with the exception of the sultanic and those founded by women, was 233. Of these founders 43% (100) were ordinary citizens and 57% (133) were members of the elite. In order to compare the sizes, privately endowed waqfs were categorised into three groups according to the endowment capital: small, medium, and large waqfs. There were 216 waqfs, which could be classified according to size (including the sultanic and women’s waqfs). Of these 30% belonged to the smallest category; 70% were middle sized; and only 1% was large.

As for the connection between the founders and the size, ordinary citizens generally founded small waqfs - 62% of their endowments were small and 48% medium. In contrast, members of the elite generally established medium sized waqfs (5% small, 93% medium and 2% large). Women established only 20% of the waqfs in Edirne.

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In Istanbul and Aleppo, by contrast, the equivalent percentage was at least 40%. Gerber has attempted to account for this discrepancy with the argument that Edirne was a frontier town and consequently it must have had a relatively smaller and passive female population.

Thus Gerber has reached a very clear conclusion: ordinary citizens tended to establish small and medium sized waqfs, while the elite founded larger ones. The vast majority were established by ordinary citizens. Unfortunately, similar statistics do not exist for other Islamic countries but it is reasonable to assume that the situation should be similar elsewhere.


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