Muslim Philanthropy (Waqf)

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Global Community
Religious Perspective
Islam calls for a great equality in resources distribution and it motivates its followers to give for individuals and collective wellbeing. There are three main tools in Islamic philanthropy that have been shaped by Islamic history; sadaqah (charity), zakat (poor tax), and waqf (trust). The word waqf is derived from the Arabic verb waqfa, which means to cause a thing to stop. Another meaning could be philanthropic foundations. Waqf considers one of the most impactful, strategic, sustainable, and empowering instrument of Muslims Philanthropy.

Written by Asrar jaber



Waqf, in the Arabic language means hold or prohibition. In Islam, it’s used under the meaning of holding certain property and preserving it for the benefit of certain philanthropy while prohibiting any use of disposition of it outside the specific objective (Kahf, 2003). There are different types of Waqf:

  • Waqf khayri (general). 
  • Waqf fi ahli (family). 
  • Waqf mushtarak (mixed). 
  • Waqf istibdal (exchange). 
  • Cash waqf or waqf share. 

Waqf usually relates to land and buildings which was the most popular forms of waqf. Although there are waqf of books, agriculture machinery, cattle, shares and stocks, and even cash money (Kahf 1998). Cash waqf has become increasingly well-known, because of its flexibility, which allows distribution of the waqf’s potential benefit to be benefited by the poor anywhere (Masyita, Tasrif and Telaga 2005). 

Historic Roots

There are many arguments if the waqf existed in pre-Islamic period. But it’s confirmed that waqf has existed since the time of prophet Muhammed, when Umar (a companion of the prophet & the second Caliph in Islam) gained a land and asked Prophet Muhammad’s advice to know what he should do with the obtained land. He advised him to keep the land but dedicate its fruits {in the way of} God (Isa, Ali and Harun 2011). So, Umar dedicated the land indicating that it should not be sold, given as a gift, or inherited. Also, he specified the land’s revenue to be used as charity for the poor, his relatives, setting slaves free, wanderers, and for other social needs (Dallal 2004).  The first waqf is the sacred building of the Ka’bah in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) which is the first house of worship for Muslims (Kahf 1998).The first religious waqf is believed to be the Mosque of Quba in Medina (Saudi Arabia) established during the Prophet’s lifetime for religious purposes. After this, a philanthropic waqf was created of seven orchards in Medina for the benefit of the Prophet where he settled them for the benefit of the poor and needy (Stibbard, QC and Bromley 2012). 

Waqf emerged as an important Islamic institution and grown extensively in the Islamic civilization. The Islamic model of waqf influenced other countries and some of the great institutions established by following this model such as Harvard University, others were inspired by Islamic waqf such as Merton College, Oxford University (Sadeq 2002). Around the world waqf has benefitted communities for hundreds of years, mainly in the Middle East as: Al Azhar Mosque and University and Cairo University in Egypt, Al Andalus Mosque in Morocco, Zaytouna University in Tunisia, and King Saud University endowment in Saudi Arabia. 


Importance and Ties to Philanthropic Sector

The main aspects of Waqf that it should be done out of good intentions, and those with bad or immoral objectives is not recognized (Dogarawa 2009). It has various charitable purposes; educational institutions, orphanages, roads, hospitals, houses for the poor, soup kitchen, libraries, the care of animals and the environment, and religious establishments such as mosques & graveyards, etc. (Sadeq 2002). It does not only serve as a mean for someone to donate property in seeking for spiritual reward, it is also an economic tool to develop the community, alleviate poverty, and enhance welfare in the society (Muhamat, Jaafar and Rosly 2011).  For example, providing free education for poor children that will enable them to have better qualification and better jobs and income in the future which may increase the standard of living that leads to eliminate poverty, and this can be effective when the amount of waqf raised to finance these programs (Siswantoro and Dewi 2007). 

The waqf system can help with the ultimate goal of many economies which is reducing government expenditures that leads to reducing budget deficit (Cizakca 2000). Also, it can be used for loans to small business and the construction and maintenance of public utilities. Waqf considers a viable business model to involve communities who are the same beneficiaries of the services provided by the assets. Through the history, using waqf was not totally related to social infrastructure development. Very often people used the waqf mechanism to avoid taxes, or the confiscation of inheritance by the state (Gundogdu 2019). 

As Muslims become more aware about the importance of waqf and they understand that there is a real need to focus on the evaluation of waqf institutions, in order to increase efficiency and impact.  


Key Related Ideas

  • Infaq: is one of the basic terms that is used in the Quran. It is a devout spending resources with reference to redistribution of wealth and alleviation of poverty (Aziz, Mahmud and Karim 2008). 
  • Sadaqah/Alms: It is the voluntary giving of Muslims without time or quantity limitation. The basic concept is to give without expecting rewards (Faliza, Adam, Basri and Abd. Madjid 2019). It’s more than money. It has been narrated that prophet Muhammed said: “Your kind word and your smile to your bother is a sadaqah for you.”  
  • Zakat: it’s one of the five pillars of Islam where Muslims are obligated to pay a certain “tax” on their accumulated wealth. The collected money is to be distributed for eight categories of beneficiaries; five of them are meant for poverty elimination, the others are the zakat administrative costs (Johari , Ab. Aziz and Ali 2014). 
  • Jerusalem Islamic Waqf: an Islamic religious trust best known for controlling and managing the current Islamic edifices on and around the Temple Mount (Al- Haram Al-Sharif) in the Old City of Jerusalem- Palestine, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. 


Important People Related to the Topic

  • Uthman ibn Affan: One of the companions of prophet Muhammed, and the third Muslim’s Caliph. When Muslims migrated to Madinah, they found the water there difficult to drink. So, Uthman bought a well and assigned it as an endowment in Allah’s name for all Muslims to drink from. 
  • Sulaiman bin Abdul Aziz Al Rajhi (1929 – present) founded Al Rajhi bank, the world’s largest Islamic compliant bank, with his brothers. He transferred his nearly 20% stake in Al Rajhi Bank to a charitable endowment that bears his name and focuses on many issues such as; hunger, education, poverty and other social services. 
  • Amy Singer a leading scholar on Ottoman history, has been appointed to the Sylvia K. Hassenfeld Chair in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University. In 2010 she received the ARNOVA (Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action) Book Prize for the Outstanding Book in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research, for Charity in Islamic Societies. 


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The North American Islamic Trust: is a not-for-profit, American religious institution, tax-exempt under IRS section 501(c)(3). It was founded in the 1970s in order to assist the growing nascent Muslim community in the United States. NAIT’s waqf program is a variant of the conventional Trust/Endowment program, because of two important aspects of waqf, i.e. the perpetual status of the waqf properties and the unalterable sanctity of the will of the donor. 
  • Islamic Relief Waqf: is an independent humanitarian and development organization with a presence in over 40 countries around the globe that fight poverty and injustice. They began offering Waqf as a way to donate in 2000. By investing the donation in the Sharia’a compliant shares. 
  • The international Institute of Islamic thought (IIIT): was established as a non-profit 501(c)(3) non-denominational organization in the United States of America in 1981. It is a center of excellence in educational research and Islamic thought whose main interest is on carrying out evidence-based research in advancing education in Muslim Societies and the dissemination of this research through publication and translation, teaching, policy recommendations, and strategic engagements. 


Reflection Question - How can waqf be used to resolve large societal issues such as poverty and hunger?



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This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2019. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.