The Role of Awqaf in the 21st Century. An Update on the Development of Islamic Foundations

Opusculum 69 | 01.12.2013 |


Awqaf is an important economic sector. Its importance is gleaned from the massive assets it controls, its substantial social expenditure, the large number of people it employs, and its significant contribution to the economy which adds between 10 to 14 per cent to the GDP of some countries.1 With such a significant economic output, and growth in the number, size and diversity of organisations entrusted with awqaf properties, awqaf as a faith-based charitable institution has generated interest beyond philanthropists and Shariah scholars, and the sector is no longer seen as exclusively religious. With a broader business focus, it became clear that the sector is in fact an industry and is being subjected to increased scrutiny by governments and regulatory authorities. The size of the sector and its growing economic importance qualify it for serious attention by legislators and standards setters of the Islamic financial industry. In order to rejuvenate the institution of waqf and reverse the trend of neglect and to enhance its role in social and economic development, a number of issues must be addressed: How should the regulatory framework operate? Would the regulations help or hinder the development of awqaf and the creation of new waqfs? Is uniformity needed? And how will this help? What is an ideal model for corporate governance? Is that model workable within the parameters imposed by other features of the business and political environment? What about sustainability and profitability and shouldn’t awqaf be profitable in order to be sustainable? Do we see a conflict between awqaf as a not-for profit sector and the pursuit of growth and profitability? Is it acceptable to combine awqaf and business? Is this ethical, and how would it affect stakeholders? The awqaf sector and its management often remain not well understood. While a full answer to these questions is beyond the scope of this paper, there are a number of issues that appear important for our concern. The paper will focus on issues that are relevant for the integration of awqaf into the mainstream of the Islamic financial industry. It will also address matters that are of concern to regulatory authorities, awqaf foundations and to all awqaf stakeholders.