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Building sustainable charity for all – Awqaf SA says it’s looking good, but still a long way to go

By Shafiq Morton

WAQF, or its plural “awqaf”, is an Islamic philanthropic instrument first developed by the Prophet Muhammad over 1,400 years ago. Whilst its principles of being self-sustaining without touching the original investment are said to date back to the Greeks and Persians, the early Muslims developed it into an institutional vehicle to uplift society.

Although waqf is not specifically mentioned in the Qur’an – the primary source of Islamic legislation – the concept of wealth re-distribution is strongly emphasised. A Prophetic adage supports the idea of recurring charity, and it inspired the institution of Waqf together with the Qur’anic ethos of wealth re-distribution.

The first recorded Waqf was when a Prophetic Companion, ‘Umar, bought some land in Khaybar, modern-day Saudi Arabia.

The Prophet Muhammad advised him to make the property an inalienable public asset and to give its profits to charity. ’Umar did so, stipulating that the property – ceded to God in perpetuity – could not be used for anything other than its original purpose of social benefit and could not be sold, inherited or donated to someone else.

Historically, all the great potentates of Islam have supported Waqf. During the Ottoman era the Caliphs only financed their judiciary and military, with infrastructural essentials such as schools, universities, water, hospitals, markets, feeding schemes, agriculture, roads, places of worship – and even pigeon coops – run for the benefit, and not expense, of the populace by independent Waqf institutions

In recent decades, Waqf has experienced something of a post-colonial revival in places such as Turkey, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. The total of its self-sustaining investments creating social upliftment programmes for citizens in those countries runs to the value of trillions of dollars.

Awqaf South Africa, pioneered in 2000 as an independent community asset based trust, has quietly been doing its business, being involved in projects such as boreholes, schools, leadership training, green buildings, maths literacy, educational publications and small business development.

In the past 2 years, Awqaf SA has spent just over R13.5 million on downstream community projects from revenues generated from its Waqf endowment Assets and other donor funds.

“Awqaf South Africa is the sovereign fund of the community tended by the community in the name of the community,” says Zeinoul Abedien Cajee, one of Awqaf SA’s founders, who adds that the transformational role of Waqf in terms of sustainable development should be a major driver in countries like South Africa for eliminating poverty.

Current chairperson of the Board of Trustees, Haroon Kalla, agrees. Recently, the organisation held a pledge line on a Muslim TV station, ITV, raising pledges to R11.8 million which will be used for the acquisition of an investment asset. In addition, a donation of a property in Eshowe, KZN, worth R7.5 million was donated by a Gauteng businessman.

With an area of over 4, 000 square metres, the property accrues a rental of R50, 000 a month, which will be used by Awqaf SA to convert a historical building next door to a community centre. Using the Waqf model of sustainability, R40, 000 will be dedicated to the community centre and R 10, 000 to education in perpetuity.

Commenting on the success of Awqaf SA as a Sovereign Fund, Trustee chair Kalla said that while the figures looked “encouraging” there was still a long way to go. “Sadly [in terms of donations and benefit] it’s only the equivalent of about R40 per person in our [Muslim] community. This is compared to Norway’s R 2 million per person or Singapore’s R 10,000 per person.”

According to Awqaf deputy CEO, Mickaeel Collier, the organisation could not sit on its laurels given our socio-economic challenges. The idea, he said, was to encourage every person to make a donation to the fund, no matter how small it seemed, adding that strength lay in numbers.

“Waqf, because it is self-sustaining – and doesn’t eat into its core investment – is a long-term project with the potential of gradually building a head of steam to eradicate poverty, deprivation, and serve community needs for decades to come in which all citizens can benefit,” he said.

For further comment you can contact Mickaeel Collier, Deputy CEO, Awqaf SA: 082 216 4269