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  • Writer's picturegaathiermahed

The more charitable of the sexes

Amid cries from Western circles related to perceived injustices served against the better of the two sexes in Islam, it is only fitting that we examine the topic of Women and Waqf, and more specifically the agency women have in creating awqaf.

It is critical to note that the West has seen it fit to objectify women and afford them merely one day of the year, excluding Mother’s Day. One Imam once said that in Islam, everyday is Women’s Day. This is evident from the numerous ahadeeth and quranic injunctions addressing the importance of women, mothers and daughters in our religion.

Researcher Dr Al Humaidan writes in his research paper on philanthropy that the Muslimah have always had an elevated status in the Muslim World. "Reflecting on the history of ancient and modern civilizations, we see that few are the countries that gave women that esteemed status conferred upon them by the Islamic civilization. This unique status reflected itself remarkably in their generous giving which culminated in being involved in waqf. They assisted in bridging the many gaps in their societies without considering if that contribution will benefit a man or a woman," he writes further.

Allah, in his holy book, the Quran, has stated: "Those who [in charity] spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord: On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve." (Surah Al Bakarah: 274)

In another chapter, Allah reminds mankind to spend of their wealth before death is visited on them: " And spend something (in charity) out of the substance which We have bestowed on you, before Death should come to any of you and he should say, 'O my Lord! Why did you not give me respite for a little while? I should then have given (largely) in charity, and I should have been one of the doers of good.' " (Surah 63:10)

For women, the establishment of philanthropic endowments (awqaf) was a means by which, like other manifestations of charity, the founder brought herself closer to Allah, the Almighty. She longed for a greater reward in the hereafter through random acts of generosity, ensuring that her limited time in this world was spent wisely.

Wealth accumulated during marriage, through inheritance , business enterprises and other means were used for greater purposes other than abject materialism. Rather these women saw the gifts the Almighty has bestowed as mere loans of which they shall be answerable for. Therefore they sought to spend in the path of Allah to gain His blessings.

Baer (1984) has shown that 60% of smaller awqaf in Istanbul were donated by women during the time of the Ottoman Empire, and as research has shown, these small waqf have been able to stand the test of time, even withstanding the destruction by colonial rule. This is important to note as women at the time, specifically from other religions and cultures, were unable to own property , notes Baer further.

During her research on the concept of Islamic philanthropy, Singer (2008) writes that the wife of an Abbasid ruler Harun Rashid, Zubayda, constructed a large water supply system providing pilgrims with drinking water all along the route from Baghdad to Makkah. This extensive aqueduct was solely financed from the pocket of Zubayda, along with a water well in Makkah known as 'Ayn Zubayda (the eye of Zubayda). Only when Hurrem Sultan, an Ottomon Queen, commissioned maintenance work in the 16th Century, the extent of this charitable donation was revealed.According to a famed Book of World Records, the oldest surviving university in the world is located in Africa, in the walled city of Fes-el-Bali, in modern-day Morocco. Established through the charitable endowment of Algerian-born Fatima Al Fihri in 859 CE using her entire inheritance gifted to her by her entrepreneur father, the masjid complex housing the Al Qarawiyyin University (also spelt as Al Karaouine ) now offers courses in Islamic and legal sciences, classical Arabic linguistics, Mathematics, the sciences and even French. Through the establishment of the university-mosque complex, millions of students, regardless of nationality or creed, found their educative needs met over the hundreds of years, thereby ensuring its donor, Fatima, infinite reward with her Creator.Generosity of spirit did not just end with Fatima, as her sister, Mariam, also had the foresight to establish the Al Andalus Masjid in Fes, a landmark religious centre that also stands to this day.

Although the establishment of hospitals as endowments were thought to be limited to waqifs or male donors (including sultans, caliphs and rulers), history has shown that females too were responsible for the endowments of health care facilties. In 10th Century Persia for instance, the caliph's mother, al-Sayyida Shaghab, donated a substantial share of her wealth in the establishment of a center for medical care (then referred to as a bimaristan, Persian for place of the sick), one of many such waqf institutions on which the modern-day hospital is based.

Closer to home, it has been shown that Sarah van der Kaap donated a stretch of land in order to construct the first mosque in South Africa, known as the Awwal Mosque in BoKaap, Cape Town. After buying the property from her mother Trijn van de Kaap who inherited it from her husband Coridon from Ceylon, Sarah decided that the best usage for the land would be to donate it for the construction of the mosque in 1794. Established during an era of slavery and racial prejudice, the mosque soon was to be a centre for prayer, da'wah (religious propagation) and social discourse.

From the aforementioned examples it is evident that the change brought about by Awqaf (no matter the size of the waqf), is felt at a community level. Whether it was providing water wells or the establishment of centres of prayer and wellness, these remarkable women's contribution to Islamic civilisation highlight the importance of waqf as a tool for social change and its ability to impact the lives of the general public.It is with this thinking that we could change the future of generations to follow and truly make our society self sustainable. Join these women in making in leaving a lasting legacy today. Your wealth in this world will never decrease and your rewards in the hereafter shall never cease, Ameen. And as always, Allah knows best.

The original article was published in Muslim Views

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