Awqaf Nazir: Glad to be of Service

Muslims are generous with their money, and that is because they have faith. Donating is at the forefront of Muslims consciousness albeit not spending much time to understand the social issues or to assess the pressing needs before they commit money and property. They only hope that their donation will make a difference; forever. Creating a waqf is a very passive way of giving, and donors find it more convenient and ultimately more effective to entrust their awqaf to others who are working in the field.

The waqif (founder of the waqf) through a deed, determines the objectives of the waqf and its management and succession processes. The nazir (waqf manager), as agent of the waqif, holds the title of the waqf property, exercises legal control and is bound by fiduciary responsibility and moral obligation to protect and administer the waqf for the benefit of the beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the waqf deed. While a waqf can be managed by an individual, a corporate structure has obvious advantages. The corporate entity allows the segregation of duties and allocation of responsibilities according to areas of specialization.

The waqf deed is a Shariah-compliant legal document that expresses the waqif’s wishes regarding the consignment of his property and the disposal of its usufruct. The question is, should the waqif focus on awqaf values or on establishing a strong compliance deed to ensure that the nazir does the right thing? The answer is he needs both. The first thing that must be considered in any waqf deed is its goals. Awqaf values and compliance need to be aligned and complementary. If the focus is only on compliance, the nazir will be restricted to do only what is allowed in the waqf deed; while an awqaf value-based deed will help the nazir to uphold the values of awqaf and guide him when he faces ethical issues.

The authority of the nazir to act and make decisions on behalf of the waqf carries an immense responsibility and his duties are wider and more onerous than they were assumed to be. Awqaf can be a high maintenance sector and the task of the nazir is very delicate. Awqaf stakeholders are many and of varied interests. There are beneficiaries, customers, employees, volunteers, local community, government, and other groups, with different interests and multiple touchpoints. The nazir has to understand the importance of looking good in front of all these stakeholders. The challenge for the nazir is to balance values and compliance so that all stakeholders’ concerns are addressed.  He should have the ability and discretion to respond to their needs as they arise rather than slavishly follow approved directives that hopefully will fit those needs.

While abiding by the waqif conditions, the nazir should be able to navigate through many layers of social needs, to interact with people with disabilities and other underserviced groups, and to weigh and manage multiple and sometimes competing priorities. The nazir should have good communication and relationship skills. How he interacts with the different stakeholders is crucial. None of the stakeholders gives the nazir a free pass. A small rare issue with a disgruntled beneficiary can mushroom to a full-blown event putting the entire awqaf sector on the line. If the nazir is talking to a waqif, he should be able to give the status of the waqf and report on his activities in administering the waqf. If he is talking to beneficiaries, he has to ascertain their continued eligibility and assure them that they are getting their fair share of the waqf. And if he is talking to clients, he has to follow up on their problems and make sure that their issues are resolved. Every interaction of the nazir with the waqf stakeholders through the different touchpoints should promote satisfaction.

Awqaf is about beliefs, values and ethics and these are the parameters of the nazir’s behavior. The emphasis on ethics is that it is part of religion. Ethical conduct is at the core of all relationships and this means that the nazir has to be straightforward and honest in all professional and business dealings. Awqaf nazirs have moral responsibility to act in the best interest of the waqf, and it is all about realizing the conditions of the waqifs, protecting the corpus of the waqf and making sure that beneficiaries are served and supported. Nazirs are respected and trusted not only because they comply with the terms of the waqf deed, but because they behave with integrity and honesty.

The nazir has the primary responsibility for prudent management of assets in his custody. He has to wear different hats and one of those is to be an investment specialist. As such, nazirs are expected to have a certain level of business skills and investment knowledge to support their role in monitoring the safety and performance of assets under their control. Awqaf nazirs are shouldering their responsibility to develop assets in their custody and are acquiring skills to advance their investment and asset management knowledge. These skills can only lead to better projects, more innovation and higher profitability.

Any nazir will tell you that the role has evolved beyond the traditional duties of oversight. The nature of the task has changed, and the role of the nazir has become quite complicated. Everything looks blurry when it comes to understanding the waqf, understanding the beneficiaries and other stakeholders, understanding the business environment, understanding the technology, and understanding the competition. The nazir acts as the principal point of contact between all stakeholders and so he should be proactive and responsive and well and truly across everything. No one goes to the university to become a nazir, yet there is a tendency to overrate his ability, wisdom and insight. Therefore the nazir should develop professional skills that enable him to balance the limited resources of the waqf against the infinite needs of the beneficiaries as the young flamingo in the photo skillfully balancing itself on one leg.


By Hisham Dafterdar, CPA, PhD
Chairman, Awkaf Australia Ltd

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