Contemporary Awqaf and SDGs – I

In a recent blog I presented a framework for identifying action points for the awqaf sector to help achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs). This was a component of our overall research agenda to examine the (mis)alignment between SDGs and Maqasid-Al-Shariah (MaS) and the role of Islamic social finance sector in general and awqaf sector in particular in achieving both. In another related blog we moved back in time to the Ottoman era and examined this question in the context of the Ottoman awqaf. A natural progression from here was to examine to what extent the contemporary awqaf across the globe address the SDGs, and to what extent they address the social needs? If awqaf are a natural response to contemporary social needs, then how have they undergone a change since the Ottoman days. What we have here are neither comprehensive evidence, nor the results of rigorous research but preliminary insights based on a survey of the internet websites of major Islamic organizations and institutions. The results may be biased depending on whether these entities extensively report their programs and activities through their portals or not.

Beginning with SDG1, poverty alleviation is indeed a broad objective we find some very good examples as we look into specific SDGs that address different aspects of poverty. Taking the specific example of orphan care, there are some impressive numbers that relate to Pakistan, India and Indonesia. There are 144 Orphanages in Kerala State of India alone with a  Muslim population of 8.8 million constituting 26 percent of total population with many having over 1000 inmates each. In remaining states just about 25-30 have a presence on the web. In Indonesia, there are estimated to be between 170,000 and 500,000 children living in approximately 8,000 orphanages. In Pakistan there are estimated to be 4.2 million orphans. There are 120-140 orphanages with presence on the web. Edhi Foundation globally known for orphan care runs 18 homes including 13 orphanages with 8500 residents.

SDG2 is about fighting hunger and there is a growing awareness that the large tracts of cultivable waqf land should be used for farming to enhance agricultural output. In Indonesia, two models for developing such waqf have been suggested. One, the agricultural land under waqf is managed using the mechanisms of muzara’ah or ijarah. The Indonesian Waqf Board (BWI) as the owner of the land cooperates with the National Amil Zakat Agency (BAZNAS) to finance the seeds, tools and irrigation of the land to be managed. BWI then enters into a muzara’ah agreement with the manager and determines the output sharing ratio at the beginning of the agreement. Alternatively, BWI enters into ijara with the manager for leasing the agricultural land, and the manager only pays periodic lease rent net of wage. Under muzarah, wages can be taken from the percentage of agricultural output so that it does not burden the manager. The arrangement is for a finite time period due to concerns about preservation of ownership of waqf land.

When you consider SDG3, again there are some very interesting examples and models in Malaysia in the form of corporate waqf. The example of Wakaf Al-Noor has been widely reported and documented. Indeed, Turkey set the earliest example of corporate waqf in Vehbi Vekfi. We have covered both these cases in an earlier blog. These awqaf/ foundations are known for their hospitals where the poor and the needy get quality health care at a very nominal cost. You have very good examples also in Pakistan, such as, the Shaukat Khanum cancer hospital, Indus Hospital and SIUT and in India, such as, KTCT, Al-Ameen, Santhi and Iqraa International hospitals. In Indonesia, interestingly, you have the hospitals being financed through waqf, such as, Rumah Sehat. At times they involve partnership between Islamic NGO like Dompet Dhuafa Republika (DDR) bringing in cash waqf and an Islamic Boarding School or Pesantren like Hasyim Asy’ari bringing in required land resources. One specific example that stand out is the investment of resources from cash-waqf-linked-sukuk in infrastructure projects of the government and use of a part of the returns received by Badan Wakaf Indonesia (BWI) – as the ultimate trustee-manager of all Indonesian awqaf- towards provision of free eye-care to poor patients at Ahmad Wardi Eye Hospital a joint initiative of DDR and BWI.

In the field of education (SDG4), we have some interesting numbers for basic Islamic education. Of course, talking about higher education, there are equally impressive institutions which have been created out of waqf. In an earlier blog we have discussed how a sale and waqf back method was employed by Universti Bistari in Malaysia. Waqf land were developed to house many modern universities. But talking about Islamic education, you can see that there is a huge infrastructure built with waqf that has been delivering the services uninterruptedly over decades and Centuries (Islamic universities, Jamias, Darul ulooms across the globe). Some of the ancient and often-quoted examples are: Al-Azhar in Egypt, Darul Uloom Deoband in India, Timbaktoo in Mauritania etc. At a more micro-level most Muslim societies have created networks of madrasas. In India, it is estimated that there are over 30,000 madrasas. This is an understatement, given that in Kerala state alone with less than 5 percent of national Muslim population, more reliable estimates put the number at 14,000 plus with over 200,000 teachers. In Pakistan there are estimated to be 32,000 madrassas attended by over 2.5 million students. Other estimates place the number at as high as more than 60,000. Bangladesh has about 6500 madrasas catering to 1.5 million students. Malaysia has 1200+ Islamic schools with 547 registered entities. Indonesia has about 28,000 Pesantren or Islamic boarding schools.

A unique experiment that is being conducted in Indonesia is to create and build local economies around these pesantren that have been historically and liberally endowed with land. An entire network of nano-sized financial institutions is being created around these pesantren called Bank Wakaf Mikro  or BWM (see my earlier blog) to finance a range of business activities as well as to extend personal finance to the local communities. Indeed, this is an ongoing experiment with a lot of new programs and activities. Every other day you hear about a new innovative experiment – in the form of setting up small coffee shops or in the form of other economic activities in agriculture (hydroponics farming on terrace of masjids), fisheries (catfish in artificial ponds) and other areas (recycling of human waste to produce electricity). What is common to these micro-projects is that they all center around or use the Islamic boarding schools as the nucleus of the local economy. This is a great example of an SDG8-related project (decent work for everyone) sitting on an SDG4-related project!

To be continued

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