Contemporary Awqaf and SDGs – II

Waqf projects relating to economic empowerment of women (SDG5) have largely focused on decent work (SDG8). We may therefore, discuss them together. Projects have specifically focused on skill enhancement & assistance (SDG8.5 and SDG5), such as tailoring and dress making (YMA, Kenya and JCorp. Malaysia), mushroom cultivation (IWF in Indonesia), citronella and other cash crops farming (ACT in Indonesia), livestock (YMA in Kenya), greenhouse project (IWF in Bosnia and Herzgovina), fisheries (Global Waqf Indonesia).

As part of empowerment, leadership skills of women should be improved and this is the agenda of DDR Indonesia, Awqaf SA. In terms of providing for the infrastructure, two projects – provision of shop lots (SIRC Selangor, Malaysia), micro-trader (YMA Kenya) are note-worthy.

Provision of microfinance (SDG8.6) has been undertaken by a handful of organizations (Waqaf Dana Niaga of Jcorp in Malaysia, IICO and ACT in Indonesia). For the empowerment of the disabled, the Al-Basaair School for the Disabled by YMA, Kenya offers a good example. Similarly, for the social and economic empowerment of women (SDG5) the Khadijah Learning Center set up by DDR offers a good example. In an earlier blog, we have discussed how a waqf (Fael Khair) was engineered out of a donation to undertake microfinance for the cyclone-hit poor in Bangladesh.

A very large percentage of contemporary awqaf, especially the projects by international organizations are very much focused on providing water (SDG6), perhaps seeking to mimic the first social waqf (of Rumah well in Madinah by Othman ra) in the history of Islam. You have some great examples from Turkey (IHH) providing for 8369 wells in 37 countries so far, from UK (International Waqf Fund) digging wells in Niger, Bangladesh, from South Africa (Awqaf SA digging wells in Malawi and SA), from Indonesia (Aksi Cepat Tanggap) ACT creating Water Granaries in Indonesia, Palestine and Somalia). In addition to digging wells, the Water Granary project also involves transportation and distribution of drinking water in dedicated trucks. Another interesting example is that of solar-powered wells set up by Turkey Religious Affairs Foundation (TDV) in Senegal and Mauritania.

In the area of sustainable and alternative energy (SDG7), there are two good examples. UK-based IWF has built Homes for Orphans in Bangladesh that are fitted with solar power. In another brilliant intervention, IBF Net crowdfunded a project to provide solar power to masjids in a remote region in India.

In the field of transport infrastructure (SDG9), the case of WanCorp Larkin Sentral Bus Terminal is well-documented (see our earlier blog). It set the maiden example of raising new cash waqf resources through an Initial Offer of Waqf Shares and using the resources to renovate and expand a Bus Terminal for the benefit of the public. At the same time, a part of the returns from waqf shares was used to provide low-rent shops at the Terminal to single mothers and another part was passed on the Johor SIRC to finance its routine social welfare activities. In another well-documented example, the proceeds of Cash-Waqf-Linked-Sukuk were primarily used by the government of Indonesia for financing its infrastructure projects. As mentioned earlier, the returns on the sukuk were passed on to BWI which in turn were used to provide free eye care to the poor.

It is a fact that global awqaf sector is yet to give due emphasis to the planet, the environment, or the sustainability issues with life on earth or life under water, notwithstanding the fact that these are grave concerns both from the standpoint of objectives of Shariah as well as the sustainable development goals (SDG 14-15). Even the Ottoman era witnessed several awqaf dedicated to such concerns. Recently, there have been calls for setting up green awqaf or awqaf dedicated to afforestation and meeting other environmental challenges (e.g. IUCN). One expects actions will follow. An example of environmental concern (SDG 11, 15) is perhaps the introduction of environment-friendly burial services (Firdaus Memorial Park in Bogor, Indonesia).

As is said about the Ottoman awqaf, it took care of an individual from the cradle to the grave. A city should provide affordable shelter for its living population. A city must also care for its dead. A significant percentage of waqf land is in the form of cemeteries or burial grounds. Such cemeteries are often poorly maintained, neglected and overgrown with weeds. While there has been some development of other forms of waqf properties (e.g. erecting shops or buildings for lease), burial grounds are seen as an exception. Ulema and scholars have generally frowned upon the idea of developing such land on the ground that any kind of commercial activities is prohibited. This has not deterred some awqaf bodies to transform such assets into income generating ones making them sustainable entities that provide efficient burial related services and more importantly, costlessly to the poor who cannot afford them. This has been made possible in the framework of waqf that rules out any private commercial profit sharing.

I will end this blog with the example of a beautiful burial site called Firdaus Memorial Park, or Firdaus Cemetery. This Muslim cemetery in the city of Bandung, West Java is part of the productive waqf program of Dompet Dhuafa. The idea of providing affordable burial grounds for all Muslims was based on the fact that the burial grounds in the city of Bandung were increasingly narrow and expensive. Firdaus Memorial Park is part of a waqf program consisting of free maternity homes, Islamic boarding schools for Quran memorization, agriculture and animal husbandry which is established on an area of 21 hectares of community land. Under the program, by giving a cash waqf, the donor-wakif is entitled to the benefits of two lots of land for the grave of his/her family members, and two lots for the graves of the poor. Other benefits obtained by the endowment include exemption from all costs ranging from the management of the body, delivery by car, to grave care.



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