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At the heart of Islamic deeds of righteousness lies care for others. One of the most encouraged acts of caring in Islam is feeding the hungry. Providing food for the poor and the needy is a Shariah obligation that is strongly emphasized and highly praised in many verses in the Quran and Hadiths (sayings of the Prophet (PBUH)).
Fighting hunger is one of the main objectives of awqaf. Some of the earliest awqaf in Islam were founded for tackling food and water shortages. The charitable waqf began when the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) made seven orchards that were willed to him by a Jew named Mukhairiq as a waqf. Encouraged by the Prophet, many of the Sahaba (Prophet’s companions) established awqaf to provide food and water for people in need. Umar Ibn Al Khattab (RA) and Abu Talha Al Ansari (RA), had each donated orchards with date palms and grape vines as waqf for the benefit of the poor. Uthman Ibn Affan (RA) on instruction of the Prophet (SAW) bought a water well, known as the well of Rumah and declared it waqf for the residents of Madina.
Hunger in many circumstances is linked to poverty. Without proper nourishment, people cannot live dignified lives. A Muslim’s beliefs and actions must always be held together. Feeding the hungry is one of the most rewarded actions in Islam. The waqf is the system that integrates actions and belief. Sharing food is a way of taking care of the vulnerable and bringing the community together. Driven by religion, compassion and selflessness, Muslims established awqaf to protect the poor from hunger, and to enable food insecure families to achieve their nutrition and health needs.
Throughout Islamic history, the waqf has been the key institution that delivered social relief, food security and community services with minimal role for the state. Dining halls, water wells, aqueducts, and water fountains were established as charitable awqaf to provide the poor with hot meals, fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and drinking water. Waqf founders donated property to serve as care centers, soup kitchen, and bakeries, and established income generating awqaf to cover their expenses. In many Muslim countries, drinking water fountains were built in many parts of the cities and towns. It has been also a regular practice to offer food hampers and suhur and iftar meals in Ramadan and to distribute bread and sweets on Fridays after prayer. Many of these awqaf are still widespread in many Islamic cities to this day.
World hunger affects millions around the world. According to World Food Program (WPF) 2022 report, there are more 828 million food-insecure people around the world and the number is on the rise. The vast majority are in developing countries. The institution of waqf with its many humanitarian projects is contributing positively in reducing these numbers. Vast areas of agricultural awqaf land in Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, and other countries, are being farmed to grow wheat, rice, sugar cane, soybean, and other staple crops. Among the prominent waqf organizations that are based on the idea of providing food security, is Suleiman Al Rajhi waqf which was founded in 2011, with more than 6.5 million beneficiaries worldwide. In Turkey Vehbi Koc Foundation and Sabri Ulker Foundation are two examples of awqaf organizations that donate food to schools, orphanages and poor families. Another recently established waqf is Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashed’s ”One billion meals waqf” which was launched in Ramadan 1444H (2023) to provide food support worldwide to people in need. In South Africa, the “Food Security Waqf” fund which was set up by Awqaf SA, provides food and clean water in poor and needy communities on a sustainable basis. There are Islamic awqaf organisations in all Islamic countries and communities that deliver food assistance to poor and vulnerable people to improve their nutrition and achieve their nourishment goals. Some awqaf organisations act as food banks collecting and packaging surplus food from restaurants, hotels, dinner parties, and distributing it to people in need.
There’s a place in the heart of Muslims for poor people. Feeding the poor is a noble cause for awqaf and a great act of charity. Allah (SWT) promised immense blessings and rewards to the waqifs. And to the hungry we wish them bon appétit.
By Hisham Dafterdar, CPA, PhD
Awkaf Australia Ltd