By Mufti Billal Omarjee, Certified Waqf Professional (CeWP), IIIBF.

As we are out of Europe, and with the rise of populism and the far-right support across the UK and Europe, and with the recent attacks by so called Muslim jihadists in the West, it has become imperative for the British Muslims to start thinking of how to create an environment that is synonymous with security and prosperity.

It is time for those who Allah favoured with wealth or intellect in our community to set up institutions which will improve the community development of British Muslims. Ibn Khaldun says: “Development is essential because unless there is a perceptible improvement in the well-being of the people, they will not be motivated to do their best.”[1]

Our context

Our context is very different to 100 years ago. The geopolitical map has changed not only for Muslims but non-Muslims alike. The Khilafat and other empires which dominated different lands of different cultures and ethnic people, have been replaced with newly formed independent states. In the absence of a khilafat, for those of us living as a minority in Non-Muslim countries, we must adapt and learn to live in harmony with our neighbours.

British Muslims must not be naïve, the Islamophobic rhetoric that we hear in the media are like those which led to the Holocaust of the Jewish people in Europe and the massacre of the Muslims in the Ex-Yugoslavia.

British Muslims have benefitted immensely with the freedom to practice the five pillars of Islam and establish places of worship, however there is no guarantee that this freedom will always remain.

Aside from the external challenges, Muslims face internal challenges too. Issues such as large numbers of Muslims leaving the fold of Islam. Also, the Muslim community has been plagued with thousands of cases of Muslim men involved in crimes such as the grooming of young girls, drug and gang related crimes. Muslims by committing these crimes not only stand opposed to their religious duties but also give the wrong portrayal of Islamic values. These crimes heighten the already existing Islamophobia. Furthermore, Muslims are statistically the lowest educated in the UK. [2]The most deprived areas in the UK are those with a predominantly Muslim population.[3]

The first generation of Muslims immigrants who came to this country, sought to protect Islam by establishing mosques and madrassahs.  This worked massively in enabling young Muslims to gain an awareness of their Islamic identity.  While this is commendable, it is not enough to keep up to date with the new challenges the new generation brings.

Madrassahs are underfunded, classes overfilled, and sometimes they must rely on some untrained teachers with some who cannot speak English. Most madrassahs urgently need a revamp of their curriculum as many concerned Muslims feel the current system is very basic and does not address the challenges that their children are facing outside.

As for mosques, in a recent survey, the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group, found that the biggest complaint among mosque-goers was the lack of facilities for women and young people.[4]

To top it all off, Imams do net get the credit and respect they deserve. Despite all the hard work that they do, for many of them, their weak economic condition stand in the way of their being able to play an effective role in social change.

Poverty is another scourge of the community. 50% of Muslim households are in poverty compared to 18%for the general population. Young Muslims are excluded, discriminated against, or failed, at every stage from education to employment.[5]

The way forward

We must remember an important point, that even if some of the Islamic institutions are failing the Muslims in the UK, we must not question the sincerity of its people and neither we must doubt their acceptance in the eyes of Allah. As a friend scholar pointed out to me, when discussing salah for example, the Muslim jurists will comment about the actions which nullify or invalidate the salah. But never they concern themselves with its acceptance by Allah. As no body knows if Allah accepts or does not accept the prayer of someone who does not pray correctly. However, this will not stop the jurists from striving in educating people about the correct of praying.

Hence, if many institutions and organisations need reforms, it does not mean that their sincerity and integrity are automatically questionable.

However, this should not stop genuine people to find ways to improve those institutions or organisations for the benefits of the Muslims. Many have the desire for their community to flourish in the UK. Some have plenty of good ideas but lack the funding or the expertise to put those ideas into actions. Thus, the need for British Muslims to pull all available resources and utilise them in a strategic manner for their benefits and the benefits of Islam in the UK.

Overall, British Muslims are generous when it comes to giving into charity. It is estimated that £100 millions of Zakat money is given during the month of Ramadan. But only less than 2% of this amount is distributed within the UK[6]. British Muslims are still reluctant to spend their Zakat locally and prioritise spending it overseas. Whilst supporting the less fortunate abroad is important and should continue, there is also a need to spend our resources within our local community. Hence, I believe a strong solution would be to create another self-sustaining source of income for the British Muslim community. This is where Waqf (endowment) plays an important role. This charity system when institualised and managed correctly, can have a significant role at least in two areas: poverty alleviation and education.

Both theoretical propositions and empirical evidence show that waqf has a significant role to play in helping communities out of poverty. Education is another key area where waqf has played and continues to pay a fundamental role in Muslim nations. Some of the important Islamic universities such as Azhar University of Egypt, International Islamic University Malaysia and International University Islamabad, have been established using waqf fund.[7]

Definition of Waqf

The literal translation of the word waqf is to hold. The institution of waqf, therefore implies holding or setting aside certain physical assets by the waqif (endower) and preserving it so that benefits continuously flow to a specified group of beneficiaries or the community.[8] For example, the young, the old, or the inhabitants of a certain area.[9] Waqf is thus an institutionalisation of charity.

In Islam, Waqf has two functions: an ‘ibadat(worship of Allah) and a social function. It comes from a strong faith and solidarity among human beings.[10] The waqf draws its inspiration from the spirit of giving contained it the Islamic teachings. The prophet (pbuh) said: When a person dies, his deeds are cut off except for three: continuing charity, knowledge that others benefitted from, and a righteous son (or daughter) who supplicates for him (narrated by Tirmidhi).

Brief Historical development of Waqf

The Waqf system is not just a Muslim system but it also appeared in other non-Muslim societies. Imam Shafi (ra), Ibn Hazm (ra) and the majority of the scholars argue that the Arabs did not know about the Waqf system before the arrival of Islam. Probably what they intended is that the Islamic form of creating Waqf for the pleasure of Allah was not known as otherwise the Arabs had their own form of Waqf.[11]

The prophet (pbuh) and the companions started the Islamic waqf, then it continued to be developed during the Umayyad days as Islam had reached the border of China and France. Then during the Abassi period, a new type of waqf was developed such as the building of hospitals and places of education. During the Ottoman ruling, the Waqf advancement could be seen specially for the benefit of women with the opening of medical colleges.[12]

The Waqf contributed to the building of Islamic civilization; through which many mosques, schools, and educational centers were built along with private and public libraries, scientific and research centers and other fields in different walks of life. Waqf played an important role in establishing a flourishing civilization that is full of moral character and rational human behaviour. It created a comprehensive scientific and cultural renaissance.  It gave way to the training of many scientists, researchers, inventors, and intellectuals. It supplied a vast array of social services. These included educations, heath, science laboratories, the construction and maintenance of mosques, orphanages, lodging for students, teachers and travellers, bridges, wells, roads and hospitals. This happened when the waqf were properly regulated and supervised. However, when effective regulation and supervision did not continue and led to corruption, loss of the original deeds, lack of proper maintenance, and misuse and misappropriation of waqf properties, they became dysfunctional.[13]

There have been many calls for the redevelopment of the Waqf systems around Muslim countries, and lot of progress are being made.

Types of Waqf needed for the UK

Muslims living in the West can create their own Waqf fund so that it can play a crucial role in the development of social and physical infrastructure through private philanthropy as it did in the past. Such Waqf fund will be a complementary system to fund projects which cannot be funded by Zakat based on fiqh differences.

At a macro level, there is a need to have a national body set up for the purpose of spearheading waqf projects. And at a micro level, people can seek guidance and certification from individual scholars to organise their own Waqf projects. Specially women have an important role in this matter. They should be encouraged to team up and create their own Waqf fund. During the Ottoman period, women established charitable endowments to support education and other benevolent causes. Whilst studying in Ottoman Aleppo, Roded discovered that 41% of the endowments were founded by women.[14]

My suggestions for the immediate need of British Muslims are the following:

  • Creating training programs for imams and madrassah teachers free of charge. Training delivered by professionals. Assessment, audit and refreshment courses will be provided to keep participants up to date. For teachers, the programs will equip them with the necessary skills to teach in a maktab environment, dealing with difficult students, engaging parents. And it will also have a focus on matters that must be taught to help children appreciate more clearly the importance of justice and good character in the Islamic value system.

Imams training will have a focus on how to deliver public speaking, to learn basic counselling technique, learn how to engage with the wider community (i.e. interfaith, youth engagement etc)

  • Setting learning centres with highly qualified scholars (men/women). They must be paid a fair wage so that there do not need to have a second job, and neither must worry about sustaining themselves. They must be chosen not just for their knowledge and skills, but also for being impartial, non-sectarian and unbiased.
  • Creating microfinance institutions which will provide financing to lower income Muslims such as refugees.
  • Creation of a fund which will be directed to support poor areas by funding activities for vulnerable women and youth to tackle crimes.

Managing the Waqf projects:

As I mentioned earlier, there has been cases when the Waqf was not regulated properly in the past. This was due to corruption and mismanagement. Hence in order to create a robust Waqf system in the UK, there is a need to employ high calibre scholars and managers to operate those projects. The people involved should be financially rewarded according to their efforts, but they must also be chosen based on their knowledge and skills. Above all, honesty and impartiality of those involved will be a must in order to avoid any form or corruption and injustice.

Summary:

As we have seen earlier, Muslims are facing lot of challenges in the UK. However, it is never too late to react to those challenges. When ever there is a decline in a society or community, there will need for reforms to ensure progress is being made. This was also the Divine method, that when ever the people moved away from Allah, He would then send prophets to reform the people and their institutions. Now that there are not prophets to come, it is our role to take up this task of reforming people.  Do not be mistaken, there are wonderful people across the country who are working tirelessly in bringing about those reforms. There are Imams, scholars and people involved in da’wat who are doing a fantastic job. But there is also a need to do more if we are to safeguard that the community flourishes in the UK. British Muslims are generous when it comes to spend in the path of Allah. But now it is the time for their spending to be more meaningful. Part of the success of the Muslims of the past was also because their leaders organised the spending budget in a strategic way. We too can be successful if we mimic some of the structures that was managed by them. Waqf is an example of a structure. The use of Waqf helped not only in successfully alleviating poverty, but also in shaping the education of the Muslims. This can be seen with the the establishment of famous Islamic seminar across the Muslim world.

We must realise that through Waqf Allah has put a powerful instrument in our hands, if we use it wisely then success will be guaranteed with the help of Allah. If we turn our back to it and let the future generation of Muslims at risk of crumbling, then we will have to also face its consequences in the Hearafter.

Mufti Billal Omarjee is Certified Waqf Professional (CeWP) from the International Institute of Islamic Business and Finance, IBF Net. He may be reached at billal@shariahconsultant.com 

_____________________________________________________

[1] [1] Chapra. Umer (2008). Muslim Civilization: The Causes of Decline and the Need for Reform. Markfield. The Islamic Foundation

[2] National Zakat Foundation: https://www.nzf.org.uk/Content/PDF/NZF_Our_Zakat_Distribution_Strategy_May_2018.pdf

[3] Ibid

[4] The Economist’s special report: ‘Islam in the West’ February 16th 2019

[5] National Zakat Foundation: https://www.nzf.org.uk/Content/PDF/NZF_Our_Zakat_Distribution_Strategy_May_2018.pdf

[6] Ibid

[7] Islamic Economics Principles & Analysis. (2018). International Shariah Research Academy for Islamic Finance (ISRA)

[8] Ibid

[9] El Diwan, T. (Ed.). (2010). Islamic Banking and Finance: What It Is and What It Could be. Bolton. 1st Ethical Charitable Trust

[10] Islamic Economics Principles & Analysis. (2018). International Shariah Research Academy for Islamic Finance (ISRA)

[11] Benalla, M. (2007). Tarikhul Awqaf Al Islamiya Fil Maghrib Fi ‘Asri Sa’diyeen. Kingdom of Morocco. Ministry of Habous and Islamic Matters

[12] Nacik, J. (2019). Al Nazriya Al Bayiya Al Islamiya. Rabat. Dar Nach El Maarifa

[13] Chapra. Umer (2008). Muslim Civilization: The Causes of Decline and the Need for Reform. Markfield. The Islamic Foundation

[14] Ibid

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