Waqf or ‘endowment’, is a long-standing Islamic tradition. It refers to the dedication of some valuable goods – land, a building or even money – such that it no longer belongs to anybody, and cannot be bought or sold. The profits which are then generated from this endowment are given away as charity.
When ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab acquired a piece of land, and asked the Prophet, peace be upon him, how best to use it, the Prophet advised him to establish it as waqf:
Make the land inalienable (unable to be sold or given away), and give its profit away as charity.
The harvest and profits of this land were then donated to the poor, travellers through the land and others who were in need. Over the centuries, this tradition was continued – land and buildings have frequently been given as waqf, and used to build schools, hospitals and mosques, amongst other functions to benefit the community.
Today, modern Islamic charitable organisations like Islamic Relief accept monetary donations as waqf, investing the money wisely (for example, purchasing property to be rented out) and using the profits to fund their development programmes, helping the poorest communities around the world. In 2012, Islamic Relief Waqf generated profits which were used to build wells in Sudan, provide healthcare to Sri Lankan children and distribute emergency aid to Syrian refugees, amongst other projects.