Row over Waqf properties: Jamaat-e-Islami Hind President urges action to safeguard India’s Islamic endowments

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Anwarulhaq Baig

NEW DELHI—Highlighting India’s position as the world’s largest holder of Waqf assets, third only to the landholdings of its military and Indian railways, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) President Syed Sadatullah Husaini has pointed out the vast, yet untapped, revenue potential of Islamic charitable endowments, hampered by encroachments, corruption, mismanagement, underutilization, and legal disputes.

In a speech on the present situation of Auqaf in India, the JIH President shed light on key aspects of Waqf, outlining its significant role in the Islamic economic system and the potential benefits of effective implementation. Calling the Waqf a vital institution of Islam and underlining the pivotal role of Waqf as a pillar of the Islamic economic structure, he said, “Normally, people look at only its materialist or beneficial aspects, including that if Waqf properties are recovered then so many assets or money will be generated which will greatly benefit the community. Definitely, that is a very important thing, but along with that, Waqf is also a very important pillar of the whole economic concept of Islam and the Islamic economic system.”

Highlighting how, if effectively implemented, Waqf could represent various tenets of Islam in a pluralistic society like India, demonstrating the practical manifestation of Islamic teachings, Mr. Husaini said, “If Waqf is completely reinstated, then in a plural society like India, it will represent various Islamic concepts and will be a very significant means of giving practical evidence of Islam in the country.”

Asserting that the Muslims do not have power here, nor do they have control over government institutions in the country, Mr. Husaini said, “However, they hold a few limited institutions in this plural society, such as the Waqf, through which they can demonstrate the blessings and benefits of the Islamic system to the world.”

Emphasizing the Islamic economic concept that wealth should be invested for productivity and growth, and should not be wasted on extravagance, the JIH President said, “In Islam, attention has also been given to the growth of wealth. Unlike other religions, Islam does not discourage accumulating wealth but emphasizes that it should be used for the welfare of human beings and for charity to those in need while discouraging the squandering of wealth on frivolous expenses. An extravagant person is called a friend of Satan. Its aim is for the betterment of society rather than individual gains. If a person sleeps hungry in a village or colony, then all the villagers or residents are guilty and sinful.”

Throughout Islamic history, he said that the prosperous classes, the wealthy, and even the poor whoever had wealth, utilized it for the maximum benefit of society, making their wealth as productive as possible.

Quoting Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) as saying, “As for one who is the guardian of an orphan who has wealth, then let him do business with it and not leave it until it becomes consumed by Islamic charity (Zakat),” Mr. Husaini signified the intention of investments in orphans’ assets to make them productivity until they mature. 

Describing the Islamic economic concept of investing wealth to make it productive for the benefit of the community as the main philosophy of Waqf, Mr. Husaini explained that waqf also emphasizes making assets productive, facilitating growth, and using them for the benefit of human beings.

Drawing a parallel between the Waqf’s approach to managing assets and modern business concepts such as Capex (Capital Expenditures) and Opex (Operating Expenses), Mr. Husain elaborated, “The Waqf embodies a similar principle of maintaining the corpus (Capex) to ensure its longevity while simultaneously generating income (Opex) for fulfilling its charitable objectives.”

Presenting the historical backdrop of Waqf and tracing its origins from the time of the Prophet (PBUH), the JIH President mentioned that the first Waqf in Islamic history was Masjid Quba, followed by Masjid Nabawi in Medina, and the first ever documented Waqf al-Khairi was seven date gardens donated as charity by the Prophet’s companion Hazrat Mukhayriq, who was martyred in the Battle of Uhad. Afterwards, he added that Islamic caliphs like Hazrat Umar, Hazrat Usman, and others continued the Waqf tradition throughout history.

Quoting from the book ‘Maza Khasarul al-Alam Bi Inhitatil Muslimeen,’ (Islam and the World: The Rise and Decline of the Muslims and Its Effect on Mankind) written by world-renowned Islamic scholar, the late Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, who extensively wrote that status and respect in Islamic history were based on individuals’ good deeds and charitable works—particularly those who donated more property as Waqf—rather than material possessions, the JIH chief commented that in contrast, in the modern standard of living, a person’s status is determined by wealth, properties, and brands. “According to various studies on Waqf, it was not just charitable work for the needy. Throughout Islamic history, people conducted in-depth studies on the needs of their localities and cities before dedicating their assets to fulfill requirements,” he added.

Mr. Husaini mentioned a long list of recipients for whom assistance can be provided through Waqf, from aiding the poor, widows, orphans, students, ulema, preachers, families of patients, and arranging nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding women, to establishing mosques, madrasas, educational institutions, research laboratories, observatories, public gardens, public entertainment places, fountains, funding various causes such as scientific research, propagation of Islam, Jihad, religious gatherings and infrastructure like streetlights and sanitation efforts, as well as providing foods and well-being of animals and birds. “Even those slaves or servants who accidentally damage their masters’ goods and might fear the anger of their masters would be aided by Waqf,” he added.

According to Western accounts, he said that during the Ottoman Empire, it was entirely possible to live one’s entire life from cradle to grave with the help of the Waqf.

Talking about Waqf in India, which is the 3rd largest land owner after the Armed Forces and Indian Railways, Mr. Husaini said, “India has the largest number of Waqf properties in the world, with Turkey a distant second. It forms a major Waqf hub alongside Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Makkah, and Medina. According to the Justice Sachar Committee report, an estimated 60 million acres of land, about 2428 square kilometers in India, are Waqf properties, equivalent to roughly half the size of Punjab.” 

Mentioning the massive market value of Waqf properties, estimated at around two lakh crore rupees, he highlighted the potential for generating annual revenue of 20 thousand crore rupees – a figure exceeding the budgets of many small Indian states. However, he expressed concern that currently, only 163 crore rupees are being generated, raising questions about underutilization.

Saying that since independence, Waqf properties have faced consistent challenges, including attempts by communal forces to abolish the system or seize control of these lands, Mr. Husaini mentioned that, to counter these threats, various efforts were undertaken, such as enacting the first and second Waqf Acts and implementing various reforms.

Terming encroachment on Waqf lands as the biggest threat, Mr. Husaini, citing the Sachar Committee report, identified two types. Firstly, a large part of the Waqf lands has completely vanished or lapsed from the control of Waqf, as it was taken over by the government or private companies for developing residential complexes, private properties, government institutions, etc. Secondly, while remaining on paper under Waqf control, substantial land is leased out at minimal rates, generating practically no revenue or benefit. Citing the ninth Joint Parliamentary Committee report on Waqf issues, a crucial reference source, he revealed a staggering 70-80% of the Waqf lands are encroached upon, a significant chunk of the total.

Highlighting mismanagement as the second major challenge, Mr. Husaini revealed that even the remaining 20-30% of properties under Waqf boards’ control suffered from severe mismanagement and unproductive use, despite strict Islamic injunctions against the unproductive use of assets or wealth.

Identifying corruption by both custodians of properties and Waqf officials as the third major challenge, Mr. Husaini cautioned that combating all three hurdles equally is critical to saving the Waqf properties.

Talking about the anti-Islam and communal forces that want to end this whole system of Waqf, Mr. Husaini mentioned that currently, 120 petitions are pending in various courts, including the Supreme Court, regarding Waqf properties. He disclosed that some of the petitions raised issues about the ownership of the waqf properties, including proposals for their acquisition by the government, claiming them as part of the public treasury left by Muslim rulers.

Acknowledging the issues plaguing Waqf assets, such as encroachment, unproductive utilization, and legal disputes, Mr.Husaini highlighted the urgent need for concerted efforts across legal, political, media, and public opinion fronts to safeguard and rejuvenate Waqf properties.

Sounding the alarm about the threats facing Waqf, including encroachment, unproductive use, corruption and legal rows, Mr. Husaini emphasized the urgent need for concerted efforts by the entire community across legal, political, media and public opinion fronts to safeguard and rejuvenate the important Islamic institution of endowment in the country.

Highlighting the Indian Muslim community’s collective responsibility, Mr. Husaini suggested several ways to safeguard and revitalize Waqf, such as raising public awareness, closely monitoring government actions, including orders, notifications, and court proceedings, engaging in media discourse, and trying to make proactive to state Waqf boards.

For making effective and efficient state Waqf boards, he stressed the need to ensure the appointment of full-time, dedicated chief executive officers (CEOs) in the state Waqf boards. However, Mr. Husaini disclosed that currently, there are no full-time CEOs in many states, including Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Assam.

Underscoring the crucial role of surveys in safeguarding Waqf properties, as mandated by the 2013 Waqf Act, Mr. Husaini revealed a shocking statistic a decade after its enactment, only 11 of 32 Waqf boards have conducted surveys, and even those are incomplete and riddled with errors. This, he stated, constitutes a blatant violation of the Act.

Hailing the launch of the Waqf Management Information System (WMIS) as a critical step towards transparency and accountability, the JIH president urged all community members to engage with the platform actively. Accessible online, WMIS provides comprehensive data on Waqf properties, empowering public scrutiny and correction of discrepancies. “Through this platform, we can actively track property utilization, and leases, and make pressure for streamlined management of Waqf,” he added.

Mr. Husaini issued a resounding call to action, urging the community to stand together and take concrete steps, such as actively engaging with WMIS and participating in awareness campaigns to protect the future of Waqf in India.

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