The Ottoman awqaf addressed societal concerns far beyond the SDGs. People were born in waqf property, educated in waqf schools, worked in waqf enterprises, received medical treatment in waqf hospitals and were buried in waqf lands.

During my research into the alignment of SDGs with the Maqasid al-Shariah (MaS) and how the awqaf sector can play a significant role in achieving the two, I came across a very interesting publication of the Turkish Directorate of Awqaf titled Marvelous Foundations containing details about selected awqaf projects from different parts of Turkey set up during the Ottoman era. There are about 113 awqaf covered in this publication. A cursory look through the list excited me enough to consider this rather unusual question. What if we move on a time machine back to the 18th Century or the 19th Century Ottoman and we have this UN-mandated SDG document in our hands, then what’s going to be our verdict? What was the track record of the Ottomans in using the institution of awqaf towards achieving the MaS, the SDGs? Or, were the nature of public goods, societal needs (as reflected in the nature of awqaf that were created in response) very different from the present times?

So, I tried to classify the 113 awqaf foundations which have been documented in this particular publication based on their purpose and the social needs they served and map them to the MaS and the SDGs. The results showing the dispersion is before you. You can see that they almost address all of the SDGs. A few that are missing can be clubbed with other overarching SDGs, such as, poverty alleviation. Let’s take some examples. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised to see the kind of creativity and innovativeness that went into the thinking of the donors in this particular era. And I’ll pick a few from every class of SDG that I find particularly interesting.

For example, consider SDG1 or poverty alleviation. You had these awqaf which would actually pay the taxes for the poor. This could be direct taxes or indirect taxes or whatever that the poor and needy were always finding it difficult to pay. You ask any salaried person today and s/he will tell you that perhaps one month in a year s/he has to go without any income because the tax liability has to be cleared. So here are some awqaf which basically helped the poor and the not-so-rich to pay taxes that was claimed by the government. Here is a case where awqaf were actually helping to augment the revenue of the state (instead of reducing the same because of their tax-free status). Then you have of course the orphans and need for orphan care that is covered by many other SDGs including SDG1.

The women’s waqf paying the taxes of the poorNot AvailableBulgaria/Varna/ProvadiA.D. 1708
Taking care of orphansHaci Timurtaş PaşazadeIstanbulA.D. 1500
Paying the taxes of districts’ peopleEsbak Maraş Kadisi, Müftüzade, es-SeyyidIstanbulA.D. 1822
Buying cleaning materials and food for the poorNot AvailableIstanbulA.D. 1904
Social securitySadr-i Rumeli, Nakibu’l-Eşraf, es-SeyyidIstanbulA.D. 1846
Giving allowance to poor prisonersEsbak Kaptan-i Derya, el-HacIstanbulA.D. 1708
Paying taxes of the needyÇavuşIstanbulA.D. 1605
Dressing orphan studentsAbdurrahman KiziIstanbulA.D. 1773
Helping people who face great povertyAhmed bin Rahat, el-HattabSivasA.D. 1321
Sacrificing for the poorAbdurrahman Nafiz Paşa KarisiIstanbulA.D. 1857

Now considering SDG2, or zero hunger, here are some interesting examples. One waqf was dedicated to distributing halwa or sweets and that’s the only thing it was distributing! And there is another waqf which was distributing fruits and yet another distributing food at prayer places. Now these were examples of very specific objectives for which a (dedicated) waqf was created and this waqf was in operation year after year down the ages. Then, there is one waqf to run a soup kitchen for the needy, and one for distributing bread.

Distributing warm breadSahib-i Ata, Emir-i Kebir, el-Konevi, VezirSivasA.D. 1280
Distributing breadDavud Ağa ZevcesiTekirdağ/ÇorluA.D. 1739
Soup kitchen for the needyMengli Giray Kizi, Yavuz Sultan Selim ZevcesiIstanbulA.D. 1522
Distributing halvahÇayköy AğasiAmasya/CentralA.D. 1780
Providing fruitsBiyiklizade, KethüdaBursa/IznikA.D. 1594
Distributing meals at prayer placesSadr-i esbak, KöprülüSamsun/VezirköprüA.D. 1661

As I think through and seek to understand the mindset of the donor, I’m inclined to feel that these awqaf were perhaps created by business people or merchants who were themselves into the business of either selling fruits or making halwa or sweets or into bread making. These business people also created awqaf in their corresponding lines of businesses. Take a pause and look around. How many of our businessmen in present times think of creating awqaf in their own areas of expertise or areas of businesses?

Relating to SDG3 or healthcare, several of the Ottoman awqaf were dedicated to provision of good health care and hygiene that includes some interesting examples, such as, circumcision of boys and distributing honey during Ramadan night prayers. Now it is not hard to see an Islamic dimension in such projects. So that’s why I see them as SDG3 but blended with MaS. You have awqaf for providing Summer clothes for orphans. Moving on, we also find awqaf for building hospitals and dispensaries for the blind, for infectious diseases etc.

Making medicine for patientsKanuniIstanbulA.D. 1547
Offering domiciliary care for patientsGermeyanoğluKütahyaA.D. 1888
Infectious Disease TreatmentAhmed bin Rahat, el-HattabSivasA.D. 1321
Having boys circumcisedSultan, VeliAmasyaA.D. 1496
Buying summer clothes for orphansHabib-i Acemi, Kizil, Cami-i KebirUrfaA.D. 1384
Wishing that doctors have good temperamentSultan Izzedin I Keykavus bin II Keyhüsrev bin II Kiliçarslan bin I MesutTokatA.D. 1221
Serving blindsEl-HacSiirtA.D. 1903
Prohibiting tobacco to elementary school teachersNot AvailableDiyarbakirA.D. 1833
Distributing syrup made from kaçkar honey after Ramadan night prayersNot AvailableIstanbulA.D. 1663
Establishing hospitals for the needyBezm-i Alem Valide SultanIstanbulA.D. 1847
Building hospitalsEbu’l-feth, SultanSivasA.D. 1200
Protecting patient rightsSultan Murad-i Salis Validesi, Atik Valide SultanIstanbulA.D. 1582
Preparing medicine for eye illnessesOrtayazici, Tokadi, Sekbanbaşi, el-Hac, Zaim, Hafiz, SeyyidIstanbulA.D. 1745

When it comes to provision of education or SDG4, again you have some interesting examples of teaching calligraphy, taking students for picnicking, repairing books, distributing and donating science books and for employing qualified personnel in education. Indeed, we did a very quick survey of contemporary awqaf after this exercise and it was hard to find a present day waqf with such narrow and focused programs of action. There reason perhaps lies in the comparatively huge number of awqaf in the Ottoman society so that each waqf could focus on a single microscopic objective instead of having a broad social agenda as in case of contemporary awqaf. The flipside is that such awqaf face the risk of becoming redundant as soon as ground realities shift.

Awarding scholarship to BoardersAntep Müftüsü, Müderrisin-i Kiramdan, KozanizadeGaziantepA.D. 1831
Taking students for picnickingMelek Ahmed Paşa Kizi Fatma Hanim SultanIstanbulA.D. 1716
Contributing outfits and stationery for studentsSefer Ağazade, Istabl-i Amire de KaşikciIstanbulA.D. 1730
Teaching calligraphyNot AvailableIstanbulA.D. 1740
Repairing booksEş-ŞeyhKastamonuA.D. 1860
Providing education for poor childrenVeli, Gazi SultanAmasyaA.D. 1495
Donating science booksÇildir Valisi, Sefer Paşazade, el-HacAhiskaA.D. 1756
Employing qualified personnel in educationValide-i Sultan Mehmed Han bin Kanuni Süleyman HanIstanbulA.D. 1551

Now SDG5 is very interesting because it is about women empowerment. For good reasons, Islamic economists are not always very comfortable with this concept. In the context of Islamic microfinance our practitioners will tell you that they aim at family empowerment and not just women empowerment. Islam considers family as one unit, as an integrated whole. You don’t look at empowering a part of this integrated unit. But then there are cases of deserted or displaced women. Then you certainly have an obligation to provide for shelter and all other basic amenities. Among the Ottoman awqaf, many were essentially targeting a good marriage, a good and successful marriage (as a precursor to a strong family). And one can very easily or very clearly link this purpose with one of the Maqasid al-Shariah, which is protecting and nurturing lineage or progeny. You cannot achieve this successfully if you are somehow downplaying the importance of marriage as an institution. So, marriage is a very sacred institution in Islam and you have the husband and wife playing a very important role, the family playing a very important role in the development of the society. And this is something that perhaps is not very well understood by our contemporary policy makers. So, what we see in Ottoman can perhaps be classified as cases of blending this maqasid – protection and nurturing a family – with woman empowerment. And then there were awqaf which took care of widows, which provided shelter to women. Interestingly, some were dedicated to preparation of dowry for (poor) girls. Preparation of dowry being an Islamic obligation of parents, these awqaf performed this task on behalf of poor parents or in case of orphan girls. And there were awqaf arranging for wedding ceremonies and dresses for poor brides.

Preparing dowry for girlsSadr-i Rumeli, Nakibu’l-Eşraf, es-SeyyidIstanbulA.D. 1845
Women’s shelterEl-Hac, inegöllüzadeBursa,  inegölA.D. 1916
Uniting poor bachelorsII Selim KiziIstanbulA.D. 1573
Meeting the needs of widows and poor womenDefterdar Mustafa Çelebi ZevcesiIstanbulA.D. 1588
Arranging wedding ceremonies and dressing poor ladiesÇapanzade Abdulfettah Bey KiziIstanbulA.D. 1865

With respect to SDG6 there are again some very interesting examples. In addition to awqaf digging water wells (something that many present day awqaf also do), some were dedicated to providing hot water during cold winter for ablution. Similarly, there were awqaf distributing cold water during hot summer time or building bath houses and wash houses for the people. SDG7 is about as you know, providing lighting and energy. In this sample we did find a couple of cases of lighting of minarets and lighting of masjids.

Distributing cold water during hot summer timeHoca-yi SultaniIstanbulA.D. 1571
Providing hot water for persons who perform ablution in winter timeKocabeyzadeAnkaraA.D. 1721
Digging water wellsKiziIstanbulA.D. 1720
The water waqf eradicating harmful verminŞeyh Ali SemerkandiÇankiri, Eskipazar, Şeyhler Çamlidere villageNot Available
Building bathhouses and washhouses for peopleSakizli, es-SeyyidMedinaA.D. 1713
Building prayer places and washroomsHaci IsmailoğluIstanbulA.D. 1762

SDG8 is very important which is to create decent work and employment opportunities. Now for some of these awqaf we find that their ultimate objective was to create employment opportunities whether through self-employment or entrepreneurship or through giving a boost to industrialization by establishing factories or for example, by helping merchants who go bankrupt. Now these were awqaf, which are dedicated to ensuring a vibrant business culture. Similarly we have dedicated awqaf for silk-farming, preserving seeds, supplying agricultural tools, planting gumwood and so forth.

Planting gumwoodUmera-yi DeryadanSakizA.D. 1105
Develop silk farmingEdirne GovernerEdirneA.D. 1923
Supplying agricultural tools to farmersAhmed bin Rahat, el-HattabSivasA.D. 1701
Reclaiming agricultural areasEs-SeyyidIznikA.D. 1749
Preserving seedsCedid, Semiz, GedikIstanbulA.D. 1565
Establishing factoriesLaleli SultanIstanbulA.D. 1773
Helping merchants who go bankruptKile (Keyli) Naziri, el-Hac, Silahşor-i ŞehriyarIstanbulA.D. 1826

With respect to waqf for infrastructure the sample includes one dedicated to providing transportation in river and another in the form of an emergency ship in a lake.

Providing transportation in the riverSinan BeyIstanbulA.D. 1522
Providing an emergency aid ship in lake VanDiyarbakir BeylerbeyiVanA.D. 1588
Providing infrastructure servicesKaptan-i Derya, Cezayirli, GaziÇanakkaleA.D. 1777

A large percentage of the awqaf we found were city-based. Most were seeking to address various needs that are related to an inclusive sustainable city with all its facilities. So, we have a very large percentage – almost one third – of awqaf that were for managing road safety, building guest houses, preserving town aesthetics, erasing graffiti, and this list continues. And here one can find some good examples, some more examples of how the SDG11 relating to sustainable and inclusive cities was so well taken care of, for example, by awqaf for building graves for the muslims and non-muslims as well.

Erasing graffitiEbulfeth, Fatih SultanIstanbulA.D. 1470
Repair fountainsBaradoğluAmasya/GümüşhaciköyA.D. 1860
Preventing wastageSultan Üçüncü Mehmedoğlu Ahmed HanIstanbulA.D. 1613
Establishing camps for people to rest during summer and winterLüfti Efendi AzadlisiIstanbulA.D. 1754
Providing domiciliary care for the poor old peopleYorgani Emirzade, Sirkecibaşi, es-SeyyidIstanbulA.D. 1597
Preserving town aesthticsMehmed Hayri PaşaIstanbulA.D. 1903
Building guest housesSari, Berber, MüftüIzmirA.D. 1673
Putting snow to public fountains in hot daysMehmudzade, el-HacAydin/AtcaA.D. 1860
Managing road safetyNot AvailableAntakyaA.D. 1705
Building prayer places by riversDergah-i Ali Gediklilerinden, YeğenIstanbulA.D. 1766
Repairing martyr and companion shrinesHaci, ÖmeroğluKayseriA.D. 1832
Donating olive grove to the lodge of Mevlevi DervishesSarioğlu EşiIstanbulA.D. 1883
Illuminating mosques and minaretsel-HacAydinA.D. 1742
Building rest stops for pilgrimsKazaskerBursaA.D. 1570
Beautifying the environmentNebizade el-HacIstanbulA.D. 1596
Repairing pavementsSadr-i Rumeli, Nakibu’l-Eşraf, es-SeyyidIstanbulA.D. 1861
Dedicating houses for elderly womenSultanIstanbulA.D. 1553
Hosting guests who come to the villageNot AvailableBalikesir/EdremitA.D. 1757
Carrying out the maintenance and repair works after a natural disasterHassab Haci IskenderzadeIstanbulA.D. 1549
Repairing bridgesRumeli Beylerbeyi, Kara, Anadolu BeylerbeyiMacedonia/ SkopjeA.D. 1514
Protecting historical locationsHaci Mehmed oğlu Ali EfendizadeÇanakkale/ÇanA.D. 1801
Providing fountainsKayseriliErzurum A.D. 1722
Building dervish lodge for pilgrims, dervishes, and the poorEl-Hac, Hoca, Vilayet Meclis-i AzasiUrfaA.D. 1860
Caring for the interior design and cleanness of historical placesKöprülüzade, Diyarbakir and Van ValisiDiyarbakirA.D. 1721
Building graves for the muslim and non-muslimSilahdar-i ŞehriyariIstanbulA.D. 1795

It is often believed that our early Islamic scholars didn’t fully realize the importance of preserving the planet and its environment.  This turns out to be an erroneous assumption considering the fact that some of the Ottoman awqaf were precisely created to address SDG 14 and SDG 15 that relate to protection of the environment, land and marine resources and so on and so forth. The Ottoman had some very interesting awqaf for protecting the environment, for forestry, for getting fresh air in bosphorous, and for planting willows by rivers. And there were awqaf establishing meadows for animals. Care for animals and all living things was exclusively pursued as an objective of some awqaf, such as, for building shelter for pigeons or protecting storks aor cleaning up lakes.

Protecting the environment and forestryAltunizadeIstanbulA.D. 1885
For getting fresh air in BosphorusPeksimetçibaşiIstanbulA.D. 1730
Planting willows by riversSadrazam, Sokullu, Sokullu, Şehid, Tavil, Ibrahim HanzadeIstanbulA.D. 1574
Providing water for animals of the public and passengersNot AvailableAydin/TireA.D. 1544
Establishing meadows for animalsAdana Beylerbeyi, RamazanoğluAdanaA.D. 1538
Giving bread to street animalsEl-Hac, es-SeyyidIstanbulA.D. 1778
Building pigeonryÇandarlizadeBursaA.D. 1707
Improving animals and seedsAhmed bin Rahat el-HattabSivasA.D. 1321
Protecting storksMürselli, HaciIzmir, ÖdemişA.D. 1889
Cleaning up lakesNot AvailableEdirneA.D. 1585

SDG16 is about dignity of individuals and their right to live in peaceful societies that is free from strife. Some awqaf were dedicated to strengthening the defense system through supporting the naval forces of the country or providing logistics support to the army. Some awqaf were dedicated to rescuing Christian slaves, rescuing  Muslim slaves and also providing horses to veterans going to war.

Treating prisoners at holy nightsEs-SeyyidBursaA.D. 1799
Rescuing Christian slavesNot AvailableIstanbulA.D. 1740
Rescuing Muslim slavesSelahaddin Pehlivan KiziDamascusA.D. 1308
Uniting slavesNot AvailableEdirneA.D. 1472
Helping castawaysSubaşiIstanbulA.D. 1576
Supporting the navyNot AvailableIstanbulA.D. 1910
Providing logistic support to the ArmySultan Selim III ValidesiIstanbulA.D. 1795
Providing horses to veterans who are going to warSadrazam, Sokullu, Sokullu, Şehid, Tavil, Ibrahim HanzadeIstanbulA.D. 1574

So one cannot but find it amazing that the Ottoman could think of these needs – needs for such a wide range of public goods – and they could think of providing solutions to them through the institution of awqaf. And of course, there were some awqaf, which were exclusively for protection and nurturing of deen, such as, for sending people for Hajj and providing clock repairing service at masjids or cleaning services for masjids.

Now when we look at the contemporary awqaf, to what extent they try to address the SDGs and the MaS? We are right in the middle of a comprehensive study that seeks to address this question. Preliminary results show that contemporary awqaf have a long way to go. A bulk of them focus on provision of education and healthcare with a few examples of skill enhancement, gender equality and livelihood generation and financing the poor. Some of the upcoming areas include agriculture and infrastructure.

In the Ottoman Empire, waqf services were spread far and wide. As rightly underscored by the following statement, the Ottoman awqaf addressed societal concerns far beyond the SDGs. People were born in waqf property, educated in waqf schools, worked in waqf enterprises, received medical treatment in waqf hospitals and were buried in waqf lands

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