Charity, social responsibility, and economic empowerment are deeply embedded in the ethos, culture and tradition of Islamic teachings. Charity and compassion constitute the bedrock of human coexistence in Islam. Among the various modes of charity, the institute of waqf occupies a preeminent position which has historically played a pivotal role in the sustained development and growth of the broader community.
Waqf is one of the oldest legal traditions in Islam which has been successfully used to cater for the educational, religious, social, and welfare development of the ummah. The first religious waqf was land donated for the building of the masjid in Quba during the historic migration of Prophet Muhammad (saw). This was followed by the land purchased for the building of the grand masjid in Medina. Universities such as Al-Azhar in Cairo, Al Qarawiyyin in Fez and Zaitouna in Tunis were founded upon Waqf.
Waqf continued to play a key role in the development of Islamic civilizations. As mosques was the major source of knowledge and education, the waqf tradition was then expanded into buildings of centre of education, hospitals, which some are still be used to date.
The institutions of Zakah and Waqf are among several instruments instituted by Islam to combat poverty and enhance welfare in the society. While Zakah helps generate a flow of funds and recruit the necessary manpower, Waqf provides the material infrastructure and creates a source of revenue for use in, among others, social welfare enhancing activities both at family, community and state levels. The role of Zakah and Waqf institutions is basic in poverty alleviation and there is a need of their revitalisation in the modern time. Zakah serves as a unique mechanism of compulsory transfers of income and wealth from the haves to the have-nots in the community. Through Zakah, every individual in the society is assured of minimum means of livelihood, which provides social security system in an Islamic society. Waqf on the other hand, has been used to provide the material infrastructure and create a source of revenue for use in, among others, social welfare enhancing activities both at family, community and state levels. To activate and revitalise the Zakah and Awqaf systems in Muslim societies and communities, there is dire need for reform in their management formulars and to address the unsettled issues inherent in the institutions.