Islam, January 1991

A Comparison of Muslim and Christian Waqfs

Halil Necatioglu

I am in Melborn, Australia, as a gues of the Coburg Islamic Society. There are a mosque ans some medest annexes here on the society's private property. Most of the mosque community are our brethren. they publish a monthly magazine entitled Seher (Dawn) and have good trainin activities.

In order to meet and get to know Turks outside of the society, we organized a conference on Yunus Emre and Sufism which was also an opportunity for Islamic unity and togetherness. It took place on December 16th, 1990. the hall we rented was in the middle of a large courtyard so there was ample parking space for hundreds of vehicles belonging to the conference attendees. The property belonged to church and there were other buildings in the area belonging to the same church including a school and a chapel with large grounds.

The situation is the same in American and European countries that I have visited. The churches are not concerned with only matters of worship; they are especially active in social and cultural fields and possess great wealth, large buildings, property and land. They have established schools, nurseries, dormitories, colleges, advanced educational instutions, and universities. They control hospitals, hotels, large and strong business corporations, factories, organizations to collect donations, social welfare organizations, political workers, governors, and national representatives. They are powerful among the people and influential with the government. Whether it wants it or not, the government is forced to recognize and support them.

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It is impossible for secularism to be used as a weapon, a set of breaks or an alternative to religion. Secularism is only a formula which establishes freedom and equality among various religious sects and non-affiliated groups. It prevents any group from oppressing another. But, every group is as free, ambitious and dedicated as it wills. If a group is prevented from doing its activities, a strong and loud reaction would immediately follow.

We are poor Muslims who have been oppressed, fooled and used in our own country where over 90 percent of the population is Muslim.

In what condition are the foundations which our blessed forefathers established with the purest and deepest of religious feelings? Can we benefit from them according to the purpose for which they were established in the same way as Christians benefit from their foundations?

Not a chance. Most of them have been sold or are in ruins as a result of neglect. The greatest blow has come from the government. Which Government? The Grand National Assembly is made up of people like you and me. If the individuals in the assembly, the cabinet members, officials and civil servants are good-intentioned, knowledgeable, honest, compassionate, responsible and virtious people, then the government will successfully serve people and perform beneficial works. But if the government has been taken over by unvituous people, then the result will be oppression, looting, bribery, corruption and disaster.

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Many waqf (foundation) works and institutions which were keepsakes from our ancestors, wonderful works of art belonging to our nation, symbols of culture and prosperity plus sources of income which had been donated for the purpose of maintaining these works were sold by the administration of waqfs itself. Mosques, inns, caravansarais, land, houses, and shops were so mercilessly and hastily allowed to be looted that the scrap lead alone from the dome of a historical work found a buyer for 3000 liras while the whole work was sold for only 300 liras. Such threatening conditions in the sales contract as "if the mosque is not razed by the buyer, the sale will be null and void" encouraged destruction of these works. Because Muslims consider waqf property unlawful to purchase, many mosques, tekkes, public baths, adjacent complexes and annexes become the property of non-Muslims. Just as with examples I have personally seen, places of worship were turned into places of business. Revenge was taken by putting toilets in the sacred niches indicating the direction of Mecca. Upon the owner's death, the property was bequeathed to a church. Thus, for example, the shops, public baths, and annexes in Suleymaniye, Rüstempaşa, Nuruosmaniye and Mahmutpaşa have become the property of non-Muslims and various churches. And it appears to be too late to do anything about it. With the same attitude of enmity, inscriptions from many foundations, buildings and fortresses were gouged out; glorious written works were gathered, burned and buried; libraries were sacked and wagonloads of archive records were sold to foreigners abroad.

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After the waqf ministry under the Ottomans was abolished, the substituing administration, Vakiflar Genel Müdürlügü (Waqfs General Directorate), did not protect its trusts and fulfill the conditions of waqs. Many of these foundations were lost at home and abroad. Should it have been their job to manage banks and hotels? The consciousness that hte property of these foundations is a national resource was not held with enough dynamism by the people to enable them to protect the waqfs. Waqf properties and goods were transgressed everywhere and remained vulnerable to looting. It is a painful and tragic situation.

Comparing to what I have seen outside the country, I see more clearly now the extent and significance of the transgression and harm done to the waqfs, works of art and our national and religious culture. Certainly Allah (May His Glory be exalted) will punish those who are responsible.

We ask now from government officials, judges, local authorities and national representatives that for Allah's sake they do whatever is necessary for compensation and indemnity for the wrong and injustice done to the waqfs.

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Administrations can remain permanent only upon a foundation of justice. If injustices are not corrected, the door will open to new injustice. The nation will have no trust in its government or law, and anarchy will begin. Social eruptions will harm the government and weaken the nation. The only salvation is to return to the truth, justice and Allah's command.

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