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Essentials of Wakf

Essentials of Wakf
Essentials of Wakf


Essentials of a Valid Wakf under Hanafi Law

The Hanafi law outlines five essentials for a valid wakf: 

1. Permanent dedication of property

2. The competence of the wakif

3. Ownership of the property by the wakif

4. Religious purpose of the wakf

5. The wakf must be unconditional

  • Permanent Dedication of Property: A valid wakf requires the permanent dedication of property, whether movable or immovable, for charitable, religious, or pious purposes as understood in Muslim law. The wakif's ownership in the property must be extinguished.

A wakf for a limited period, such as 20 years, is not valid. For instance, if a wakfnama includes a condition that in the event of mismanagement, the property should be divided among the heirs of the settlor, the dedication is considered non-permanent, rendering the wakf invalid【Habib Ashraff v. Syed (1933) 144 I.C. 654】.

Similarly, the wakf of a house on leased land for a fixed term is invalid as the dedication cannot be considered permanent【Mst. Peeran v. Hafiz Mohammad 1966 All 201】.

  • The Wakif Must be Competent

The wakif, or dedicator, should be:

1. A person professing Islam,

2. Of sound mind, and

3. Not a minor.

If a widow and her sons, some of whom are minors, make a dedication of their inheritance, the wakf is valid only to the extent of the shares of the widow and the sons who have attained majority. It is not valid concerning the shares of the minor heirs.

  • The Wakif Must be the Owner of the Property: The subject matter of the wakf, i.e., the property, must belong to the dedicator at the time of dedication. A valid wakf can be made even if the property is leased or mortgaged. If the wakif is in possession of property under a purchase contract, a valid wakf can be made provided the sale is eventually completed【Musammat Bismilla v. Mohammad Ali AIR 1927 Oudh 162】.

  • The Object Must be Religious: The object of the wakf must be:

1. Not prone to failure,

2. Expressly set forth, and

3. Recognized by Muslim law as religious, pious, or charitable.

This includes a wakf created in favor of the settlor’s family, children, and descendants (wakf-ul-aulad). The purpose of a wakf must align with the general religious policy of Islam. Examples of valid objects for a wakf include:

- Hospitals, alms-houses, schools, universities, or public libraries

- Creation and upkeep of mosques and maintenance of worship therein, including burning lamps in a mosque

- Prayers for the dead at the tomb of a saint or the grave of a private person

- Support for the settlor’s family

- Colleges and provisions for professors to teach in colleges

- Assistance to poor Muslims to enable them to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca

- Reading the Koran in public places and private houses

- Payment of money to fakirs (the poor)

- Establishment and maintenance of an Imambara

  • The Wakf Must be Unconditional: The wakf must be unconditional and not subject to any option, contingency, or condition. For example, in the case of Pathukutti v. Avathalakutri, a wakf contingent on a future event was deemed invalid. The dedication must be absolute and complete at the time of its creation.

For a wakf to be valid under Hanafi law, it must involve a permanent dedication of the property by a competent owner for a religious purpose without any conditions that contradict the essence of perpetuity. Each of these elements ensures that the property dedicated as wakf serves a lasting and pious purpose, benefiting the community in accordance with Islamic principles.


Doctrine of Cy Pres in Wakf

The doctrine of cy pres is a legal principle applied when a clear charitable intention is expressed in an instrument of wakf, ensuring that the charitable purpose does not fail even if the specified objects become impractical or impossible.

Instead of allowing the charitable intention to be thwarted, the court will direct that the income or property be applied to purposes as close as possible to the original intent of the wakf.

Application of the Doctrine of Cy Pres: The doctrine of cy pres, derived from the French term meaning "as near as possible," is employed to ensure that the donor’s or testator’s charitable intentions are fulfilled to the greatest extent possible, even when the exact stipulations cannot be met.

This means that if the specified charitable objects in a wakf fail or become impracticable, the court will redirect the property or income to a similar charitable purpose that closely aligns with the original intent.

For example, if a wakf was created to support a particular charity that no longer exists or has ceased to operate, the doctrine of cy pres allows the court to reallocate the resources to another charity with a similar mission. The key is to preserve the charitable intent of the wakf, ensuring that the resources continue to serve a public good.

Limitations of the Doctrine of Cy Pres: It is important to note that the doctrine of cy pres cannot validate a wakf that is inherently invalid. If a wakf is void due to uncertainty or any other legal defect, the doctrine cannot be applied to remedy this invalidity.

The doctrine is only applicable when there is a clear charitable intention and the original purposes of the wakf have become impossible or impracticable to fulfill. 

For instance, if a wakf is created with vague or ambiguous terms that make it impossible to determine the charitable purpose, it cannot be saved by the doctrine of cy pres. The original wakf must have a clear charitable intention, and only then can the court step in to modify the application of the funds to a similar charitable use.

Judicial Interpretation and Application: Courts have consistently upheld the doctrine of cy pres to preserve the charitable nature of a wakf. For example, if a wakf was intended to support an educational institution that no longer exists, the court may direct the funds to another educational initiative that aligns closely with the original purpose.

The aim is to respect and uphold the donor’s charitable intentions as closely as possible, maintaining the spirit of the original dedication.

In summary, the doctrine of cy pres plays a crucial role in sustaining the charitable purposes of a wakf. By allowing courts to redirect funds to similar charitable uses when the original objects fail, it ensures that the donor's benevolent intentions continue to benefit the community.

However, this doctrine cannot be used to validate a wakf that is void from the outset due to legal defects or uncertainties. The doctrine of cy pres thus serves as a vital tool in preserving the integrity and effectiveness of charitable dedications in Islamic law.

Revocability of a Wakf

Under Muslim law, the principles governing the revocability of a wakf (a religious endowment) differ significantly depending on whether the wakf is inter vivos (created during the lifetime of the donor) or testamentary (created by a will to take effect after the donor’s death).

Irrevocability of a Wakf Inter Vivos: A wakf inter vivos, once validly constituted, is irrevocable. This means that once the property has been permanently dedicated to a religious, charitable, or pious purpose, the wakif (the donor) cannot later retract or alter the dedication.

The irrevocable nature of such a wakf underscores its perpetual commitment to the specified charitable purpose, ensuring that the property remains dedicated to the welfare of the intended beneficiaries.

If a wakif attempts to insert a condition in the wakf-nama (the deed of endowment) that reserves the right to revoke the wakf, such a condition renders the wakf void ab initio. The inclusion of a revocation clause fundamentally contradicts the permanent nature required for a valid wakf, thus invalidating the endowment from the outset.

Revocability of a Testamentary Wakf: In contrast, a testamentary wakf, which is created by a will to take effect after the death of the testator, remains revocable at any time before the death of the testator.

Since the testamentary wakf operates only from the moment of the testator's death, any revocation of such a wakf is treated simply as a revocation of the will itself, not of an existing wakf. This provides the testator with the flexibility to alter or cancel the testamentary dispositions as long as they are alive.

Wakf Created During Death-Illness: A special consideration applies to wakfs created during marz-ul-maut, or death-illness. If a wakf is made during a period of terminal illness, it may be canceled if the donor recovers from the illness.

This provision acknowledges the unique circumstances under which the wakf was created, allowing for its revocation if the perceived imminent death does not occur.

Key Points

1. Irrevocability of Wakf Inter Vivos: Once a wakf inter vivos is validly constituted, it is irrevocable. Any condition allowing revocation renders the wakf void from the beginning.

2. Revocability of Testamentary Wakf: A testamentary wakf can be revoked any time before the testator's death, as it only comes into effect posthumously.

3. Wakf During Death-Illness: A wakf created during a terminal illness can be revoked if the donor recovers.

These principles ensure that the dedication of property through wakf adheres strictly to the intentions of permanence and irrevocability, essential to its nature under Muslim law, while also providing flexibility in cases of testamentary dispositions and special circumstances like recovery from a death-illness.

Essentials of a Valid Wakf under Shia Law

Under Shia law, four primary conditions must be met for the validity of a wakf (a religious endowment):

  • Perpetuity: The dedication must be permanent. A wakf cannot be created for a limited period, such as five years. It must continue indefinitely.

  • Absolute and Unconditional: The dedication should not be conditional or contingent. It must be absolute without any restrictions or conditions attached.

  • Transfer of Possession: Possession of the dedicated property must be transferred from the wakif (the donor) to the beneficiaries or the mutawalli (the manager). The wakif should not retain any control or benefit from the property.

  • Complete Alienation from Wakif: The wakif must entirely divest himself of the property, meaning he should not retain any interest in it, including the usufruct (the right to enjoy the use and advantages of another's property short of the destruction or waste of its substance). If the wakif retains any benefit from the property, the wakf is invalid not only in respect to the reservation but in its entirety.

Additionally, the wakif must be the owner of the property at the time of creating the wakf. Dedication of a property that the wakif does not own, or dedication of intangible assets such as a dower debt by a widow from her deceased husband's estate, is invalid since the recovery of such debt is uncertain and not within the widow’s control.



Invalid Wakf due to Lack of Ownership at Creation:

  • Scenario: A creates a wakf of property belonging to B while negotiating to purchase it from B. A finalizes the purchase a month later.

  • Outcome: The wakf is invalid because A did not own the property at the time of the wakf's creation.

Valid Testamentary Wakf with Conditional Clause:

  • Scenario: A creates a wakf by will, including a clause that it shall not operate if a child is born to him.

  • Outcome: The wakf is valid because testamentary wakfs can be revoked or modified by the testator at any time before death.

Invalid Death-Bed Wakf Exceeding One-Third of Property:

  • Scenario: A creates a wakf by will of all his property during marz-ul-maut (death-illness).

  • Outcome: The wakf is invalid as it exceeds one-third of A's property without the heirs' consent. A wakf created by will or during death-illness can only operate on one-third of the wakif's property unless consented to by the heirs.

Difference Between Hanafi and Shia Law on Wakif's Retained Interest:

  • Scenario: A Hanafi Muslim dedicates his entire estate to a mosque but reserves the income for his maintenance during his lifetime.

  • Outcome: 

Hanafi Law: The wakf is valid as the wakif can provide for his maintenance from the income of the wakf property.

Shia Law: The wakf is invalid because the wakif cannot retain any interest in the dedicated property or its income.

These illustrations emphasize the critical requirements under Shia law that a valid wakf must meet, particularly focusing on the complete and permanent alienation of the property by the wakif and the absence of any conditions or retained interests.

Distinction Between Shia and Sunni Law of Wakf

  •  Completion of Wakf

  • Sunni Law: Under Sunni law, a wakf inter vivos (between living persons) is completed by a mere unilateral declaration of endowment by the owner. The declaration alone is sufficient to create a wakf

  • Shia Law: In contrast, under Shia law, a wakf inter vivos cannot be created by a mere declaration. Instead, it requires a bilateral contract, meaning that there must be a formal agreement and delivery of possession. If the settlor appoints himself as the first mutawalli (trustee), he must explicitly declare his intention to hold the property as a trustee, not as an owner.

  • Reservation of Interest in Property:

Sunni Law: Sunni law allows the settlor to reserve certain interests in the wakf property. Specifically, the settlor:

  1. May provide for his maintenance out of the income of the wakf property.

  2. May reserve the entire income for himself for his lifetime.

  3. May arrange for the payment of his own debts from the income of the wakf property.

Shia Law: Shia law is stricter regarding the reservation of interests. Under Shia law, the settlor should not benefit from the wakf property. This means the settlor cannot eat out of the wakf, i.e., cannot reserve any income or benefit from the property once it has been dedicated as wakf.

Summary of Key Differences:

  • Unilateral vs. Bilateral: Sunni law allows a wakf to be created unilaterally, while Shia law requires a bilateral agreement and transfer of possession.

  • Reservation of Benefits: Sunni law permits the settlor to reserve benefits or income from the wakf property, whereas Shia law prohibits the settlor from retaining any interest or benefit from the property after the creation of the wakf. 

These distinctions highlight the more stringent requirements under Shia law to ensure that once a property is dedicated as wakf, it is entirely and irrevocably set aside for religious, pious, or charitable purposes, without any residual benefits to the wakif.


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