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Towards A Peoples’ Auqaf (Muslim Endowments) In Jammu And Kashmir – OpEd

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Waqf is a charitable endowment permanently dedicated by an individual to (Allah) God to provide services to the community. It is perpetual which means ‘once a waqf always a waqf’ and it cannot be alienated. The institution of Muslim endowments Kashmir was first established under the name of ‘Idara auqaf islamia and later Muslim Auqaf Trust and then as Jammu and Kashmir Board for Muslim Specified Wakfs’ to J&K Waqf Board now. It was established in 1940’s though with a noble cause but lost its track midway due to poor waqf management and excessive politicisation and today is yet again in search of its identity. What is lacking at the moment is an increased public interest in waqf institution and auqaf affairs and that is because of an established mass perception that waqf institution (Board) lacks transparency, accountability and credibility. The board is rich having an annual income of around 25 crores with 3500 properties and 14000 kanals of land as per media reports. Let us first look into what have been the basic problems so far:

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Primarily lack of a developmental vision, clearness and absence of an innovative waqf framework that could have lead to a functional management. Also lack of serious efforts to enhance internal management planning and decision making further impoverished auqaf in the erstwhile state of J&K. It has also been a massive human resource management (HRM) problem-the very process of managing people in the organization in a structured and thorough manner. What actually was the waqf institution’s HRM formula (as people generally say) was to fill in ruling party workers even if already retired and that continued for decades together?

The Concerns Today

At the moment the auqaf affairs seem to be far from being driven by right concerns. Post abrogation of Article 370 like many other institutions, waqf institution also witnessed a serious uncertainty, sort of an existential crisis. The erstwhile state waqf act (Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Specified Waqf and Waqf properties (Management and Regulation) Act, 2004) was repealed after the State got the UT (union territory)  status, waqf institution already drenched in a plethora of issues fell into an endless chaos. Even after many big promises like establishment of a new Waqf Board for UT of J&K, nothing clear has come to action so far and the basic issues that need an immediate overhaul remain as such. Such issues include,

  • Lack of ongoing self-reflection, assessment, and adaptation to new waqf models   
  • A balance that the administration must maintain as they run such faith based philanthropic institutions.  

Pressing Questions

Government can’t afford to undermine such an important institution and no confusion can be left unaddressed at this juncture when enough time has passed since October 31,2020. At the moment every sane person feels confused and questions, is the new Board in offing? If yes, when is it going to be formed? What about the existing one since there is also a lack of clarity on how to apply the new law (Central waqf Act 1995 or Wakf (Amendment) Act, 2013), on the already existing board till it is replaced with a new CWC run board? Under which act is the existing board running currently? Does it even exist or not or lies just as a structure without any directions for action? How will the smooth merger of the old into the new one take place without compromising the waqf management of such a huge institution for even an hour? What about the existing employees and their future?  Will any waqf knowing scholarly persons be nominated as members in the new board or no clean up will be seen again? Will administrators be given a thorough orientation of the Central Wakf Act for the smooth conduct, also remains to be seen? etc,. How will the new board differ from the existing one as far as religious functions, education and care for destitute is concerned? There are only questions but with no immediate and satisfying answers.

Managing Muslims Endowments

Waqfs can’t be viewed as relatively unimportant. Needless to argue that waqfs have to achieve the needed balance that requires a constant and continuing impact assessment. The effects of political polarization and security paradigm should have nothing to do with auqaf affairs and it should be visible to masses to feel transparency and simultaneously address the deep rooted alienation and sense of discrimination where state should come forward actively and on priority check politicisation of such important institutions.

Thankfully a first step in the right direction has been taken and a scholarly lady chairperson (Dr Darakshan Andrabi) has been chosen to guide and lead the auqaf affairs for the first time in the Board’s history. Frankly speaking she has a lot of mess to clear as decades of politicisation has ruined the very soul of the auqaf in Kashmir and it will take a lot of time to set the system right and arrest waqf mismanagement in its entirety and regulate auqaf affairs in true sense besides launching more income generating plans like waqf stores,waqf loans,waqf housing,waqf real state,waqf brands, etc,.

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Regulating waqfs is fine but regulation must facilitate and solve pressing issues that lie deep within. Just criticising or asking questions to auqaf managers is not the solution.Waqf institutions need ample funding and a onetime corpus to widen their area of intervention. Will government consider waqf dynamics on priority (on personalised auqaf) since there is no clear overarching framework, should it make one and take waqf experts on board on that matter? Also the regulation cannot be static but has to be too dynamic to give a good shape to the institution so that it thrives and fulfils its all the three mandates, that is, upkeep of religious shrines/mosques, education of the deserving and care for poor Muslims. 

Such institutions should also have the autonomy to have bigger partnerships with big religious umbrella bodies/other trusts/business groups that do big philanthropies, so that big issues (like disasters) can be tackled even besides big scholarships, important and waqf relevant research projects, waqf awareness workshops and conferences are arranged. A waqf movement is needed to be initiated by government and the current waqf leadership (Dr Andrabi) to give impetus to waqf institutions and promote waqf studies in the UT to develop a rich human resource and experts besides government providing all possible financial and other help to waqf boards of the two UTs (JK and Ladakh) to seek a new and strong beginning.

Understanding the Waqf Institution 

A poor and a politicised waqf clearly means discrimination against the deserving. Also the huge number of grievances that led to such a situation of auqaf need to be understood and waqfs can then only be made accountable through stringent audits. Therefore, the difficult balance of regulation from the government’s perspective is needed and for that religious leaders need to be consulted to spread waqf related awareness among masses. The current waqf institution in Kashmir needs to be owned with open heart and not with any marginalization and bias. The board members who have a good public welfare record and are credible personality’s need to be nominated and not just ruling party politicians/leaders which has always happened with auqaf unfortunately. Some clean personalities and people of substance need to be on the board to uplift auqaf affairs in J&K. Besides the chain of educational institutions (including professional colleges) that waqf runs need a serious attention and care once the new board is formed.

The unfortunate reality is that the waqf institution which everybody criticises so blindly created a success story-an institution like Islamic university of science and technology (IUST) but when the institution progressed it was taken over by the state and is no longer a waqf asset nor counted as a contribution despite hundreds of kanals of waqf land along with many waqf owned buildings besides crores of waqf money were given. Such an action impoverished auqaf further. We need to develop auqaf assets not snatch them once they grow also start contributing and creating more waqfs. Waqf contributions need to be well acknowledged as well otherwise it creates a sense of mass negativity and stereotyping of auqaf which itself hinders progress of the institution. Let the present waqf dispensation reach out to masses on positives of auqaf.

There are some more questions, amidst the ethnic, sectarian, economic, and political diversity of J&K (Jammu and Kashmir UT) how will the government find its own balance to have a Sunni waqf board exclusively? What about huge Shia auqaf that are hardly talked about and need to be maintained in Kashmir itself and what about Jammu’s State Wakf Council managed properties? People will be happy to see clarity on auqaf situation in the UT and government should demonstrate of how amid new circumstances the waqf institution shapes its regulation of wealth of faith that always remained doubtful so far. And how will it undo the Past experiences that underscored the importance of dynamic, waqf-specific approaches to government regulation is also a big issue to tackle? Just WAMSI project or digitization and geo-tagging of waqfs is not enough, waqfs need a vision and serious action on the ground simultaneously.

Key Areas to Work in

Waqf situation in the UT is complex and can’t be improved overnight and big issues lie there regarding waqf assets, land grabs, rent renewal issues, evacuation issues, etc that need a powerful board and not an uncertain team. Further waqf agricultural lands/orchards are to be converted to productive farms. Therefore having collaborations and sharing knowledge and information to manage waqf land (huge 14000 kanals) by introducing modern agricultural and horticultural technologies is needed on priority so that it becomes a handsomely income generating. Also waqf institution needs to venture in some new areas like waqf housing projects, waqf food stores, waqf preparatory schools and also like increasing production of most popular vegetables and poultry and meat production.

Since most of the valley’s poultry and meat needs are not fulfilled domestically and there is a huge dependence. Waqf can get in and this could give a new impetus to auqaf development and make it a people’s auqaf in real sense in terms of both employment and empowerment. The social value of Muslim endowments and an analysis of state-society relations and relations of power needs a quick and critical assessment for functional auqaf as administration of waqf needs a friendly nexus and understanding to make waqfs grow and progress. The board needs to ponder over the interest free easy loans through Islamic finance and strengthen its focus on health sector intervention and social finance, such as zakat, waqf and sadaqah in a proper manner to increase their action and annual revenue as well. Kashmir waqf needs many waqf initiatives that encourage community engagement and aim at social welfare.

The most pressing concern is waqf employees’ welfare and career advancement of the deserving ones only (as illiterate/non performing workforce is only a burden on auqaf economy) which needs a serious vision and for that waqf employees involvement in community initiatives is to be made mandatory be it their role in waqf campaigns, sincere service, etc that help boost the waqf earnings, nazr, niyaz , alms, (now online mode launched too) etc,. a lot of them need waqf awareness and importance of waqfs in being the basic social security of the society besides proper upkeep of waqf managed mosques and shrines.

Last Word

The waqf sector is considered the most trusted Institution for delivering public goods in Muslim societies as it effectively institutionalises the Islamic values of charity and therefore needs immediate attention and careful management in J&K. Thus, existing endowments or waqfs must be better managed and used for resource redistribution and strengthen civil society to think about social security and education of the destitute in the region besides a professional upkeep of a huge number of shrines and mosques.

There are countries that have over the years built an impressive and strategic network to regulate religious philanthropy affairs and paid close attention to auqaf, we too need to follow such progressive steps to overcome our auqaf issues and start looking at auqaf without any regard for political affiliations. Waqfs besides government attention need youth and trained waqf experts to run which unfortunately not the priority is including an urgent need for the waqf studies at university level that I have already emphasised abut in my earlier article ‘thinking waqf in pandemic times’.If auqaf has to be a success model in Jammu and Kashmir it direly needs a special package (around 100 crores) to begin with a vision and mission

A version of this article was first published in South Asia Journal

Dr. Adfer Shah

Dr. Adfer Shah, (Adfer Rashid Shah, PhD) is a New Delhi-based Sociologist and Social and Political analyst.He writes his columns for various reputed international and national media groups. He has been writing on South Asia's Socio-political realities especially on Kashmir sociology and Conflict Situation at Eurasia Review since 2012, where he is a Special Correspondent for South Asia Affairs and Associate Editor since January 2014. His recent publications include his three books (1)"Kashmir-Yearning for Peace: A Socio-Political history of Uncertainty and Chaos,2016" (ISSN: 978-3-659-55971-6), (2)'Social Science Research in Conflict Zones,2017' (ISBN: 978-620-2-47937- 0) and (3)'Tibetan Refugees in India: Struggle to Survive,2018' ( ISBN 81-8324-919-1)].. Reach him at [email protected]

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