Waqf, Coptic

COPTIC WAQF

An Arabic term (plural awqaf) that has a meaning similar to “estate in mortmain,” the inalienable possession of property, or tenure of land, by an ecclesiastical or charitable organization. The waqf is a legal system derived from Islamic jurisprudence, which was applied in Egypt after the ARAB CONQUEST (A.D. 641).

Awqaf are of two categories: charitable endowments for religious institutions, churches, monasteries, etcetera; and family endowments made in favor of children and grandchildren of the deceased. According to Egyptian Law No. 48, issued in 1946, a non- Muslim may thus dispose of his property, providing the purpose thereof is compatible with Islamic religious law.

Many Coptic benefactors have disposed of property, agricultural lands, or other possessions, specifying a certain proportion of the usufruct for the poor, a charitable society, a church, monastery, or the patriarchate. Accordingly, the property thus endowed cannot be used for any other purpose, nor can it be liable to confiscation or seizure.

Following the Egyptian revolution of 1952, two laws were promulgated. Law No. 178 limited agricultural land ownership to 200 feddans (acres), and compensated the owners or beneficiaries for the excess appropriated by the state. Law No. 180 abrogated family endowmnents, keeping only charitable ones.

The administration of Coptic charitable awqaf was for many years the subject of dispute between the COMMUNITY COUNCIL and the abbots of monasteries, who acted as trustees in accordance with the provisions of the relevant waqf documents. This dispute was resolved in 1960 during the patriarchate of Pope Cyril VI (1959-1971) by the promulgation of laws No. 264 and 1433, which provided for the establishment of a board to administer these awqaf. The board is under the presidency of the pope, with six metropolitans and six competent Coptic laymen as members. It has the legal capacity to receive appropriate compensation from the state in lieu of excess ownership of land, administer all Coptic awqaf, supervise their trustees, and apportion their usufruct as it sees fit.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Waqfs.” In Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol. 8, p. 1096. Leiden and New York, 1987.

ADEL AZER BESTAWROS

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