From Fez to Hyderabad, up to a third of all land in cities with a historic Islamic presence lies stagnant, yet has been designated for a social purpose through waqf. Waqf (pl. awqaf), or Islamic endowments, have significant potential to leverage large-scale social development. However, gaps in knowledge on the extent and administrative context of current awqaf continue to slow reform and investment. This paper presents the initial findings of a multi-country survey of the administrative and management context of land awqaf, and features snapshot profiles of Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Iran, Morocco and Uzbekistan. In nearly all the countries examined, centralized and purely-public management frameworks struggle to tap the potential of waqf holdings, often receiving rents of less than 1/100th of market value, and have low capacity to improve or maintain property, leaving wide extents of waqf land abandoned and underutilized. Grounded in these findings, the paper makes recommendations towards the goal of setting a research and policy agenda for the revitalization of awqaf. Although country contexts studied varied widely, cross-cutting areas of opportunity to unlock these social land assets include (a) separating management of charitable awqaf from religious awqaf (b) restructuring management incentives, especially in highly centralized contexts, with tools to facilitate deeper private sector involvement, (c) affirming and revitalizing innovative legal and financial instruments for waqf management within the Islamic jurisprudence tradition and connecting to related global land tools and (d) supporting transparency and availability of data on current waqf holdings. Building knowledge and advocating for policy and programmatic reform along these four poles can revitalize waqf as a culturally relevant and potent vehicle for the private provision of public goods, especially to the underprivileged.

The paper was accepted to and presented at the World Bank Land and Poverty Conference in 2014. You can access it here.