Civilization of Endowments

Endowments are institutionalized forms of continuous charity as well as an expression of mercy, brotherly love and affection for creation for the sake of their Creator. This entails the dedication of specified property for the sake of Allah; in other words, it means to prevent tamlik and tamalluk[1] of its possession forever and to preserve it for the confined benefit of specified philanthropy. Its goal is to gain Allah’s contentment by giving generously to the needy, and approaching them with sympathy and compassion. In fact, giving wealth – even one’s life when needed – for the sake of Allah is a Divine command that must be obeyed by all Muslims since it is a precondition toward the fulfillment of faith. It is ordered in the Qur’an:

“Only those are Believers who have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and have never since doubted, but have striven with their belongings and their persons in the Cause of Allah: such are the sincere ones.” (Qur’an 49; 15)

“Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them.” (Qur’an 2; 3)

“Allah has purchased of the Believers their persons and their goods; for their (in return) is the Garden (of Paradise)…” (Qur’an 9; 111)

“And there is the type of man who gives his life to earn the pleasure of Allah; and Allah is full of kindness to (his) devotees.” (Qur’an 2; 207)

Islam, seeing this world as preparation for the hereafter and the hereafter as the continuation of this world, sets up the perfect balance between body & spirit,  matter & essence. This balance establishes the strongest foundation of a peaceful and prosperous society.

Waqfs, which serve in many diverse areas, are the most suitable institutions of infāq. Waqfs truly embody the Islamic ideals of mercy and compassion. It is commanded to us in the Qur’an to give from our most beloved belongings in order to earn the pleasure of Allah.

For a human being, the most valuable assets in this world are their lives and their wealth. Entering Paradise and gaining the pleasure of Allah the Almighty is only achievable by fully submitting one’s self and wealth for the sake of Allah. That is why those who live their lives and are generous with their wealth for the sake of Allah are called “endowed people.” This expression is fitting since they endow themselves and all their belongings in the way of beneficence.

Those people play an extremely significant role in ensuring peaceful and tranquil society. Their services and activities are generally not restricted to the limits of their mortality; in fact, they extend into the future by means of the establishments founded by them.  At the forefront of “endowed people” stand the prophets, the friends of Allah, and those who reach perfection through their training. They have spread their faith all over the world and filled the golden pages of history.

One of the reasons why the contemporary world has been witnessing the range of social and economic problems is due to the destruction of the old and rich endowments and the insufficiency of the newly established ones. Now it is the responsibility of the rich Muslims of our time to strive to re-establish endowments.

It is stated in a tradition of the Prophet (pbuh):

“When the son of Adam dies, all his acts come to an end but in three respects: sadaqah al-jariyah, or recurring charity, or a knowledge (by which people) benefit, or a pious son (and/or daughter), who prays for him (for the deceased).” (Muslim, The Book of Bequests (Kitab Al-Wasiyya), 14)

Muslim scholars have interpreted recurring charity as “endowments.” Recurring charity means to leave behind products which constantly serve humanity for the sake of Allah.

There are some streams and fountains, which have flowed limpidly since the creation of the world. And they will continue to flow until the last days, quenching the thirsty, bestowing hope and joy to the sorrowful, and inspiring souls. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) likened some kinds of charitable activities to those fountains. However, they are somewhat different than regular fountains, because their benefits will flow through eternity, not just until the end of this world, but eternally, and will keep adding rewards to the records of the servant. In other words, it becomes sadaqah jariyah.

Allah the Almighty has given everything in the universe for the service of human beings and endowed them with its responsibility. All assets including children, property, and health are entrusted to human beings, who are required to protect them fastidiously. Safeguarding them as needed is the only way to summon Divine blessings and mercy.

As Yunus Emre delicately states:

Owner of property, owner of goods

Who is the first owner of them?

Property is a lie, goods are a lie,

Here, dally yourself with them for a while

In reality, everything belongs to Allah the Almighty. Only the temporal right of disposition is given to servants. That is why one of the requirements for becoming a true believer is to live our lives knowing that all our possessions are entrusted to us. In this respect, disposing of our possessions beyond the limits of infāq indicates a breach of trust.  Not only will the reckoning for this breach be difficult in the Hereafter, but it obviously will also cause serious crises on both individual and social levels. Spending for the sake of Allah protects society against the dangers of capitalism and prevents envious and hostile feelings of the members of the society toward each other.

Affluent members of the society should never forget that one day they might lose everything and become tomorrow’s poor and needy. That is why they should do their best in joining the campaigns of infāq. This type of action represents a practical measure of their gratitude for the blessings of Allah the Almighty.

The real blessing of charity in the way of Allah depends on intention and sincerity. The important thing is to perform our actions with sincerity and piety. Allah the Almighty bestows tremendous blessings for benefaction performed for His sake even if the amount is really small. It is mentioned in the verse:

“The parable of those who spend their property in the way ofAllah is as the parable of a grain growing seven ears (with) a hundred grains in every ear; and Allah multiplies for whom He pleases; and Allah is Ample-giving, Knowing.”(2; 261)[2]

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) says:

Whoever builds a mosque for the love of Allah, Allah will build for him a mansion in paradise.” (Muslim, The Book of Masajid, 24)

Another significant benefit of endowments is that it keeps the wealthy from spending extravagantly and ostentatiously squandering their riches.

The main goal for establishing a waqf is to gain Allah’s contentment and achieve happiness in the Hereafter. Since the earliest days, endowments have been established to achieve this goal. That is why this goal has been incorporated into the term “al-taqarrub ilallah” (a means of getting closer to Allah), and it has been accepted as one of the conditions of an endowment’s validity.

Therefore, we are required to be much more sensitive with respect to endowments and righteously maintain these Divine trusts. Throughout Islamic history, this matter has been intently observed, and when it was violated, Muslims faced tragic consequences. In fact, the camel given to the Prophet Saleh (pbuh) as a miracle did not belong to anybody, but it was entrusted to the benefit of human beings by Allah.  In this way, it was similar to an endowment. The milk it produced can be likened to a public fountain and its owner was Allah the Almighty; however, the people of Saleh killed the camel and violated the trust. Consequently, they were destroyed.

The parable about Solomon (pbuh) and the two sparrows is an exemplary one.

On one occasion, Solomon (pbuh) rebuked a sparrow. It replied threateningly:

“I could devastate your reign.”

Solomon (pbuh) said:

“You are such a tiny bird and you say that you could destroy my kingdom.”

To this, the little bird responded:

“I can wet my wings and rub them on endowed soil. Then I can take the soil and throw it onto your palace’s roof. That would be enough to destroy your palace!…”

This parable reveals how much attention we should pay and how sensitive we should be regarding endowed property.

In fact, our ancestors advised us to be careful of a number of Ws (i.e. unnecessarily uttering the word wallahi [by Allah], to become an undutiful and irresponsible wali [governor], and to become a wasi [guardian]) that we cannot fully execute its requirements, and to realize the weight of responsibility in dealing with the property of waqfs in cases of improper usage. However, we should not misread the meaning of this advice. When someone has the right qualifications and is able to properly take care of property belonging to a waqf, he/she will be responsible for not serving endowments. The real meaning of the aforementioned warning is to emphasize the necessary caution taken in protection and distribution of waqf property.

Waqf is a moveable or immoveable property whose ownership belongs to Allah the Almighty, while its yield (i.e. usufruct, benefit and produce) is devoted to the benefit of human beings. In other words, when a property is donated, its title no longer belongs to the donor. It cannot be sold, donated or inherited. In order to underscore the seriousness of the waqf property’s administration, a prayer and a curse are included at the beginning and end of an endowment deed. The prayer is for people who take proper care of the waqf’s property, while the curse is for those who do not perform their service diligently, and cause harm to the property. The following example is an endowment deed’s curse that came from the Hagia Sophia Endowment deed written by Mehmed II the Conqueror.

“Whoever annuls or changes the conditions of this endowment, may the curse of Allah, of angels, of human beings, and of all other creatures be upon him!…”

These types of curses in endowment deeds are spiritual threats. Faithful Muslims who worry about their eternal salvation would not want to be subjects of such a curse and therefore always act carefully.

Being careful in the administration and protection of endowments has gained such an important place in Islam that the statement “شَرْطُ الْوَاقِفِ كَنَصِّ الشاَّرِع” or Conditions laid down by the waqif [the person who establishes a waqf] are just like rules laid down by Allah the Almighty” has become a legal principle. In other words, just as the thought of changing Allah’s rules is prohibited, Allah the Almighty making changes to the conditions of a waqif is considered impermissible. Because of this principle, endowments established centuries ago continue to function to the present day.

Endowments first started in places of worship, and then spread to other social fields. According to a narration, Abraham (pbuh) was so enraptured by Archangel Gabriel’s praising Allah that he (pbuh) gave his entire herd to the Archangel. But, the Archangel didn’t accept Abraham’s donation because he was an angel. Thereupon, Abraham sold his herd, bought a plot of land and offered it to the benefit of the people. In this way, the first endowment began with Abraham (pbuh).[3]

Our beloved Prophet, who was sent as a mercy and an excellent example for all the world stated:

“Show mercy to those on earth, so that those above the heaven will show mercy to you”(Tirmidhi, Birr, 16; Abu Dawud, Adab, 66). Just as he was the most excellent example for his people in all aspects of life, he actualized endowments during his lifetime , by  donating seven of his date groves in Medina and his share from the date groves in Khandaq and Khaybar for the sake of Allah the Almighty. His Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) followed his footsteps and also donated their most valuable properties. Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) says:

“I do not know any Muhajir or Ansar wealthy enough who does not have an endowment”(Ibn Qudamah, Al-Mughni, vol. V, 598)

Umar(may Allah be pleased with him) gained the possession of a date garden from the booty of Khaybar. For three consecutive nights, he dreamt that he had donated the garden. He came to the Prophet (pbuh) and said:

“O Messenger of Allah! I have never had such a valuable garden in my life. I will do whatever you order.”

The Prophet (pbuh) replied:

“If you want, you can donate it for the sake of Allah. After that, it cannot be sold, donated or inherited. Only its harvest can be given as charity.”

Immediately, Umar (r.a.) donated his garden, which benefited the needy who strove for Islam, slaves who wished to be emancipated, and wayfarers.[4]

Giving sincerely from the most beloved of possessions is a central principle in charity. On one occasion, the Companions of the Prophet were gathered in the Medina mosque, listening to the sermon of the Prophet. The Prophet (pbuh) recited the following verse:

By no means shall you attain to righteousness until you spend (benevolently) out of what you love; and whatever thing you spend, Allah surely knows it(3: 92)

Upon hearing this verse, the Companions began to think about how they might apply this principle to their lives. Among them was Abu Talha (r.a.). He had the greatest wealth of date-palms among the Ansar of Medina, and he prized his garden, above all, which was situated opposite the Mosque of the Prophet. In fact, he used to invite the Prophet (pbuh) to his garden and offer him food and water.

Abu Talha (r.a.) was influenced by this verse so much that he came to the Prophet (pbuh) and said:

“O Allah’s Apostle! Allah says, ‘By no means shall you attain to righteousness until you spend (benevolently) out of what you love’ I prize above all my wealth this garden called Bairuha’. I want to give it in charity for Allah’s Sake, hoping for its reward from Allah. So, you can use it as Allah directs you.”[5]

According to the narrations, after this conversation, Abu Talha (r.a.) went to his garden to fulfill his commitment. He found his wife sitting under a tree therein and did not enter the garden. His wife asked:

“O Abu Talha! why are you waiting outside, why don’t you come in?”

Abu Talha replied:

“I will not go in. You also need to pack your belongings and come out.”

“O Aba Talha! Why? Is not this our garden?” his wife asked.

“No. From now on, it belongs to the needy of Medina,” he said. He continued telling his wife about the revelation of the verse and his response to it.

When his wife asked whether he also donated the garden in her name, he responded affirmatively. Then he listened while his wife uttered the following words:

“May Allah be pleased with you! I was thinking about the same thing, but I never had the courage to tell you. May Allah accept our charity. I am leaving this garden right away.”

It is not too hard to imagine how incredible our world would be if the praiseworthy morals of the Companions, like Abu Talha, spread throughout the entire world.

The Ottomans, who showed great care in following the footsteps of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and his Companions, fervently established charitable institutions and took them as their apex. As a matter of fact, endowments flourished, both in number and size, during the Ottoman period. Endowments during the Ottoman Empire emerged as a bonding institution through which wealth was circulated within the society. Instead of reserving their wealth to themselves and their families, affluent members of the society offered their wealth to the benefit of their community for the sake of Allah the Almighty.

During the Ottoman Empire, endowments reached such a level that they not only served the needs of human beings, but also addressed the needs of animals even plants. This glorious nation, which lived according to principles of Islam and served all Muslims, displayed the boundless mercy of Islam to the entire world. They founded thousands of endowments all over the Empire and left no wounds unattended.

The Ottomans adopted the saying of the Prophet (pbuh): “The best of human beings  is the one who is the most beneficial to the others” (Suyuti, Al-Jami’ al-Saghir, vol. II, 8) as a principle for themselves and founded numerous magnificent and enduring monuments.

Services and activities of the endowments established during the Ottoman Empire encompassed an extremely vast area. The differences displayed, based on the changing needs of time and place, underlie the dynamic nature of the waqfs.

Even though it is impossible to identify and itemize all the areas of services and activities of the endowments, we can enumerate several of the significant ones as follows:

Building and maintaining the mosques, dervish lodges, monasteries, and shrines

Educational institutions, such as madrasas (colleges), Qur’anic schools, and other scientific institutions

Hospices, caravansaries, hostelries, bathhouses, and hospitals

Small mosques, libraries, and guesthouses

Wells, canals, aqueducts, and fountains

Soup kitchens, daycare centers

Emancipation of slaves

Helping the poor to provide fuel

Helping servants to buy and replace the cups and bowls that they broke

Helping orphan girls with their preparation for marriage

Helping debtors pay their debts

Helping widows and the needy

Helping school children with food and clothing

Cheering up abandoned children during religious festivals

 Taking care of the funeral services of the poor

Providing protection and safety to elderly and homeless women.

In addition to these, the Ottomans established endowments in every conceivable field, and transformed their civilization into an endowed one. In fact, endowments can be considered as the distinctive mark of the Ottoman Empire.

We would like to explain one aspect for its significance in exemplifying our predecessors’ religious astuteness. Several endowments were established for the services of Mecca and Medina, and were generally called “Haramain (two forbidden sites) Endowments.” In order to ensure peace, tranquility and welfare of those blessed lands, one could see those types of endowments everywhere from Mid-  Europe to Yemen and a separate administration was founded for them. In addition to the revenues of these endowments, almost all of the Ottoman sultans sent gifts to the Haramain and their neighborhoods during the annual ceremony of replacing the cover of the Ka’bah. This customary ceremony, which was called “sürre alayı”,[6] continued until the end of the Empire. In time, these gifts constituted a considerable amount. In fact, when Sharif Hussain and his accomplices revolted against the Ottoman Empire during World War I, Fakhreddin Pasha, who was defending Medina against the rebels, put these gifts in chests and sent them to Istanbul in order to protect them from being looted. The total number of chests, which exceeded three hundred, shows how grand Ottoman gifts were.

Services performed for those blessed lands through the endowments established by the Ottoman Sultans, statesmen, and philanthropic members of the Ottoman society won the appreciation and gratitude of the entire Muslim world.

Another remarkable kind of endowment was the one established for the protection of the elderly and dependent women. Instead of helping them directly, endowments were established providing them with free wool to spin. In exchange of this work, they received a salary to support themselves. In this manner, at the end of their lives, endowments were helping them to live a comfortable and dignified life.

Philanthropic sensitivity in the Ottoman society reached such a height that, as we mentioned above, not just human beings but also animals and even plants were taken under the protective shelter. In fact, during the Ottoman period, animal hospitals were established for the care of sick migratory birds, such as storks, and their expenditures were covered by endowments. Astounded by this sensitivity, French army officer Comte de Bonneval (14 July 1675 – 23 March 1747) talks about his days in the Ottoman lands:

“It is possible to see crazy enough Turks who would donate money to workers to water the trees in order to protect them from drying up.”

Because the establishment of endowments requires a certain level of spiritual maturity, the guidance of murshid kamils or perfect Sufi teachers presided over the endeavor.  The fruits of spiritual discipline, including altruism, generosity, and sincerity, was suitable for this purpose.

Dervish lodges were the common centers of spiritual discipline in Ottoman society. They were the centers for absorbing “the oral culture” and achieving moral maturity. Spiritual maturity gained in these centers was one of the most significant stimuli in the establishment of endowments and popularization of solidarity and unity among the populace. As a matter of fact, these lodges were themselves endowments. Most of the students of these lodges achieved the attribute of vakıf insan or devoted person, and left several pious foundations behind.

Some of the pious foundations established as a result of these philanthropic activities have survived to the present day and still tend to the needs of society today. Some of the mosques, fountains, military barracks, hospitals and other philanthropic services are the surviving memories of the Ottoman days.

Everybody in Ottoman society, from Sultans to the laymen, had the philanthropic consciousness and sensitivity. Murshid kamils encouraged people to be generous. Aziz Mahmud Hudayi, for instance, wrote in his letter to Murad III:

Just as your ancestor Sultan Suleyman brought water from the Strandzha Mountains, and relieved the thirst of his people, you too should bring wood from the Bolu Mountains and distribute it to your people.

The Ottoman Empire, which ruled over a massive expanse of the world and affected the course of history, ensured peace and tranquility in their society through pious foundations. Whether rich or poor, strong or weak, all lived in a state of spiritual brotherhood. By means of pious foundations, the Ottoman society reached the highest level of “social justice”, a standard still sought after by nations today.

The “novel” as a literary genre interestingly did not appear until the last days of the Empire. The late Turkish writer Cemil Meriç quaintly explains the reason for this as follows:

“In the Ottoman society there was no tragedy to create a novel.”

Even though “mercy” has been accepted as one of the principles of Christianity, pious foundations in the West, which are manifestations of this quality, are not as common as in the Muslim world. We understand from the memoirs of western ambassadors and bureaucrats in the Ottoman Empire that even the currently existing foundations in the West were established as a result of their advice and suggestions. Famous French ambassador Busberg’s memoir is a typical example of these recollections, which include this type of confession.

On a more specific note, the Ottomans were especially careful to ensure that neither donors nor the recipient of the donation knew each other. Through this tradition, philanthropists protected themselves from the dangers of hypocrisy. Because donations were distributed through the mosques and dervish lodges, it also helped to strengthen the spiritual state of the society.

We can observe the best manifestation of this sensitivity in the endowment deed of Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror:

“I, the Conqueror of Istanbul and humble slave Sultan Mehmed, have endowed my 136 pieces of shops in the Taşlık precinct of Istanbul, which I bought with my own money, with the following conditions:

With the revenues of the above mentioned real estate, I have appointed two men to each street of Istanbul. These men will walk along the street with a bucket of ashes and lime, and they will cover the spits of people with the ash and lime. They will get 20 akchas daily for their service.

In addition, I have appointed 10 surgeons, 10 doctors and 3 orderlies to take care of the people’s wounds. They will go out on the specified days of the month, and will knock on every single door without exception. They will check if there is anybody sick, and if there is, they will help them. If there is no cure for their illness, they will take the sick person to Dar-al Ajaza (hospice) at no charge.

God forbid, we witness a famine. In such a case, let 100 weapons be given to the hunters. They will go and hunt the wild animals except during their season of laying eggs and when they have cubs at the Balkan Mountains, so they will keep feeding the sick.

Moreover, families of the martyrs and the poor people of Istanbul will eat from the soup kitchens of my endowment. If they cannot come to the soup kitchen by themselves, their meal should be taken to their houses in the dark without letting anybody know!…”

As seen from this deed, Sultan Mehmed set up several decent principles of manners for helping the needy. He took precautions even for the rare acts like “spitting around.” While ordering the sick to be fed by game meat, he also prohibited hunting during their season of laying eggs in order to protect the “ecological balance of nature.”  In addition to his mercy and compassion toward his people, he also safeguarded the welfare of animals.

Five centuries ago, long before the present-day discussion over pollution and ecological imbalance, environmental stewardship institutionally took root – an exemplary scene from history for us today.

Distribution of meals to the families of martyrs in the dark is another humble example of their sincerity to protect people’s dignity and honor. This also serves as an excellent lesson for future generations.

We also need to mention that reading the contents of endowment deeds is sufficient to see how people were connected to each other with the sense of mercy and solidarity in the Ottoman society, living Islam in its fullest sense.

Consider a society in which people put a red flower in front of houses where there is a sick person, so everybody passing by knows that they should keep quiet so not to disturb, and also to respect the rights of the home. Evidently, it is impossible to account for all the details of sensitivity and maturity from the history of the Ottoman Empire in such a short book; for now, we are content with the aforementioned examples.

The exact number of endowments established during the Ottoman Empire is difficult to ascertain. Nevertheless, approximately 26,300 of them have  been accounted for, which is already an exemplary  indicator in showing how altruistic our predecessors were.[7]

The task performed by pious foundations has had more significance historically during periods of vulnerability. After losing vast areas of land in Rumelia as a result of defeat in the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of immigrants in Istanbul, endowments played a more active role than the Ottoman state in helping them. For an extended time, pious foundations provided both food and shelter for them. Similar services were offered during the tough years of the Balkan Wars and World War I. Millions of people were only able to survive with the help of generous Ottoman endowments. The most recent example of this is the Marmara earthquake, which happened on August 17, 1999. Memories of the social services provided by endowments are still fresh in the minds and hearts of our nation. Pious foundations are, however, not just for times of crises but for the perpetual needs of helpless individuals. This is the primary task of endowments.

Undeniably, even during prosperous times, there have been people beyond the reach of the state needing assistance. For those people, pious foundations were always in service. We can use Sokollu Mehmed Pasha’s endowments as an example. Sokollu Mehmed Pasha was originally from Serbia and also was as a sincere Muslim. He was one of the most successful grand viziers of the Ottoman administration, who served during the high point of the Empire. This noble man built several mosques, fountains, madrasas and other facilities, and endowed them for the benefit of the public.[8] It is very edifying to learn what Evliya Celebi says about his endowment deed:

“… If a guest comes from the suburbs in the middle of the night, let the door be opened and let he/she be taken in. Let he/she be offered from the prepared food. But under any circumstances do not let he/she stay outside. He/she should be provided shelter for the night.

In the morning, the innkeeper should call out loudly like a town crier:

“O ummah of Muhammad! Are your belongings, your lives, your rides, and your clothes intact? Do you need anything?” When the guests reply all at once: “Everything is alright. May Allah have mercy on the soul of the benefactor!” the doorman opens the doors at dawn.

Then pray for them and advise them, “Be careful! Don’t walk absent-mindedly! Don’t befriend strangers! Go and may Allah help you!…”

The following excerpt from the endowment deed of Naqib al-Ashraf[9] Esad Efendi reveals the grace within his soul:

“… Let all the needs of the old, the poor and the sick who cannot take care of themselves be taken care of for them. Let also the marriage preparations of the poor girls, who are at the age of marriage be bought for them.

For centuries, charitable establishments built by our compassionate predecessors have not only left impartial writers of the West astonished, but also those who often wrote biased articles about Turkish people. Ismail Hami Danismend gives numerous examples related to this issue in his book “Eski Türk Seciye ve Ahlâkı”. For example, the famous voyager Du Loir states in his travel book published in Paris:

“Let me summarize the Turkish customs and traditions: their benevolence covers not just human beings, but also animals. There are guesthouses called imarets all over the Ottoman land. As a condition of the benefactor, these imarets help people in need regardless of their religious affiliation. Travelers can stay in them for three days and get a plate of rice each day.

In addition to imarets, there are also public buildings on the roadsides called caravanserais, whose doors are open to everybody.

Some Turks build fountains on the sides of the roads to quench the travelers’ thirst. Others build fountains inside cities for their inhabitants and hire salary-based workers to serve water from the fountains.

The rich visit the jailhouses, look for people who are in jail for their debts and set the debtors free by paying their debts. They also look for the needy who are too shy to tell their needs and secretly help them to protect their dignity.”

Corneille Le Bruyn writes his observations as follows:

“It is an undeniable fact that Turkish people are very fond of charitable and pious services, even more than the Christians. This is the reason why there are very few beggars in the Ottoman society.

….Turks who do not have enough money to give in charity would physically work to help others. They work on the main roads if needed; they fill the water tanks on the roadsides; when there is flood, they help people cross the flooded areas. They offer numerous other acts of community service, and would not dare expect anything in return. As a matter of fact, if ever offered payment for their services, they would refuse, and say that they did what they did solely for the sake of Allah.”

In this regard Mouradgea d’Ohsson’s observances are really striking:

“At all levels of society, parents and relatives try to be role models for their children, and accustom them to participating in charitable activities. As a result of such exalting characteristics, like generosity and compassion, one’s negative attributes, e.g. selfishness, stinginess and greed, subside, and are replaced with the desire and sense of helping others. Hence, Muslims have never encountered difficulty in being charitable, exceeding all other nations in this regard.”

The following excerpt is from a letter to a father from his young child who was hospitalized in a Muslim hospital, and exemplifies how charitable foundations succeeded in caring for the needy.

“Dear dad! You were asking me if I needed money. When I get discharged from the hospital, I will be given a suit and five pieces of gold, so that I won’t have to work for a while. Now you won’t have to sell sheep from your herd…

I don’t want to be discharged. The beds are soft, the sheets are clean and white, and the blankets are like velvet. There is a fountain in every room. All the rooms are heated during the cold nights. The people who are treating us are very kind and merciful. Almost every day, patients who are healthy enough are given chicken and lamb to eat. My neighbor in the next bed pretended that he hadn’t been cured just to be able to eat the delicious fried chicken for  one more week. But the head physician became suspicious and sent him home after letting him eat the bread and chicken, which was proof that he was in good health. So please come and see me, before they offer me my last piece of fried chicken!”

On the other hand, it is really remarkable to note that 1400 out of the 26300 confirmed pious foundations were established by women. Amongst them, Nur Banu Valide Sultan[10] had several monuments built in both the Anatolian and European sides of Istanbul. Uskudar Atik Valide Mosque with its soup kitchen, college, hospital and double bathhouse is worth mentioning. This lady was a Jew. Her father, Yasef Nassi, was one of the prominent members of the Jewish society, who were forced to emigrate from Spain to the Ottoman land in order to escape from the massacre after the Moors’ defeat by Christian armies. From the historical records, it is understood that Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent employed Yasef Nassi in intelligence services. Nassi played some negative roles during the reign of Kanuni’s son Sari (the blond) Selim and accumulated enormous wealth by using his privilege of being the Sultan’s father-in-law. However the system had worked perfectly, and Islamic morals and sensitivity were able to penetrate deep into the souls. His daughter Nur Banu Sultan became very eminent among the philanthropic Muslim women.

Another philanthropic imperial lady is Mâhpeyker Kösem Vâlide Sultan. She laid the foundations of the New Mosque. She had Üsküdar Çinili Mosque built along with a school, a fountain, a hadith college and a double bath house next to it. She also had the mosque at the Anadolu intersection built. Her endowment for helping poor and orphan girls get married is very well known, along with many others.

Even Kösem Sultan, who is known for her temper among the valide Sultans, took her place among the eminent figures of mercy and compassion by her endowments. Even though she laid down the foundations of the New Mosque, she did not live long enough to complete it. The honor of completing the mosque belonged to Hatice Turhan Sultan. She had other pious deeds such as building schools, colleges, soup kitchens, libraries and fountains. It is worth mentioning that she had honey sherbets flowing from the fountains during the month of Ramadan and holy nights and would offer it to the congregation after the evening prayer. Even the quality of honey was recorded into the endowment deeds. During those days, the best quality honey was from a town called Atina, whose name was later changed to Pazar. It was written in the endowment deed that this type of honey had to be bought no matter how expensive it was. This also reveals how sensitive and fine the services of endowments were. She also left very rich resources for the continuity of the services of endowments and appointed 116 salary-based workers for the endowments administration.

Pertevniyal Valide Sultan endowed the “Valide Mosque” in Aksaray and “Ya Vedud Mosque”. She also had a library, a fountain and a school built.

Mihrimah Sultan, despite her very humble disposition, had established numerours pious foundations, among them, the “Selatin mosques” or “royal mosques”, one which is in Edirnekapi and one in Uskudar. The following is the best example manifesting her modesty. Fresh water had been brought to Mecca and Arafat from by Harun Rashid’s wife Zubayda Hanim. But by the time of Sultan Suleiman’s reign, the channels became broken and rusty. When Mihrimah Sultan learned the situation, she went to her father Sultan Suleiman and asked the old water channel to be secretly fixed by the head architect Sinan. She donated all her ornaments and jewelry for the expenditures. Architect Sinan disappeared for a while after he laid down the foundations of Suleymaniye Mosque and the reason for his disappearance still is not known. One speculation is that he left for the foundation of the mosque to settle. But the real reason was to fix the water channels called “Ayn-i Zubayda,” and it stayed as a secret because of the benefactor’s wish.

Another well-known Valide Sultan is Bezmialem Valide Sultan, who left several monumental charitable works behind. Among the mosques she had built, the biggest one is Valide Mosque, located next to the Dolmabahce Palace. The famous Galata Bridge is also among her many endowments.

Her endowment established in Damascus is also very important. Here are two of the conditions of her endowment:

To carry the fresh water of Damascus to the pilgrims

– To compensate the household items broken by the maids in order to protect their pride and dignity.

Another outstanding foundation from the Bezmiâlem Vâlide Sultan is the Ghuraba-i Muslimin Hospital built by a significant donation from her private wealth. This monument began giving service with its mosque and fountain in 1843 and since then it has been delivering cures to the poor members of the Muslim ummah.

The sultans’ wives and daughters placed their utmost importance on water and furnished fountains all over Mecca, Arafat and Istanbul. They built the aqueducts that still remain today, repaired the water canals and provided abundant water for the entire city of Istanbul.

Another recent philanthropist figure from our history is Abdulhamid Khan II. His “Hamidiye fountains” are still among the best quality spring waters.

Our ancestors sincerely established numerous pious foundations, for which they prayed would serve until Judgment Day. These foundations not only met the needs of people in their time, but most of them still offer and will offer their help to today’s generation in every field of welfare services. They are traces of the Ottoman ancestor’s faith, nobility and continuous charity for which they will always be remembered.

O Allah! Make us among the devoted Muslims, who serve creation for the love of their Creator and who duly take care of Your trusts.


[1].      Tamlik means to give the possession of an asset to another person; and tamalluk conveys the meaning of ownership of an asset.

[2].      For English translation of the verses, I have benefited from Shakir, M.H. (trans.), The Qur’an = [al-Qur’ān al-akīm], Elmhurst, N.Y.: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, 1997, and Pickthall, Marmaduke William, The meaning of the glorious Koran; an explanatory translation, New York: Dorset Press, [1988?](translator)

[3].      See Bursawi, Ismail Haqqi, Ruh al-Bayan, vol. 2, 293.

[4].      See Bukhari, Kitab al-Wasaya, 22, 28.

[5].      See Bukhari, Wasaya, 17.

[6].      Sürre alayı: it was themoney, gold, and gifts which were sent along with a special entourage by the Ottoman Sultans in order to be distributed to the entire Meccan and Medinan people from the poorest to the wealthiest during the month of Rajab (See Münir Atalar, Sürre-i Hümayun ve Sürre Alayları, Diyanet işleri Başkanlığı yayınları, Ankara, 1991, p. 2)

[7].      “In Ottoman Empire when someone established a pious foundation, he/she were to endorse the endowment deed to a judge and then register it to the office in charge of the records. Endowment deeds which were registered to the registry records are now kept in the archive of Vakiflar Genel Mudurlugu in Ankara. There are 26,300 endowment deeds in that archive. However the approximate number of pious foundations in Ottoman Empire can be known only after examination of various city registers.” (See Ziya Kazıcı, Islami ve Sosyal Açıdan Vakıflar, pp. 43-44).

[8].      In addition to his charitable establishments in Rumelia, he also built two great mosques in Istanbul. One of them is in Azarkapi, which has a magnificent fountain. The other is the “Shahid Mehmed Pasha” mosque, which is located on the way from Sultan Ahmed to Kumkapi.

[9].      Naqib al-Ashraf: is the title for the clerks appointed by the government for the services of the descendants of the Prophet.

[10].     The official epithet for the female members of the Ottoman dynasty was “Sultan Efendi”. This meant that her father was either the sultan himself or one of the son’s of the sultan. If such a lady gets married with someone outside the members of the dynasty, their daughters were named “Hanım Sultan” and their sons were called “Beyzade”, or referring to their mothers “Sultanzade”. If beyzades or sultanzades got married with someone outside the imperial family, their children were not considered part of the imperial family. On the other hand, if mothers of the sultans were not coming from the imperial family – they were usually not – then their official epithet was “Valide Sultan”. Sultan’s wives were called “Kadın Efendi”. If they were more than one then ordinal numbers would be added before the epithet.