Young people 'must learn about Awqaf'

Conference warns against mismanagement of assets and ignorance of youth.

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DUBAI // Young people should be taught about charitable endowments known as awqaf from the moment they start school, an Islamic scholar says.

Speaking at the Dubai International Conference for Awqaf today, Dr Tarak Abdullah, an associate professor at Zayed University, said greater awareness of the tradition was needed.

"We need to educate out children from the early stages in school to understand the concepts and the perspectives of such institutions," said Dr Abdullah. "We should build a culture that understands awqaf and its role in developing the communities and fulfilling the need of our societies.

"We should pay more attention to awqaf, we need it to be part of our courses in universities."

The conference is being staged by the Awqaf and Minors Affairs Foundation - a part of Dubai Government that acts as a charitable trust in accordance with Islamic law. Assets are handed over, and the income generated from it is spent in accordance with the wishes of the donor.

Traditionally the endowments have been used to build and maintain mosques, provide graveyards or dig wells, though there is a move towards helping the community in other ways. A private awqaf can be set up, typically to benefit a family.

Dubai's Grand Mufti, Dr Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz Al Haddad, told delegates that in certain circumstances non-Muslims could benefit from awqaf, too.

"This can be done through the public awqaf. If we have a public channel or fund that is different from the one dedicated for mosques or wells, this public fund can be utilised for the interest of Muslims and non-Muslims. There is no objection to that."

Foundation chairman Hussein Ahmed Al Qemzi said the main aim of the conference was to revive the tradition of awqaf.

"Islamic awqaf have always been a major component of Islamic societies wherever they are. It is a medium of alleviating pain and helping the needy in our society. This system has a long history that spans 1,400 years.

"However, recently I think a lot of the Islamic states have suffered from the mismanagement of assets which leads to the deterioration of the value of these assets."

The foundation is also responsible for the welfare of orphans, and Mr Al Qemzi sees this as a key area that needs support from awqaf.

"Some of these minors don't have money and they need health and education. They are the people who will grow up and make this society in the future. The human being here becomes more important than the assets themselves, because this is the person who will become a productive citizen."

The two-day conference continues tomorrow at the Dubai International Financial Centre's Ritz-Carlton with more than 1,000 regional and international endowment experts and visitors from more than 20 countries.