What Is a Waqf and Why Should You Stop to Care?

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In the Hamas charter there is a loaded statement that might pass the un-informed eye. It states:

The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas| believes that the land of
Palestine is an Islamic waqf endowed to all Muslim generations until
Judgment Day. No part of it may be squandered or relinquished. No
Arab country, no king or president, no organization — Palestinian or
Arab possesses that right. Palestine is Islamic waqf land consecrated
for all Muslim generations until Judgment Day. This being so, who
could claim to have the right to represent all Muslim generations until
Judgment Day? ... This waqf will endure as long as heaven and earth
last. Any action taken in regard to Palestine in violation  of  this law of
Islam is null and void. [HAMAS Covenant: Article 11, 1988)

So just what is this word "waqf?"

In an Arabic country you might see most of the same letters on a stop sign. So what is being stopped?

If something is donated as a charitable gift or a religious endowment, the gift might be said to be given in "in perpetuity" or it can't be taken back. The gift is stopped from being taken back. In Islamic law, a land which was taken over by Islamic conquerors, it then said to be "waqf" or a gift to Islam forever. That is why the Hamas charter declares that the land of Israel-Palestine is given to Islam "until the Day of  Resurrection." That is why other headlines call for the "liberation of Andalusia" [present day Spain]. 

A not-so-slight problem:          

In his book,  "A History of Palestine, 634-1099" Moshe Gil (Cambridge University Press, 1997) details what happened to people, who lived in their ancestral land since the time of "Joshua ben Nun." That is to say, these Jewish residents claimed this land going back to the conquest of Joshua, and in effect they said it was theirs "in perpetuity."  Gil decided to examine the fate of his people who lived in what they called the land of "al-Sham" concisely between the rise of Islam and the coming of the Crusades.  

Along came the Arabic conquerors who, according to another source — citing the Muslim chronicler Baladhuri (d. 892 C.E.) — said, "40,000 Jews lived in Caesarea alone at the Arab conquest, after which all trace of them is lost."

Gil's book is 1000 pages of humiliation, taxation, degradation of the original inhabitants of this land, not to mention the Christians who were either converted Jews, Muslims, or people who had moved there. He recounts one story from events in the present day West Bank and Gaza:

"One source tells of a Muslim who converted to Christianity and became a monk, and was renamed Christophorous. He was beheaded on 14 April 789. At around the same time, evidently, there was an Arab attack on the monastery of St. Theodosius, near Bethlehem. The monastery was pillaged, many of the monks were slaughtered and some escaped. The attackers also destroyed two churches near that monastery. A Church source tells about the suffering endured by the monasteries in the Judean mountains during the inter-tribal warfare which broke out in 796b ... While Bet Guvrin was being abandoned by its inhabitants, who were falling captive to the Arabs, assaults were being made in Ascalon, Gaza, and other localities. Everywhere there was pillage and destruction. (p. 126).

Thus, we have a picture of Muslim-Arabic subjugation of a people who inhabited the land of "al-Sham." It was these invaders who now claimed that the land of "al-Sham" was theirs forever, according to the laws of Islamic jurisprudence.

Two groups, then claim the same area as a gift to them in perpetuity, or as a "waqf" — to use the word loosely. But do the two groups approach this the same way?

The "waqf" according to Hamas:

Not only does the land belong to Islam, according to Hamas, no politician on the face of the earth can do anything to change that. Simply put, there can be no real negotiation. Secondly, other articles of the Hamas charter declare that eternal enmity against all Jews must be conducted "until the Day of Resurrection." In plain English, Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of all Jews everywhere.

The "waqf" according to the state of Israel:

Jewish people desire that the land of "al-Sham" which was taken forcibly by multiple Islamic jihads be considered theirs as it was prior to the jihads. They do not have an eternal enmity against all Muslims, neither are they dedicated to their destruction everywhere. 

Observation:

The outside observer must not assume that the term "in perpetuity" has the same meaning coming from two different sources. It will also temper overly idealistic notions about positive outcomes for negotiations, especially when the Hamas Charter is carefully considered. Gil's work must also be taken into consideration in light of the current  victimization industry of Hamas, as Hamas has direct links to the reason for the victim-hood of the inhabitants of "al-Sham." 

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