It is Happening Again: The Rejuvenation of Awqaf in the Balkans

A google search on “awqaf in the Balkan countries” yields little that may be termed as informative content. A search in wikipedia says no pages on the subject exist. Yet Muslims across the globe have always known that the Balkans are dotted with numerous awqaf created by pious individuals throughout the history. Extending between Europe and Asia and facing North Africa the Balkans comprise the following countries; Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia. Like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, many are either lost or are not in a position to provide the services they were originally created for. However, what is encouraging in the Balkans is a new drive to rejuvenate and reactivate these awqaf. It is led by Turkey, which accords great priority to the Balkan countries not only from political, economical and geographical perspectives, but also due to its historical and cultural ties with the region.

The disintegration of Yugoslavia (last seven countries above are born out of this) and the consequent instability arising out of destructive wars and ethnic cleansing of 1990s are a passé now and the region is looking forward to a new era of prosperity and peace. The initiative to rejuvenated awqaf – an act rooted in benevolence – provides further evidence that benevolence and peace are mutually reinforcing.

In 2011, several institutions came together to embark on this new initiative. These were: the Directorate General of Foundations, Turkey, the Presidency of Religious Affairs of Turkey, the Kuwait Public Awqaf Foundation and the Islamic Development Bank. The project involves several phases. Phase I involves creation of comprehensive data base on awqaf assets that would comprise the following activities (i) collection and verification of documents (e.g. waqf deeds), (ii) identification of the assets, (iii) translation and (iv) publication of data. Phase II involves legal process that would comprise (i) appeal to authorities (ii) engaging local law firm and (iii) getting verdict. The final phase involves reclaiming (i) the waqf deeds and (ii) the waqf properties. The following table provides a snapshot of the project status so far. The blank cells imply that no action is yet to be taken pertaining to the activitiy.

Table 1: Status of Awqaf Rejuvenation in Various Balkan Countries

Country DATA LEGAL PROCESS RECLAIM
Collection & Verification Identification Translation Publication Appeal Local Law Firm Verdict Deeds Properties
Bosnia and Herzegovina C C I I
Bulgaria C C C NA C C I I I
Kosovo C C I NA
Macedonia C C C NA
Albania
Romania
Montenegro
Croatia
Greece
Serbia
Hungary

C: Completed; I: In Progress; NA: Not Available

Bosnia & Herzegovina

The Directorate General of Foundations, the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Presidency of Religious Affairs signed a protocol in 2010 that involved sharing archival documents related to Bosnian Awqaf in Bosnia & Herzegovina and Turkey. Further, after preparing digital copies of the documents these would be (i) transcribed into Ottoman Turkish language and (ii) given to Bosnian authorities following their translation into Arabic.

Identification, registration and translation of the archives:

119 registered documents (22,000 pages), which were recorded in Arabic, Ottoman and/or Bosnian languages, have been analysed. The originals of the documents are situated in Husrev Bey Library, Sarajevo and their digital copies at the Center for Islamic Studies. As a result, different documents related to 809 Awqaf have been identified.

From Directorate General of Foundations’ archives, the documents transcribed include 50 deeds of awqaf and 2,652 charters, vouchers, edicts, provisions, etc. From the Istanbul Mufti’s Office, documents include 30 charters, accounting records, edicts etc. From the Prime Ministry Ottoman archives, documents include 1286 charters, accounting records, edicts, 2 books of account in Ottoman Turkish. In total, 4,967 documents have been identified. Within the context of the project, 2,500 pages of documents in Ottoman Turkish related to deeds of Awqaf and possessions have been transcribed, and 200 pages of documents in Arabic have been translated to Turkish. Half of the deeds  of Awqaf have been translated to Bosnian and the process of the translation of all will be completed in April-May 2014 according to the plan. Further, within the scope of the project, deeds of the Awqaf, which are related to 836 Awqaf and charters, edicts, accounting records, which are related to 501 waqfs have been identified and translated to Turkish.

Bulgaria

The Directorate General of Foundations and Presidency of Religious Affairs signed a protocol in 2012. In the context of this project, 335 deeds of waqfs; charters, huccet, etc. related to 500 Awqaf, which don’t have any deeds and roughly 3,000 documents related to Awqaf have been  identified. As a result of these studies, it is expected that around 2,000 – 2,500 Awqaf might be identified. In addition to this, 517 cultural properties which have survived until today have been illustrated and documents related to the Awqaf have been filed. 266 deed has been reviewed and translated by the experts from Directorate General of Foundations to be given to the Chief Mufti of Bulgaria. Presidency of Religious Affairs has established a law office in Sofia to follow up and conclude all the opened cases in the courts. By this time 93 deeds of Awqaf have been returned and given to the grand Muftiate of Bulgaria. However, 300 to 400 deeds of Awqaf are still being discussed at the Bulgarian Courts. Further, the Sofia City Court has decreed to return 80 acre land in Smolen and  Kursunlu Mosque in Filibe Karliova to Grand Muftiate of Bulgarian Muslims.

Kosovo

The Directorate General of Foundations and the Republic of Kosovo Agency of State Archives signed a protocol in 2012. Under this, the archives of the Directorate General of Foundations have been scanned. As a result, 60 Awqaf, which have deeds of theirs and 120 Awqaf, which have already registered in the archives have been identified. While the process is still in progress, approximately 2,500 documents have been identified so far. As a result of the studies, it is expected that there are around 1,000 Awqaf established in Kosovo.

Macedonia

Within the frame of the studies related to Macedonia, 204 deeds of Awqaf have been identified. The transcribing and translating process of them have also been completed.

Reference: http://www.thepenmagazine.net/the-problems-of-balkan-muslims/

Note:

The Directorate General of Foundations, founded in 1920, is a Turkish governmental institution that manages and audits foundations dating back to the Ottoman Empire and that still exist today. The directorate manages the estates and restorations of around 18,500 historical buildings and 67,000 estates. The directorate also handles over 4500 charity organisations and foundations.

The Presidency of Religious Affairs which is found in article 136 of the constitution, is an official institution established in 1924 after the abolition of the caliphate. Founded by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey as a successor to Sheikh ul-Islam, it is normally referred to simply as the Diyanet.

As specified by law, the duties of the Diyanet are “to execute the works concerning the beliefs, worship, and ethics of Islam, enlighten the public about their religion, and administer the sacred worshiping places”.

Mohammed Obaidullah | April 18, 2014

 

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