Muslim Wakf Board a damp squib?

Absence of Bait-ul-Mal in Kashmir puts focus on Waqf property, spending; Stakeholders demand probe

Conceived in 1940 by National Conference founder Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah as Muslim Auqaf Trust with a broader aim to serve battered Kashmiri society, the functioning of now J&K Wakf Board has come under a cloud many a time over the years. And now with the debate shifting to absence of Bait-ul-Mal in Kashmir, due to which a countless number of destitute suffer silently and die in utter penury, the Muslim Wakf Board is once again at the centre of a scathing criticism with analysts noting that the institution, which should have been a beacon of aid to poor, has miserably failed to deliver and has become a “fiefdom of political parties.”
On Sunday, Greater Kashmir reported the story of a man from old Srinagar, Abdul Gafoor (not his real name), who died in utter penury. Gafoor’s story highlighted a broader issue of unattended people in Kashmir society who are in need of financial help but are at a crossroads and die paying back debts to lenders.
Religious scholars and analysts held Wakf Board responsible for not containing this growing phenomenon. They said Muslim Wakf Board, which was aimed to serve poor through the mechanism of Bait-ul-Maal, has completely failed to realize the system.
The idea of establishment of Muslim Auqaf Trust was envisaged during the Dogra rule of Kashmir when ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement was launched against the Hindu ruler. Sheikh Abdullah was at the centre of the development.
Although the movement could not immediately change the political situation of Kashmir, it somehow succeeded in freeing a number of religious places including Shahi Masjid, Mujahid Manzil and other buildings which were under the control of the Dogra regime.
These institutions were used by Dogra establishment as sales depots and stores for arms and ammunition.
This is when the idea of “collective and organized management of Muslim Waqf properties” was conceived, in 1940. Now with Sheikh Abdullah at the helm of the institution as president, it brought under its direct control most of the shrines and mosques including the shrine of Hazratbal.
“This was the time when the institution was a public enterprise,” known historian Muhammad Yusuf Taing said.
“Soon after it was transformed to Wakf Board, it came under the control of government, which has never been healthy for the institution.”
In 1973, Muslim Auqaf Trust was transformed into All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Auqaf Trust and its control expanded to a wide number of mosques, shrines and other religious institutions. When Sheikh Abdullah died in September 1982, his son Farooq Abdullah was appointed “unanimously by Board of Trustees” as its Chairman and Managing Trustee.
After Sheikh Abdullah’s death, an amendment was passed which proposed that Sheikh Abdullah name be replaced by Dr Farooq Abdullah in the Trust Deed.
Between 1990 to 1997, according to the institution’s own documents, the Trust tumbled into serious financial and administrative crises and a number of units disaffiliated from it.
But it soon picked up again.
In 2004, the Trust was transformed into Muslim Wakf Board by the dint of an ordinance. The Board brought under its control more shrines and mosques.
Having come a long way, the Board has always found itself driven by two main mainstream political parties of Jammu and Kashmir –National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), analysts say.
Documents with Greater Kashmir reveal that both the NC and PDP have held a tight political control over the institution that, according to analysts, was otherwise supposed to be an apolitical undertaking.
While the current chairman of the Trust is Sheikh Abdullah’s grandson and Chief Minister of J&K Omar Abdullah, there are at least three politicians on the Board of Directors, two of them ministers.
When PDP was in power, the party too tightly controlled the body, appointing people as members who were directly or indirectly affiliated to the party.
“All the Wakf funds are used by politicians for their political rallies and family business,” a separatist leader told Greater Kashmir.
“These funds were meant to serve our own brethren but the institution per se has been made a family enterprise.”
The leader said there was no accountability of the institution and that many scandals have surfaced in the past.
In 2012, following widespread criticism and complaints, even the State Government constituted a committee to conduct a special administrative and financial audit of the Board.
Also, the State Information Commission asked the Board to give away information to activists seeking so.
Prof. MY Qadri, Vice Chairman of Wakf Board said the institution has compiled a 60-page report about its overall functioning.
About why some members on the Board of Directors were politicians, Qadri, a former Kashmir University Vice-Chancellor, said Chief Minister himself nominates the members.
Maulana Rehmatullah Qasmi, known religious scholar and head of Darul-ul-uloom Rahimia seminary in Bandipora, said earnings of the Wakf must go to poor.
“One who is a caretaker of Waft property must not be in luxury,” he said.
Prof. A G Madhosh, a distinguished academician, always picked up holes in the Wakf. “The main concern of Wakf has to be the service of poor,” he said. “Why can’t it serve children of conflict. They should be given assistance.”
Wakf, he said, was rather much obsessive about shrines and much less into the real social work.
“Once I heard a president of India say that Dargah Hazratbal has so much of earning that it could afford expenditure of three big universities,” Prof Madhosh said. “But Wakf is not doing anything serious. It has become as a government body now.” He said Wakf had to be an independent body and its members apolitical.
“If Wakf funds are honestly rationalized, there will be no problem at all,” he said. “But it has become a fiefdom of political parties.”

According to historical accounts, philanthropic Muslims in the past had an accurate anticipation of the future of Muslims in Kashmir. These Muslims wanted to contribute their share for the uplift of destitute brethren and they left behind their asset which came to be called Waqf property.
Across the Muslim world, the institution of Auqaf has a strong presence.

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