You may think this is an odd grouping of institutions. On the one hand, you have Harvard University, one of the most famous Western Universities in the world, based in the US. On the other hand, you have the Clock Tower, a modern skyscraper located in Saudi Arabia, within the holiest city to Muslims, Makkah.
However, the funding behind these two major global landmarks shares a crucial similarity – they were both made possible by the Islamic institution of Waqf. What is a Waqf, you may ask?
A Waqf is an Islamic endowment, where an asset or cash is donated, with the income generated used to sustainably fund charitable causes. Let’s explore further the comparison between these two institutions in relation to Waqf.
The Harvard Origin Story
Harvard University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the world, traces its early funding to an endowment.
In 1639, an English clergyman named John Harvard, bequeathed half his estate, including his library of over 400 books to a newly-formed college in Massachusetts. In honor of his donation, the college renamed itself from ‘New College’ to ‘Harvard College’. Over time, Harvard College became Harvard University.
This Waqf-sourced money allowed Harvard to open and sustain in its early years when educational philanthropy was rare. Today, Harvard University has an endowment of nearly $51 billion dollars that is used to help fund its activities. These funds help Harvard to maintain its position as a leading institution shaping lives and ideas globally.
How The Clock Tower Was Funded
On the other side of the world, the Makkah Clock Tower, the tallest clock tower in the world overlooking the holiest mosque for Muslims, was made possible by a government Waqf.
The Saudi Binladin Group built the Makkah Royal Clock Tower complex, which cost over $15 billion, as part of the King Abdulaziz Endowment Project. The project draws its massive funds from government Waqf revenue. The goal is to expand capacity for pilgrims and enhance facilities for those performing the sacred pilgrimage to Makkah. The proceeds from the Clock Tower will benefit and service the Holy Mosque.
It’s Time to Reclaim Our Legacy
As we admire grand universities like Harvard or the architecture of the Makkah Royal Clock Tower, it is enlightening to know the common civilizational roots that made them possible – the selfless spirit of Waqf in Islam. This institution allowed Muslims throughout history to create lasting assets for societies worldwide.
Establishing Waqf has been practiced by Muslims for centuries. Whether it’s a university, mosque, hospital, or library, Waqf has been instrumental in building sustainable institutions. Modern efforts from the Saudis show that establishing waqf can be greatly beneficial for society. It’s time for the rest of us to follow suit and establish and contribute to Waqf to create our own legacy.