How to Create a Muslim Charitable Trust in Singapore

Featured image for the "How to Create a Muslim Charitable Trust in Singapore" article. It features a quran in the mosque.

Wakaf” is an Arabic word that simply means “endowment”.

The Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) defines “wakaf” as a Muslim’s permanent dedication of property for any purpose recognised by Muslim law as:

  • Pious;
  • Religious; or
  • Charitable.

Once the property is dedicated as wakaf, it no longer belongs to any particular person or persons or even the state – it belongs to Allah.

Although wakaf often provides for charities, the Singapore Court of Appeal has held that wakaf should not be confused with a charity or trust as understood in common law.

Purpose of Wakaf

Wakaf has been regarded as one of the cornerstones of the Islamic economic system. The yields from wakaf serve as a continuous income (perpetuity) for the community and can be used to finance activities of the Muslim community in general.

The sole purpose for the establishment of wakaf is for the development and welfare of the Muslim community based on religious principles and the spirit of communal obligation.

Wakaf is also generally used for:

  • Building and maintenance of mosques, madrasahs, provision of burial grounds
  • Contributions to the poor and needy
  • Provision of education, health and social services
  • Financing of socio-religious activities of the Muslim community

For example, wakifs (known as the donors of the wakaf) may buy and wakaf properties near a mosque they have endowed. The rental yield from these properties could then provide a steady revenue stream to maintain the mosque and fund some of its activities.

Types of Wakaf

There are 2 types of wakaf:

The wakaf Al-Ahli (Wakaf Khas/Family Wakaf): Where the beneficiaries or recipients of the wakaf are the wakif themselves, the wakif‘s family and descendants of the wakif. The objective of this wakaf is to benefit the wakif’s family or purposes stipulated in the wakaf itself.
The wakaf Al-Khairi (Wakaf Am/Public Wakaf): Where the beneficiaries or recipients of the wakaf are mosques, institutions and organisations, and members of the general public. The objective of such a wakaf is usually charitable.

Relationship between Wakaf and Muslim Inheritance Law

After 1 July 1968, the intestate property of all Muslims domiciled in Singapore would be administered according to faraid principles. Faraid is essentially Muslim inheritance law or the Muslim equivalent of the Intestate Succession Act, which does not apply to Muslims.

Faraid principles provide that certain things would not fall under the estate of the deceased. These would include:

  • Gifts made while the deceased was still alive i.e. property that is transferred without anything given in exchange
  • Vows made to Allah (known as nuzriah” or “nazar) i.e. property that the deceased had promised to give if he did something or if an event occurred

Thus, wakaf property does not form part of the intestate property of Muslims.

Creation of a Valid Wakaf

Wakaf-making involves a wakif, giving away his property or properties to the beneficiaries or recipients.

1. The wakif must be:

  • A Muslim of sound mind
  • Qualified financially to donate his/her property
  • Donating voluntarily

2. The wakaf property/properties must be:

  • In the form of property
  • Owned by the wakif and is of benefit to others
  • Any property capable of being endowed in perpetuity or capable of being used for a long time

Other than land or buildings, a person may also wakaf useful belongings or objects which can be of benefit to other people. For example, a piece of carpet or a chair can be made wakaf to the mosque.

Examples of wakaf include mosques, madrasahs, charitable organisations, and financial assistance disbursed to the beneficiaries or recipients of the wakaf.

3. The recipients of the wakaf:

  • Have to be specified
  • Can be specified as a group e.g. the poor or senior citizens

Further, the voluntary charitable endowment or wakaf can either be:

  • In writing by way of any declaration or instrument, e.g. a donation in a will, for a particular purpose; or
  • Made orally

When wakaf is made orally, it should be a pronouncement:

With specific meanings e.g. “I intend to wakaf my house for the poor” (“soreh“); or
That brings many purposes such as, “My assets are for charity to the poor” (“kinayah“).

When these requirements are met, a valid wakaf is created.

The wakif will usually appoint a mutawalli(s) (known as the trustee(s)) to manage the wakaf properties to ensure that the wakaf property is managed according to his/her intended purposes.

Wakaf Conditions

In addition to the above requirements for its creation, the wakaf should also satisfy the following conditions. It should:

  • Be perpetual i.e. permanent without limitation to any particular period
  • Have objectives which should be clearly stated, otherwise the wakaf is invalid
  • Be effective with immediate effect and cannot be withdrawn

Thus, once the property is dedicated as wakaf, it cannot be sold, given away or inherited forever as the property now exists in perpetuity until the end of time.

If for any reason it has to be sold, then the proceeds must be used to purchase a replacement of a similar property which must then be declared as a wakaf property.

Administration of Wakaf

Under section 58(2) of AMLA, all wakafs created are vested in the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), also known as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. This means that the property would be held by MUIS, which would then regulate and supervise these wakaf properties.

The role of the mutawalli of the wakaf, is an extremely important one. His task is to oversee the investment of the property, its maintenance and the distribution of revenues to the beneficiaries or recipients.

In Singapore, AMLA provides for MUIS to have oversight of the mutawallis. For example, MUIS is empowered to remove and replace mutawallis.

Registration of Wakaf

In order to avoid mismanagement of wakaf properties, all wakaf in Singapore are required to be registered at the office of MUIS.

The application for registration has to include the following particulars:

  • A description of the wakaf properties that is sufficient for the identification of those properties;
  • The gross annual income from the wakaf properties;
  • An estimate of the expenses annually incurred in the realisation of the wakaf properties’ income;
  • The amount reserved under the wakaf for the salary of the mutawalli and as allowances to individuals as well as for religious, charitable and pious purposes; and
  • Other particulars required by MUIS

For wakafs created before 1 August 1999, every application for registration has to be made within 6 months from that date.

Applications for the registration of wakafs created after 1 August 1999, have to be made within 6 months from the date of creation.

Any mutawalli of a wakaf who fails to apply for the registration of the wakaf or fails to furnish statements of particulars as required by MUIS would be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to 12 months’ jail.

Amendments to the Administration of Muslim Law Act

Trustee management is critical to the management of the wakaf. This is because the accountability that comes with trusteeship helps ensure that the wakaf is well maintained.

Disputes related to trusteeship can be complicated, messy, and potentially long-drawn. In the medium-to long-term, the management of the wakaf could be adversely affected.

As a result, section 58 of the AMLA was amended with effect from I October 2017.

New grounds were added for the removal of mutawallis that provide greater clarity and transparency and allowed more timely interventions by MUIS on the management of wakaf in Singapore.

The amended section 58 also states that:

  • Any appointment of a new mutawalli to a wakaf will be void unless prior approval in writing has been obtained from MUIS.
  • The power to remove or appoint mutawallis lies solely with MUIS. The court will not entertain any application relating to the appointment or removal of mutawallis.

The amended section 61(1) of the AMLA provides that from 1 January 2018 onwards, the income of a wakaf should be applied in accordance with the instrument or declaration creating it.

If the instrument creating the wakaf makes no specific provision for the expenditure of the wakaf, the income would be paid into a separate sinking fund.

The sinking fund would be established and maintained by MUIS for the purposes of maintaining and improving the immoveable property belonging to that wakaf.

MUIS could also use the sinking fund for other purposes as prescribed by section 61(6) of the AMLA, upon approval from the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

Relevance of Wakaf  Today

Wakaf authorities in Muslim countries view wakaf development and its effective management as a way of promoting socio-religious development and encouraging a caring and giving community.

It is MUIS’s priority, in the interest of all wakaf beneficiaries or recipients, to ensure that the wakafs are ran well, so that they can generate the maximum returns, and are sustainable for the long run.

Through effective and efficient management of wakaf, MUIS is able to disburse their returns to their beneficiaries or recipients.