Forum recommends waqf fund to finance economic, social projects

Muscat - 

Officials are taking steps to establish a ‘waqf’ fund in Oman, which would be used to finance economic and social projects in the country.

In traditional Islamic societies, waqf (endowment) was an institution used to support social needs, and now experts are hoping to adapt it to modern times.

It is separate from zakat, which is a type of charity obligatory among Muslims based on monetary donations. Waqf is voluntary but has a much broader application. Individuals and organisations can contribute their time, money or other assets to it, and it must follow Islamic Sharia’a guidelines.

For instance, this means loans from the fund cannot be subject to interest rates. Waqf is considered one of the structures of a broader Islamic economy.

“You endow money and you don’t expect a return out of it: It’s just to help society,” said Mughees Shaukat, head of Islamic Finance at the College of Banking and Financial Studies and originator of the idea. “It will be done from A to Z in an Islamic financial Sharia’a-compliant way.

Shaukat said the proposed fund would prioritise research and education, human development, and economic diversification, including entrepreneurship.

He said the fund would eventually have to be established within the government structure and administered by the government. The fund would also be open to contributors from outside Oman.

The initiative took its first major step with the hosting of the first annual Waqf Forum on Tuesday, which included experts from around the world.

Forum participants included Dr Mahmoud Mohieldin, senior VP of The World Bank Group; Robert Koopman, Chief Economist and Director of the Economic Research and Statistics Division of the World Trade Organization; and Zamir Iqbal, head of World Bank Global Islamic Finance Development Centre at the World Bank.

The Minister of Civil Services, H E Sheikh Khalid al Marhoon, also attended the forum. It was organised by Ghazali Investment.

Shaukat said the fund is seeking to receive technical support from The World Bank, the World SME Forum and the Islamic Development Bank (IDF), all of whom participated in the forum.

“This is a unique application and a very modern application and a very new millennial or a new age application that we are trying to give. This is just the start,” said Shaukat.

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