Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states: “Waqf is a perpetual endowment for the sake of Allah. It falls in the category of an ongoing charity from which an endower continues to derive benefits forever. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “When a person dies, his works cease except three: An ongoing charity he has set up or endowed, beneficial knowledge he has imparted, a righteous offspring who prays for him.”
The reason why a perpetual endowment benefits a person forever is quite obvious, for unlike an ordinary charitable or virtuous act, the benefits of such an act outlive him/her to provide unceasing source of benefits for community long after he/she has died, hence the promise of greater rewards for such acts.
It is a matter of common knowledge that the intent of an endower who earmarks a certain property for a beneficial cause such as a mosque, school, hospital, or similar institution is simply to provide for a continuous flow of income so that the services they are rendering to the community continue unabated. Therefore, any legitimate action taken by the trustees of such properties with the specific intention of enhancing the value of the property falls within the permissible actions in Shari`ah. They are thus allowed to undertake the necessary repairs or steps to improve the same; it is also considered permissible for the trustees to sell such a property and replace it with another if the said property is diminished in value to such an extent that it becomes more profitable to replace it with another or relocate it. Such actions are clearly within the intent of the endower as well as within the spirit of the Shari`ah.
The fact that waqf property can be relocated to another site or locality if it is deemed necessary or considered more beneficial, was established by the precedent of Caliph `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him). According to authentic reports, `Umar ordered a mosque in Kufah to be relocated to another site in response to a question posed by the prominent Companion `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud. `Umar responded by ordering that the mosque be relocated, for such an action was deemed more beneficial for the greater interests of the Muslim community. Accordingly, the mosque was relocated and such an action was taken by the tacit approval of the Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
Based on the above precedent of `Umar, which was endorsed by the tacit consensus of the Prophet’s Companions, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah concluded, after an exhaustive study of the sources, that a waqf property can be sold or disposed of in order to build or get another one, if such an action is taken for enhancing and increasing the value of the same.
It is a known fact that the value of properties are subject to change according to market fluctuations due to the changing nature of supply and demand; often we find a certain property has been reduced so much in value that it is often found far more profitable to replace it by another or relocate it. This often happens due to a shift in population. Therefore, it is considered permissible to undertake the measures necessary to augment and enhance the value of the waqf property provided such actions are done after an objective study of the market forces in play and provided it is done in consultation of the parties involved. There are precedents in fiqh for the permissibility of such actions, as the jurists have permitted the sale of horses, animals, properties in similar cases in order to replace them with others with the intention of enhancing their value and benefits.
Based on the above clear precedents as well as the fact that there is no explicit evidence to the contrary, we conclude that it is allowed to sell a waqf property in order to construct another one with the proceeds if by doing so the value and the dividends that are intended by the endower are deemed to be enhanced and increased. This permissibility, however, is conditional on such an action being taken not on the whimsical opinion of an individual or two but based on an objective study of the market forces and facts, for any interference with a waqf property for other than the purpose of enhancing its intended value is clearly forbidden in Shari`ah and thus constitutes a clear breach of trust. May Allah help us to remain steadfast on the truth; may He inspire us with rectitude in all our words and deeds. Ameen.”