Charity, Endowments, and Charitable Institutions in Medieval Islam

Yaacov Lev

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"Wide in scope, this fascinating study offers the first synthesis on charity in medieval Islam. It is an important cultural history of the beliefs and practices of medieval Muslims, reflected in the charitable institutions and pious foundations they created and sustained."--Daniel Schroeter, University of California-Irvine "Makes a highly significant contribution to the story of the social life and institutions of the time . . . Extensively researched, with an innovative comparable approach and a comprehensive chronological spread . . . "—MAYA SHATZMILLER, author of Labour in the Medieval Islamic World

In this first comparative treatment of charity and charitable institutions in Islam and Muslim societies of the Middle East, Yaacov Lev mines a variety of primary sources, including Arabic chronicles, dictionaries, waqf (pious endowment) deeds, and epigraphic evidence. The book is not only broad in scope, covering a range of periods in medieval Islam--including the Fatimids, Abbasids, Ayyubids, and the early Ottoman period--but is also relevant to a range of issues and institutions, such as statecraft and political authority, urban society, law, education, health care, and gender.

Charity is deeply embedded in the religious thought and teachings of the three monotheistic religions. This discussion, while focusing on medieval Islam, is set in a wider framework with many references to both Jewish and Christian parallels. Lev argues that medieval charity should be discussed within the context of monotheistic sacred charity, meaning redemptive alms-giving. As such, it transcends time and place and shows remarkable uniformity throughout changing historical circumstances.

Lev examines three main topics: the meaning of charity to the individual, the social and political ramifications of alms-giving, and the impact of the institutionalized forms of charity (the awqaf system) on urban and rural societies. He analyzes the motives and attitudes of the donors (the caliphs, sultans, emirs, and the wealthy); the recipients of charity (the poor and the educated class); and the charitable institutions and services that provided the framework for conveyance (hospitals, Koranic schools, and law colleges, the ransom of captives, and support of orphans and widows).

Yaacov Lev is associate professor of Islamic medieval history at Bar-Ilan University. He is the author of Saladin in Egypt and editor of War and Society in the Eastern Mediterranean, 7th to 15th Centuries.

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"An accessible and important book for anybody looking for concrete examples of practices of charity and endowments in the context of late twelfth to early sixteenth-century Egypt and Syria." American Historical Review

"Solid and well-researched book." International Journal of Middle East Studies

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