Nine years have passed since I came to Japan. Many people have helped me become comfortable in and knowledgeable about Japanese society. I speak Japanese every day, and I sometimes think I know my Japanese acquaintance very well, but I also still find some of their behavior strange. Mainly, it is odd to me that Japanese people avoid physical contact even though they have close relationships. As a foreigner in Japan, I often have people shake hands with me, but they do not shake hands with other Japanese. I was born in Aleppo, a northern metropolis of Syria. People in Aleppo share physical touch, such as firm handshakes and hugs, with others with whom they are close. In addition, the closer the relationship, the deeper the trust.
I understand that Japanese people build deeper trust as they build closer relationships, and I understand there is no correlation between physical contact and trust in Japan. However, in Muslim societies, people start to build their human relationship with handshakes saying, “As-salamu alaykum (Peace be upon you).” In this kind of society, human relationships are based on closeness, including being spatially close, and the spatial distance of human relationships is closely related to trust.
My research addresses how mutual trust influences monetary and economic systems in Muslim society. Recently, I have done research particularly focusing on “waqf.”
Various systems in Muslim societies trace their roots back to the age of the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad was born in 570 A.D. and passed away in 632. As he started to present himself as “a prophet (nabi)” in 610, his activities as a prophet lasted about for 22 years. During this period, he promoted Islam and decided various things about how Muslim society should be.
You may already know the scripture of Islam is “the Qur’an.” The Qur’an is respected by Muslims as “the words of the God.” Since Muhammad was a prophet who received the words of the Gods in trust, he was the first to deliver the Qur’an. However, he did not leave only the words of the God but also many of his own words. They are called “Hadith” in Arabic. I complete my education on Hadith at the Graduate School of Damascus University. In addition, through my research and writings, I attempt to reveal how Islamic systems have been constructed based on Muhammad’s words in Hadith (please see the photos of some references of Hadith).
Waqf is sometimes translated to kishin-zaisan (donated property) in Japanese. Merchants who earn a lot of money or people who have huge farmland endow their property for waqf. If the property is defined as waqf, the transfer of right of ownership is suspended, and the property in no longer owned individually but rather by the whole society. These properties have been used for many public goods such as mosques, markets, bridges, and schools. There are many public places for drinking water, and the places are supported by waqf.
Hadith introduced the following word of the Prophet Muhammad: “There are something additionally considered as the person’s good conduct even after his death: his knowledge he gave and promoted, his virtuous children, a mushaf (a printed book of the Qur’an) he left for everyone’s use, a masjid (mosque) he built, a hotel he built for travelers, waterways he dug, sadaqa (charity) he gave from his property during he lives in good health. They are also regarded as the subject of reward for him even after his death” (Ibn Majah, “Sunan”).
Logically, it seems strange. The teachings of Islam say that God evaluates people on the Day of Judgment after the end of the world based on both good and bad deeds they did during their lifetimes. As people can do neither good nor bad deed after their death, it is only their deeds during their lifetime that will be judged. However, this Hadith says there are some exceptions: the deeds that exert favorable influences even after death. If a person writes a book, the author’s knowledge also makes others rich after his/her death. If a person builds a masjid, many people can worship God even after the builder’s death. If a person builds a hotel, it helps travelers. If a waterway is built, it contributes to lives in both farmland and towns.
In the Islamic world, through this Hadith, many people have given their property for waqf believing that using their property for the society will contribute to their own lives in the world after death. The thought, that it benefits the donor if something he/she donated is used by others with joy, plants a seed of trust in human relationships. In addition, it seems that it also creates trust in the society that people can become rich while also contributing to society.
Today, we see a trend toward building individual wealth, even if one’s business practices are detrimental to the greater society. Unfortunately, even in Muslim society, the trend is growing, perhaps influenced by Western culture. However, at the same time we can see more and more activities for revitalizing waqf and restoring the economic system based on trust.
As for today’s activities for restoring waqf, I have never heard of projects for making places for drinking water on the roadside. Money is involved in everything today, so it is necessary to emphasize social welfare in any planning. In addition, Islamic FinTech, a combination of the words finance and technology, has grown as digitization has grown. It involves applying technologies such as internet and IT techniques to financial businesses, and Islamic FinTech applies technologies to Islamic financial systems such as waqf. In other words, it is a new type of FinTech that creates solutions for Muslim societies all over the world on the basis of Islamic values and ethical views and adopting principles of Islamic jurisprudence.
I like to combine the many topics that pique my curiosity into my research subject, which combines waqf, a really traditional system, with leading-edge technologies such as digitalization and FinTech.
A famous souk (market) in Aleppo. The author also helped at his relative’s shop in a souk when he was young.
From left to right: Ibn Majah, “Sunan”; Al-Tirmidhi “Al-Jamiʿ al-ṣaḥiḥ (The Sound Collections)”; Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj “The Sahih (The Genuine)”
DX (digital transformation) is widespread in the Islamic world as well as other regions.