Competing and Conflicting Power Dynamics in Waqfs in Kenya, 1900-2010


Dr. Suleiman Chembea

Research Area:


This project seeks to investigate the practices of waqf in Kenya during the post-colonial period (1960-2010). Waqf was an important element of personal status law in Islam, a significant segment of the Islamic economy that had an inherent symbolic value and a source of social authority and symbolic power. Administered autonomously according to normative traditions, it became a vehicle for enhancing common identity of an autonomous social group keen on protecting and advancing the particular interests of its members (Hoexter 2002; Powers 1989; Kozlowski 1998), a scenario that became antithetical to various political regimes.

Thus, it could be argued that state control of awqaf as witnessed in the Ottoman Empire (1826), British Zanzibar (1905), and French Algeria (1831), was not only a sharp departure from normative autonomous administrative traditions of the institution but also a deliberate move to control and manipulate the political and economic spaces. Such competing struggles for the control of political and economic spaces could not possibly be explained better than in societies like Kenya which is predominantly Christian and where Muslims are perceived as a significant minority and marginalized group. What types of awqaf exist in contemporary Kenya? How do state legislative and judicial constructs influence waqf practices in Kenya? How do Muslims negotiate the waqf practices vis-à-vis state policies and judicial constructs? How do debates and practices about waqf in the Islamic sphere influence the practices of waqf in Kenya? These are the central questions that the study seeks to answer. The main objective of the study, therefore, is to interrogate the influence of state policies on one hand, and debates about practices of waqf in the Islamic sphere on the other, in the contemporary practices of waqf in Kenya.  

The study aims at breaking new ground in academic research by providing insights in to practices of waqf in modern states where Muslims are a minority, a sharp departure from earlier works (Anderson 1951; Oberauer 2008) that studied the institution of waqf during the colonial times in the East African region. This project is multi-disciplinary and would significantly seek to employ theoretical frameworks on state-society interface. As an empirical multi-disciplinary study, the methodological approach would as well be multifaceted comprising of qualitative social science research techniques and fieldwork.