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The Testamentary Waqf as an Instrument of Elite Consolidation in Early Twentieth-Century Massawa (Eritrea)


In: Islamic Law and Society
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This study examines the testamentary waqf of Aḥmad b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Ghūl (1853-1919), a prominent merchant and communal leader in the cosmopolitan Red Sea port town of Massawa in Eritrea during the period of Italian colonial rule (1885-1941). We provide an annotated translation of the document and a detailed socio-legal analysis of its features. We argue that the testamentary waqf was a vehicle for ensuring the family’s integration in Eritrea in perpetuity. We also consider how the testamentary waqf was used as a strategy to sustain the al-Ghūl family as a corporate unit by preserving the integrity of its real estate assets and by upholding the family’s internal hierarchy of authority. Finally, by endowing properties to mosques and wells, the testator-founder sought to establish the family’s role as a patron of the Muslim community.


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