The author proposes in this study a new, integrative approach to the phenomenon of Muslim pious foundations, or
waqfs. The evolution of the institution is analysed from the perspective of the formation of power systems, which shaped both the elaboraton of the textual framework of the institution and the practices connected with the founding and administration of waqf-objects. The growing interference of the state in the field of
waqfs and in the hierarchy of the
ulama is seen as essential for the development of the institution in the Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman periods. The waqf institution is presented as a determining factor in the growth and structure of Muslim cities, both on the level of political and economic control and on the level of social cohesion. To illustrate these views, the example of Damascus is discussed, by using archival and printed, legal and historical sources from different periods, focusing on the 18th century.