Bimaristan: Waqf’s Exemplary Role in Supporting Healthcare Institutions

Bimaristan served not only as a place to treat and provide care for the sick but also as a place to train physicians.

qalawun burial complex
The burial complex of Sultan al-Mansur Qalawun in Cairo, Egypt, whose main component is the Bimaristan. (Wikipedia/Ma7moudsmile)

ACTNews, JAKARTA – Historically, waqf had been able to support public welfare in the Muslim World. Deputy Chief Executive of the Indonesian Waqf Board (BWI) Imam Saptono categorizes waqf into two models.

The first model of waqf is waqf for public facilities which is more common in the Muslim community. Its examples include cemeteries and mosques. The second is productive waqf such as agricultural lands and wells designated to support productive activities. Ideally, Imam opines, the proceeds from the productive waqf assets support the public facilities that are also built from waqf. One of the examples was Al-Adudi Hospital in the golden age of Muslim civilization.

“In Baghdad, one hospital was financially supported by a plot of agricultural land. What did the hospital do at the time? One, it served patients without a membership system. Two, it treated the patients for free, citizens, non-citizens, even travelers. If the patients were poor, they would be given some money for them to start a business after they recover,” said Imam.

Healthcare facilities were one of the waqf products in the golden age of Islamic civilization. Dr. Fahruroji of the Indonesian Waqf Board quoted Mustafa As-Siba’i, a Syrian Islamic scholar, from his book Some Glittering Aspects of the Islamic Civilization, that during the Islamic Golden Age, public hospitals that were supported by waqf was known as Bimaristan or Dar As-Shifa. They served not only to treat patients but also to train physicians.

 “The first Bimaristan was built by the Umayyad Caliph al-Walid bin Abdul Malik in Damascus in 88 AH. It employed doctors and nurses to provide treatment and care to patients. Then there was a Bimaristan built by Ahmad bin Tulun in Cairo. It cost 60,000 dinars. Every Friday, Ahmad ibn Tulun himself visited the Bimaristan to check on the condition of the patients," wrote Fahruroji.

Another exemplary Bimaristan was the one built by Nuruddin Zanki in Damascus. Ibn Jabir said that Nur ad-Din Zanki had a list of patients, medical supplies, and food. Every day, the doctors checked their patients’ condition. This hospital was dedicated to the poor, but the rich could also seek treatment if they had not found a cure for their illnesses.

 Al-Mansuri Hospital, a waqf-supported hospital built by the Mamluk ruler of Egypt Al-Mansur Qalawun, was established in Cairo in 637 AH. This hospital was an example of the utilization of productive waqf to support public facilities. To support this hospital, Qalawun donated a waqf property that could make a thousand dirhams every year.

"This Bimaristan was equipped with a mosque, madrasa, and library. Everyone was served for free. Patients who recovered and were discharged were given clothes and enough money to be able to work. The patients who died were provided with free funeral service,” wrote Fahruroji.

As a training hospital, every Bimaristan at that time had a large hall where medical lectures often took place. In addition, there was also a library that had a large collection of medical books and other books needed by doctors and medical students. The Bimaristan built by Ibn Tulun in Cairo, for instance, had a library with a collection of more than 100 thousand books.

The example set by the Bimaristans of the past has inspired many to revive waqf-based healthcare institutions. In Kuwait, for example, the Kuwait Awqaf Public Foundation (KAPF) built the Kuwait Center for Autism where people with autism are given educational programs in addition to care and treatment. It also serves to enhance public awareness of autism. []