Sana’a endowment lands: Historical documents, forefathers’ humane role [Archives:2005/850/Culture]

June 13 2005

Hassan Al-Zaidi

The Capital City of Sana'a and the Province of Sana'a is one of the areas in which a large portion of endowed lands are located. About two thirds of agricultural land in Sana'a have been endowed for hundreds of years and passed on from fathers to children. But first of all we should know what endowment means: it is to endow a piece of agricultural or service land part of whose income is spent on charitable activities for which the endowment was made. The Zaidi Imamate governance regime was depending on the collection of such endowments and depositing them in the public treasury of Muslims. However, today there is a specific ministry that is concerned with the issues of endowment and guidance.

Although the endowed lands have been blundered and forcefully possessed after the Yemeni Revolution up until the present day, there are certain large stretches of land that are still endowed. Much of these lands are in the custody of citizens who get them for benefit in return of their efforts. The other part of lands' production is levied by the State. Dwelling units also pay annual fees to the Ministry of Endowments.

Types of endowments in Yemen:

Revising endowment registers dating back to hundreds of years ago, one realizes that Yemeni forefathers, even under the reign of Ottomans and Turks, magnificently exemplified social cooperation and solidarity. There is mosque endowment. The revenues of this type of lands are dedicated to mosques.

Another type of endowment is called “pedigree endowment” which means that certain endowed premises have their revenues dedicated to the offspring of a particular person. This type of endowment could be cancelled through certain legal procedures.

There are also “public endowments” which cannot be dispensed only when required fees are paid. Old people warned of dispensing such lands and endowers used to write in their endowment instruments the following: “May Allah curse the person who sells or buys this endowment.” Such documents are still kept at the Ministry of Endowments. This reflects the cultural of social cooperation which prompted the Yemeni people to dedicate their lands for charities.

Other premises were endowed for treating the sick or feeding the poor. Other sorts of endowment was concerned with providing shelter, and taking care of the disabled. People also endowed for the “path”, that is, endowing premises whose revenues are to be used to upgrade and maintain roads and paths.

Our fathers took care of animals before the West did. This is found in endowments made for Mecca's doves, and sick animals. This indicates that endowments, even in the past, were concerned with more than worship places.

Sana'a: counting and blundering endowed lands:

As I said above, Sana'a is one of the richest provinces in endowment lands. The area of endowed lands, save those in the Capital City, was estimated at 54 million square meters, most of which are agricultural lands.

Saleh Ali Khamis, Director of Sana'a Endowment Office, said that endowed lands are subject to blunder.

“About 394 endowments with a total are of 6.063 million meters are examined by courts. Some 54,699,423 square meters of endowed lands have been registered. About 10,0350 endowment documents have been sort out, and classified. Of them, 800 documents were kept at the Office and the rest were recovered from other people. About 10,350 endowed premises on registration lists were evicted.”

He added that the Office is going to set up a thorough database and statistics about the lands and possessions, and their instruments.

Endowment documents in English and Turkish:

The Ministry of Endowment possesses documents dating back to hundreds of years. Most of them are written in Turkish from the time when the Turks were ruling the northern part of Yemen. There are also other documents written in English as a legacy from the time of the British Colonization. Currently, these documents are being registered and translated.

Endowments and calculating the fifth:

According to the Zaidi sect, one fifth of the revenues from the endowed premises is to be given to the State. This system is the one used with most endowed lands in the province. A custodian of an endowment gives one fifth to the State and retains the rest as wages in return of their labor. The one fifth is levied by the Endowment Office representative in the village or district. Despite the huge area of endowed lands, the Ministry of Endowment's treasury does not get big revenues. Saleh Khamis says that 2004 endowment revenues reached only YR 19.9 million which is a small figure. He attributes this to the fact that a considerable portion of the revenues is spent by custodians without referring to the Ministry of Endowment and Guidance or having reference vouchers. “There are mosques with high-profit endowments. We want to know the average revenue of each mosque's endowed premises in order to invest the surplus in covering the expenses of disadvantaged mosques.”


Many endowments are blundered in Sana'a especially in the Capital City. Yet the strong-worded invocations written by endowers on the instruments cursing dispensers of endowments have led some custodians to feel pricks of conscience and admit to the virtual revenues. Sana'a holds a major part of endowments most of which are in the custody of Hashimis (related to the family of Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him) especially in the Capital Secretariat. It is among the top Islamic cities in the volume of endowed premises which can yield large amounts of revenues to be well invested in endowment-related fields. Of course, the Ministry of Endowment has taken effective steps so far to protect and preserve endowments but there is much to do.