Waqf between Memory and Forgetting in Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Istanbul

Jelena Radovanović


For several centuries, and across three continents, pious foundations (waqfs)—the quintessential Islamic institution—have been at the heart of city life. Today, scholars agree that waqf has profoundly shaped the urban, cultural, social, and economic development of Ottoman cities, and connected Ottoman citizens across religious, class, ethnic, and gender divides. However, there has been a real lack of systematic and comparative research on waqf after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, both in terms of its actual destiny, and its legacy. Left to separate national(ist) narratives, the memory of waqf acquired strikingly different shapes in different nation states, while the bigger picture of the complex legacy of the Ottoman/Islamic institution remains obscured. The aim of my project is to analyze how the differences in meaning, interpretation, and memory of waqf emerged in the post-Ottoman, nation-state contexts. Taking as a case study three post-Ottoman cities—Istanbul, Belgrade, and Sarajevo—this project analyzes various different possibilities in the reinterpretation of waqf institution. By doing so, it also addresses the issues such as the role of the state and non-state actors as providers of welfare and infrastructure, intercommunal relations, and the broader theme of Ottoman legacy.

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