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Established in the late 1980s, the Al-Khoei Benevolent Foundation has centralized religious centers and institutions for Islamic education that were acquired through pious donations managed by the late Ayatollah Abol Qasem al-Kho’i (Abu al-Qasim Khu’i, d. 1992) in his position as the marja` al-taqlid (supreme juridical authority) of the majority of Shi`i Muslims. Practical considerations prompted lay and religious leaders among al-Kho’i’s Persian and Arab followers in Europe and North America to seek the establishment of the foundation to supervise the large number of religious endowments and other tangible and intangible assets that had been managed by al-Kho’i’s wukala‘ (personal representatives). Shi`i religious law recognizes the marja` as the superintendent of religious assets as long as he lives. In the absence of any established legal procedure for the succession of juridical authority, there is no provision to ascertain legal conveyance of these assets to the subsequent marja` acknowledged by the Shi’is. The convention is to treat these assets as pious endowments supervised by appointed trustees or by the newly created ministry of awqaf (sg., waqf; pious endowments) in various Muslim countries.

An additional concern that prompted the advisers of al-Kho’i to venture into this innovative idea of creating a multinational foundation in the name of the mar ja` himself, who was not the actual owner of the trust, was that foreign assets were registered in accordance with  laws in nations that did not recognize the jurisdiction of Islamic law or the supervisory role of the ayatollah in governing them. This left the Shi’i public trust in the West open to embezzlement by even the ayatollah’s close family members.

The trustees appointed by al-Kho’i himself included highly successful businessmen. They expanded the mandate of the foundation by registering it as a nonprofit corporation, empowering it to solicit, raise, accept, hold and administer, invest and reinvest, the funds and other property. Hence, the foundation has expanded its activities in many parts of the world and has successfully established centers and schools in London and New York. It has also engaged in humanitarian activities that include feeding Afghani war victims and digging wells in East Africa, as well as voicing concerns related to the violation of the human rights of Shfis in Iraq with the UN.

The danger of the foundation turning into a family empire was not unforeseen by the community in general. Following a dispute in the New York branch of the foundation in 1990-1992, which led to a court case in the County of Queens, New York, the board amended the foundation’s constitution to protect its charitable nature, recognizing the need to hand over its supervision to the next leader in the event of al-Kho’i’s death. However, this new leader had to be recognized and confirmed by three-quarters of the foundation’s trustees. Such a provision implied a clear departure from the traditional role of the supreme juridical authority as the trustee of the Hidden Imam, as conceived in Shi`i jurisprudence. The trustees of the foundation thus reserved the legally and traditionally recognized supervisory role for themselves while assigning the ceremonial role of a patron to the marja`. From the viewpoint of the Shi’i community, this development in the empowerment of the trustees raises serious questions regarding the limited authority invested in the marja` by the shariah and the ever-expanding mandate claimed by the foundation in the name of the marja`. There is also an increasing awareness among Shi’is (whose donations the marja` merely manages) about their right to know how their pious donations are being distributed among competing needs and priorities of various sectors of the transcultural and transnational followers of the ayatollah. The Western notions of public accountability and democratically created institutions in management of religious donations are not part of the traditional religious endowments among Muslims.

Al-Kho’i’s death in 1992 left the Shi’i community with an evident vacuum in religious leadership. It also created a crisis for the board of trustees, who were caught between a traditional autocratic vision and modern public accountability. After much deliberation and in order to establish its credibility among the followers of the late Ayatollah Kho’i, the board decided to acknowledge the next marja` as its ceremonial patron in August 1993 In the absence of any other universally recognized leader of the Shi’is, the board requested Ayatollah Muhammad Riza Gulpaygani (d. 1993) of Iran to assume the newly created post of “patron of the Foundation.” However, Gulpaygani’s death has once again left the foundation without a legitimating patron. It is likely that Ayatollah Muhammad al-Sistani of Najaf, a disciple of Kho’i and the board’s favored candidate for the post, will assume the patronage. Public accountability to the plurality of Shi’is in the West still remains a disputed matter. So far, following the traditional method of the marja` (who never publicized accounts because of the extreme trust in which he was held by his followers), the foundation has not made accounts public. The only thing to date made public in the organ of the foundation, Al-Noor Magazine (August 1993) is the list of centers and schools, both secular and religious, that it has established in various cities around the world. Moreover, although the foundation has as its objective representation of Shi`i interests worldwide, its exclusive goals are defined and executed by the board, which is made up of the followers of the late Ayatollah Kho’i from Iran and Iraq, including his two sons.

[See also Marja` al-Taqlid; Waqf; and the biography of Kho’i.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The constitution of the Al-Khoei Foundation is contained in Petition No. 18915/90, filed with the Supreme Court of the State ofNew York, Eleventh Judicial District,CountyofQueens. For other information on the foundation, consult the following:

Al-Khoei Foundation: Concepts and Projects.London, 1992. Informational publication distributed by the head office of the foundation. AI-Noor [Al-Narl, no. 27 (August 1993). Arabic-language journal issued by the AI-Khoei Foundation inLondon. This particular issue lists all the centers and schools founded and administered by the foundation.

ABDULAZIZ SACHEDINA

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/al-khoei-benevolent-foundation/
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  • writerPosted On: October 7, 2012
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