Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


David S. Powers

First Page



As part of the larger Islamic inheritance system, endowment law accorded Muslim proprietors a legal means to circumvent the effects of the Islamic inheritance rules by allocating usufruct rights to specified people in specified amounts and to regulate the transmission of those rights from one generation of beneficiaries to the next. Over time, the institution appears to have contributed to the physical integrity of both urban and rural property. Whether or not it also contributed to the economic viability of the local economy is a subject that deserves further investigation." At the same time, the transformation of significant segments of the rural and urban landscape into familial endowments frequently resulted in discord, conflict, and litigation. The members of a lineal descent group acted as a kind of "corporation" bound by ties of blood and by economic interests in the endowment property. Those interests had to be defended against the attempted incursions of "outsiders," usually relatives of the founder who did not qualify as endowment beneficiaries. The latter had a powerful incentive to challenge the validity of a particular endowment, because a successful challenge might result in their inheriting the property in full ownership. In this context, the interface between endowment law and inheritance rules created a calculus of material interest that encouraged individuals to manipulate the rules in order to advance their own interests.