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MONA ALJALHAMI is the Assistant Curator of Islamic Arts at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra). Her work revolves around the research and presentation of Islamic art objects and buildings as well as influential historical characters and places, with a particular focus on the two holy mosques in Makkah and Medina. She co-curated “Shatr AlMasjid: An Exploration of the Mosque through Objects” exhibition and co-authored its catalogue where she pieced together the spectacular journey of Beshir Agha in relation to one of the exhibition’s gateway pieces: the Ottoman Firman of Sultan Mustafa III.
The Waqf Firman: The Story of Bashir Agha
This paper examines the role of the waqf (charitable endowment) in the growth and development of the Mosque in relation to its communal functions. The waqf began as an individual act and ended up becoming an institution functioning as the backbone of mosque development covering its operation, maintenance and upkeep. The importance of this institution was so vital that it required thorough documentation providing information about the deed and expenditures. While there are thousands of preserved waqf deeds which can be read and referenced today, many others are known only through references in other documents. For example, an Ottoman firman by Sultan Mustafa III preserved in Ithra’s collection is a good example. Dated 1181 AH (1767 CE), the six-line imperial edict, promotes Beshir Agha, the servant and keeper of the Topkapi Palace harem, to take office as chief inspector of the waqf of the Two Holy Mosques of Makkah and Medina. By looking closer at this document and personage of Beshir Agha, this presentation uncovers the fascinating story of one man’s life, work and devotion to the service to the two holy mosques. The research combines information about the history of the waqf institution combined with the role and responsibilities of the mosque custodians, in particular, Beshir Agha and his legacy.