The General Council for the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES), acting as a parliament, issued Endowments Law No. 13 on November 15, 2023. The law aims to oversee all religious activities, develop Islamic education, regulate fatwas, and supervise religious rituals.
In the law’s second and third chapters, Articles 13-27 outline the principles for managing the finances and properties of awqaf (endowments), their disposal, and investment strategies. It also establishes guidelines for leasing endowments properties or parts thereof alongside the rights of the beneficiaries. Furthermore, it sets rules for the judiciary when considering disputes related to leasing, disposal, and restoration of such properties.
Endowments Law No. 31 of 2018 regulates the Ministry of Endowments’ role in managing and investing such properties in regime-controlled areas. According to Law No. 31, endowment properties are special; they are neither state-owned nor privately owned, although they primarily originated from private donations. Such properties include mosques, Sufi lodges, schools, libraries, cemeteries, shrines, and mausoleums.
However, in areas under the control of the AANES, endowment properties were managed by a special body – called the Authority of Muslim Scholars – from 2014 until the issuance of Law No. 13 of 2023.
According to the new law, any dealings with endowment properties in areas under the AANES require approval from the Democratic Islamic Conference, acting as a Ministry of Endowments that oversees religious work, its regulations, judgments, fatwa issuance, and religious education. According to Article 1 of Law No. 13, the Conference is an independent legal entity with financial autonomy, followed by committees and the Department of Endowments and Endowment Assets. The Department of Endowments is the locally competent committee derived from the Conference, while Endowment Assets include both movable and immovable properties allocated for public benefit according to Islamic law provisions.
The Democratic Islamic Conference, through its Endowments Department, is now responsible for managing endowment funds, setting necessary regulations, preserving them, and taking measures for their optimal development and investment. It also takes administrative actions to remove encroachments and violations on these funds.
According to the law, endowments include all endowment funds and properties and all things that were or have become integral parts of the endowment property or its appurtenances or necessary accessories to it. These properties must be registered with the Endowments Administration.
The law clarified that financial rights due to the endowment from others do not become statute-barred and are considered a privileged debt, collected according to the public funds collection law. No right of prescription applies to endowment properties. The law further clarified that anyone occupying or utilising an endowment property, partially or entirely, without a valid contract documented with the Endowments Department is considered an encroacher and violator of the property. The law affirmed that the Endowments Department’s collection of occupation fees for an endowment property does not constitute a contract for the violator on the property.
Law No. 13 of 2023, in its Article 14, confirmed the prohibition of selling endowments or transferring them and forbidding their inheritance, mortgaging, or even insuring them. Conversely, Article 52 of Law No. 31 of 2018, applied in regime-controlled areas, allowed the ministry and the Central Endowments Council to sell properties or, mortgage them or exchange one endowments property for another, which contradicts the fundamental principle of endowments that prohibits selling and dealing such funds outside the purpose for which they were established.
Law No. 13 of 2023 stipulates that leasing endowment properties or parts thereof can only be done through auction, according to its provisions. However, the law includes no texts or provisions regarding the auction process. Meanwhile, Law No. 31 of 2018 allowed the leasing of endowment properties through auction, requiring the lessee to pay the cash equivalent determined by the auction, in addition to paying the annual rent specified in the contract, with a commitment to increase the rent according to the percentages specified in the book of conditions and the contract.
Law No. 13 of 2023 permits the leasing of endowment properties by mutual agreement based on a decision from the Democratic Islamic Conference if the lessee is a public entity. All leases of endowment properties are renewable for a period not exceeding ten years, with the lessee obliged to increase the rent according to specified ratios.