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The Imam and His Revenues

When the imam was trustee of a pious foundation endowed with real estate property, every operation on this property could become a source of income for the vakıf, and for him. Whenever the right of usufruct of this property changed hands, it was often the case for the acquirer to make a “donation”
to the vakıf, a donation whose amount varied with the value of the property and its revenue, if any. The amount was basically the result of a bargaining process between the trustee and the two parties. The imams of Kasap ƒlyas usually took note of the sums that were being paid on these occasions.

On July 28, 1767, for instance, when a vakıf house in Kasap ƒlyas changed hands, a sum of 300 kuruœ was paid to the foundation, and the imam approved and recorded the transaction.12 On November 28, 1780, a payment of 500 kuruœ was made when a vakıf “garden” in our neighborhood changed
hands. This was certainly a vegetable garden, and its cultivation must have brought to the tenant a substantial income. About half a century later, on November 19, 1824, the transfer of the same garden was, this time, accompanied by a payment of 1,000 kuruœ.13 These were, in fact, quite large sums
of money in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But these were, obviously, only occasional payments, as the regular incomes controlled by the trustee consisted of the yearly or monthly rental incomes of the endowed property.
For instance, Hâfız Mehmed Efendi, imam of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque in the 1790s, disposed of a monthly rental income of about 300 akçe,14 accruing from nine different local vakıfs that had been placed under his trusteeship. About half a century later Aziz Mahmud Efendi, another imam of our
mosque, collected monthly rents amounting to a total of 235 akçes.
In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries the usual financial arrangement involved in renting out a property item belonging to a vakıf was called icareteyn (two rents).15 This type of arrangement meant that, from a practical point of view, two different types of rent had to be agreed upon in writing by the tenant of the vakıf property and by the trustee of the vakıf.
The first kind of rent was the icare-i muaccele (the urgent, or immediate rent), an amount that was to be paid just once when the new tenant took over the vakıf property. The second kind of rent was called the icare-i müeccele (the postponed rent). This rent was to be paid from that moment on, on a regular (daily, monthly, or yearly) basis. Everything else being equal, the lower the “postponed” rent, the higher was likely to be the lump-sum required as an “urgent” rent. When, in 1663, for instance, the right of usufruct of an empty plot of land in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle was given to one Mehmet Çelebi, an “immediate rent” of 3,300 akçes was paid to the imam, trustee of the local vakıf. Besides, a “postponed rent” of 1 akçe a day was also agreed upon.16 The icare-i muaccele, in this case, was the equivalent of about ten years of icare-i müeccele, and Mehmet Çelebi had made a down payment equivalent to ten years of the rent of that piece of land.
Obviously, there was also the option where a single type of rent (icare-i vahide) was applied, and only periodical payments were agreed upon. The double-rent option, however, seems to have constituted the basis of the overwhelming majority of agreements between trustees of a vakıf and tenants. It
has been argued that the lump-sum payments involved in the first option constituted, especially in the inflationary periods of the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, a much more substantial contribution to the repair and upkeep of various vakıf properties in Istanbul. Thanks to that option, many vakıfs are said to have had a much longer life span.17
However that may be, the end of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries were periods of high rates of inflation in the Ottoman Empire. The debasement of metallic currency, especially in the 1820s and 1830s, became a means of increasing fiscal revenues to which the government resorted more and more frequently.18 Finally, in 1844, a monetary operation
(tashih i sikke) redefined the gold and silver content of all of the coins in circulation and a new bimetallic system was established. In any event, toward the middle of the nineteenth century, the centuries-old asper (akçe) had already ceased to represent any significant purchasing power. Nominally 1 kuruœ was still equivalent to 120 akçes, but this last monetary denomination was
maintained only as a unit of account for official transactions.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, therefore, “immediate rents” of 300, 500, or 1,000 kuruœ did represent considerable sums of money, whereas the 20, 30, or 50 akçes that the tenants of many vakıf property items in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle were supposed to pay on a yearly basis, obviously only had a symbolic value. After all, in the late nineteenth century average-size houses in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle were sold at prices ranging between 2,500 and 5,000 kuruœ. When, in 1835, for instance, Aziz Mahmut Efendi, imam and trustee of the local vakıfs, let a “garden” in Kasap ƒlyas to a new tenant, he received the sum of 200 kuruœ as an “immediate rent.” This amount was the equivalent of no less than sixty years of “postponed rent” of the same piece of property. That garden was a “vegetable garden” on the products of which the tenant made his living. No wonder then that these symbolic and traditional amounts of periodical rents, always set down in akçe terms, were
simply called icare-i kadime (old-time, or traditional rent). These symbolic monthly payments did not constitute a sufficient income for the imams who, obviously, preferred to have recourse to the system of a double rent in times of inflation.

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