In this first comparative treatment of charity and charitable institutions in Islam and Muslim societies of the Middle East, Yaacov Lev examines a variety of primary sources, including Arabic chronicles, dictionaries, waqf (pious endowment) deeds, and epigraphic evidence. The book is not only broad in scope, covering a range of periods in medieval Islam - including the Fatimids, Abbasids, Ayyubids, and the early Ottoman period - but is also relevant to a range of issues and institutions, such as statecraft and political authority, urban society, law, education, health care, and gender. Charity is deeply embedded in the religious thought and teachings of the three monotheistic religions. This discussion, while focusing on medieval Islam, is set in a wider framework with many references to both Jewish and Christian parallels. Lev examines three main topics: the meaning of charity to the individual, the social and political ramifications of alms-giving, and the impact of the institutionalized forms of charity (the awqaf system) on urban and rural societies. He analyzes the motives and attitudes of the donors (the caliphs, sultans, emirs, and the wealthy); the recipients of charity (the poor and the educated class); and the charitable institutions and services that provided the framework for conveyance (hospitals, Koranic schools, and law colleges, the ransom of captives, and support of orphans and widows).