Question: Assalaamu Alaikum,
Can you give me a full explanation towards why it is not allowed to take ownership with a bag of money or any other valuable item that is found lying at the side of the road?
Answer: Wa Alaikum As salaam,
The reason you cannot take ownership of this is because it does not belong to you and you are not its owner. If you see something of value lying on the ground as if it was lost or forgotten by someone, then you are allowed to pick it up and secure it in order to reach it to its owner. This must be your intention for picking it up.
Regarding those items which have been lost by others or dropped from them, the Prophet (s.a.w) has given guidelines regarding what should be done by the person who finds it and picks it up.
In this respect, it is narrated by Zaid bin Khalid Al Juhani that, ‘A Bedouin went to the Prophet (s.a.w) and asked him about picking up a lost thing. The Prophet (s.a.w) said to him, ‘Make a public announcement about it for one year. Remember the description of its container and the string it is tied with, and if someone comes and claims it and describes it correctly, (give it to him), otherwise use it for yourself.’ (Sahih Al Bukhari-Book of lost things picked up by someone).
While commenting on the above Hadith, the scholars have stated that the specification of making an announcement of one year was based on the condition at that time of the Prophet (s.a.w). During that period, a caravan would normally pass through an area once a year. As such, by specifying ‘one year’, it was hoped that if anything was lost or had fallen from the caravan, then in the following year, the caravan would have been able to get it when they pass on the same route again. However, in our times today, one will make an announcement (through the different medias that are available) of the item that he found, and will also do so for a duration that he thinks that is sufficient for the information to reach far and wide during that time. It does not have to be for one year. (Kitabul Fatawa vol. 6 pg. 67 Zam Zam Publishers Karachi 2008).
Based on the traditions of the Prophet (s.a.w) regarding this topic, the Fuqaha (jurist experts) have established the following rules regarding ‘the lost items that are found’:
- If a person finds an item on the road, pathway or a public gathering, he is forbidden to pick it up and keep it for himself. Similarly, if he invites some guest to his house for a meal or some other reason and one of the guest leaves some of his personal possessions behind, it is forbidden for him to pick it up and keep it for himself. If he decides to pick it up, he should do so with the intention of looking for its owner and returning it.
- If a person finds something and does not pick it up, there will be no sin on him. However, if he finds it at a place where there is the fear that if he does not pick it up, someone else will pick it up and will not return it to its owner, then it becomes Waajib on this person to pick it up and return it to its owner.
- Once a person finds a lost item and picks it up, it becomes his responsibility to search for its owner and to return it to him. If he picks it up and replaces it from where he found it or takes it away with him without looking for its owner, he will be committing a sin, irrespective of whether he found it at a safe place where he did not fear it getting lost or he found it at an unsafe place, whether it is wajib for him to pick it up or not. The same rule will apply in both cases, once he picks it up, it becomes wajib upon him to search for its owner and he should not replace it at the place where he found it.
- When a person finds an article, he must search for its owner and announce the lost item in all the public places that are frequented by men and women. If a woman cannot go to a gathering in which there are men, she should send her husband or another male to go and announce the item that has been found. The person should clearly announce that he has found a particular item and that the owner should come and claim it. However, he should not mention exactly what he has found so that a cheat does not come and claim it falsely. Instead, he should merely give vague description of it. For example, he must say that he has found some jewellery, clothing or wallet. Once the claimant comes and gives a clear description of that jewellery, clothing or wallet, he should give it to him.
- If the person searches extensively for the owner or advertises it properly, and still does not find its owner to such an extent that he has no hope of finding him, he should give that item in charity. If the person is poor himself, he can keep it for his personal use. If the owner comes and claims his item after the person had given it in charity, he (i.e the owner) can demand the value of the lost item as compensation. If he sanctions giving it in charity, he will receive the reward for that.
And Allah Knows Best.
Mufti Waseem Khan.