The Fiqh of Lost & Found: What are the rules pertaining to lost and found goods?
Answered by Shaykh Sohail Hanif, SunniPath Academy Teacher

The basic rules can be understood from the following points. These are summarised from Ibn ‘Abidin’s Radd al-Muhtar[3:317, Bulaq] and Shaykh ‘Ali Haydar’s extensive commentary onMajalla al-Ahkam al-‘Adaliyya, the Ottoman law code [articles 769 and 770].

  • If somebody finds an item, it can fall into one of the following categories:
    1. An item known to be purposely discarded by its owner.
    2. A
      perishable item deemed customarily to be of no value and concerning
      which one is reasonably sure that the owner will not care to look for
      it. e.g. a lone pear found floating in a stream, or a walnut found on
      the pavement.
    3. An item deemed to be of value to its owner.
  • If i or ii above, then one can use it as one wishes without having need to announce that one has found the item in question.

If iii then the item is termed a ‘lost and found good’
(luqata). It is impermissible to take the good for ones own
consumption. One may either take it to return it to its owner or leave
it in its place. The particular circumstances dictate which is
superior, taking or leaving.

  1. If one is able to announce the lost item and
    undertake the search for the owner then it is superior to pick it up.
    Imam al-Sarakhsi mentions in al-Mabsut that in taking it and returning
    it to it’s owner is fulfilling a trust which is a praiseworthy
    act in accordance with the noble verse ‘Indeed Allah commands you
    to render back your trusts to those to whom they are due’ [4:58]
  2. If
    one suspects that one will fall short in the fulfilling the legal
    requirements of handling a lost and found item then it is superior to
    leave it.
  3. If one fears that if one does not take it somebody else will steal it then it is obligatory to take it.
  4. If
    one feels certain of oneself that one can not fulfil the rules
    pertaining to lost and found goods then one it is forbidden for one to
    take it.
  • If one does take it then one must take the following measures:

o Announce to those in the vicinity that one is taking this item to
return it to its owner. If one is unable to announce one’s intent
(ishhad) when taking the item due to the absence of witnesses, then one
should do so when able.

o Undertake a general announcement (ta`rif) concerning the found
item so as to locate the owner. This can take any means necessary and
should be widespread enough so as to locate the owner.

o After having undertaken the above steps one has fulfilled the
conditions of the lost and found good and it is considered entrusted to
one’s care (amana) meaning that one is not liable to cover the
costs for any accidental damage or destruction that may befall the item
when in one’s care.

If a person comes and claims that he is the owner then one may hand
it over to him if he provides evidence that it is his, or is able to
describe it exactly or if one just feels certain in ones heart that he
is the owner.

If one were to give it to someone, being convinced by his claim and
thereafter the real owner were to come with a clear proof that the item
found belonged to him then he takes the item from the false claimer if
it is still in one piece. If it has been destroyed he is given its
value from either the finder or the false claimer.

To facilitate this process the scholars mention that it is often
better to describe the object only in general terms, for example
‘a wallet’, and then let someone claiming to be the owner
to describe it in detail.

One keeps announcing the good and searching for its owner until a
sufficient amount of time has passed such that one does not believe
that the owner is still looking for it and cannot be located. In the
case of perishable goods such as food items one keeps announcing until
one fears that they will rot. One may then either,

i. keep holding on to it with the intention of returning it to the
owner. This of course is only an option with non perishable goods.

ii. give either the item or it’s value in charity with the intention of donating the reward to the owner,

iii. sell it with the intention of giving the money to the owner.

If the owner should present himself thereafter:

o If one had given it in charity, the owner can either approve of
the charity in which case he has the reward for the charity or demand
the value of the good from the person who had given it in charity.

o If one had sold it, then the owner can either take the money from
the sale or cancel the transaction and demand the original item from
person who had bought it.

These are the main rules mentioned concerning this quite taxing
responsibility. Further details may be found in books of fiqh such as
the two aforementioned sources. What can be learnt from this is the
great emphasis that Islam places on fulfilling and safeguarding the
rights of our fellow human beings. People freely indulging in other
people’s property and disregarding their rights are quite far
from the high, noble ideals of the religion. May Allah give us tawfiq
in giving all people their due rights.

Sohail Hanif

From Imam Nawawi’s Riyad al-Salihin (tr. Ust. Ayesha Bewley)

25. Chapter: On the command to deliver trusts

Allah Almighty says, “Allah commands you to return to their owners the things you hold on trust,” (W4:57; H4:58) and the Almighty says, “We
offered the Trust to the heavens, the earth and the mountains, but they
refused to take it on and shrank from it. But man took it on. He is
indeed wrongdoing and ignorant.”

199. Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah
bless him and grant him peace, said, “There are three signs of a
hypocrite: whenever he speaks, he lies; whenever he makes a promise, he
breaks it; and whenever he is trusted, he betrays his trust.” [Agreed

In one variant, “Even if he fasts and prays and claims that he is a Muslim.”

200. Hudhayfa ibn al-Yaman said, “The Messenger of Allah, may Allah
bless him and grant him peace, related two hadiths to us. I have seen
one of them come about and am still waiting for the other. He related
to us that trustworthiness had descended into the hearts of men. Then
the Qur’an descended and they knew it from the Qur’an and they knew it
from the Sunna. Then he related that trustworthiness would be removed,
and he said, ‘A man will go to sleep and trustworthiness will be taken
from his heart and its trace will remain like a small mark. Then he
will go to sleep and trustworthiness will be taken from his heart and
its trace will remain like a weal, as when an ember rolls onto his foot
and it blisters up and you see it raised up with nothing in it.’ Then
he took some pebbles and rolled them onto his foot. ‘And people will
continue to trade but practically no one will fulfill his trust, to
such a point that it will be said, “There is a trustworthy man among
the Banu so-and-so!” and until it will be said of a man, “How tough he
is! How elegant! How intelligent!” when he does not have a
mustard-grain of belief in his heart.’ There was a time when I did not
care who I did business with. If he was a Muslim, his deen was
sufficient assurance for me, and if he was a Christian or a Jew, his
guardian was sufficient assurance for me. Today I only do business with
so-and-so and so-and-so among you.” [Agreed upon]

201. Hudhayfa and Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah,
may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Allah, the Blessed and
Exalted, will gather the people together, and the believers will stand
until the Garden is brought near to them and then they will go to Adam,
may the blessings of Allah be upon him, and say, ‘O our father, open up
the Garden for us!’ He will say, ‘Were you brought out of the Garden by
anything but the error of your father! That is not in my power. Go to
Ibrahim, the Friend of Allah.'” He said, “They will go to Ibrahim and
Ibrahim will say, ‘That is not in my power. I was only a friend. That
degree is far beyond me. Go to Musa to whom Allah spoke directly.’ They
will go to Musa and he will say, ‘That is not in my power. Go to ‘Isa,
the Word of Allah and His Spirit.’ ‘Isa will say, ‘That is not in my
power.’ They will go to Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him
peace, and he will stand and will be granted permission. Trust and
kinship will be released and will stand on either side of the Sirat,
right and left. The first of them will pass over like lightning.” I
said, “May my father and mother be your ransom, what is passing like
lightning?” He said, “Haven’t you seen how it comes and goes in the
blink of an eye? Then they will pass like the wind, then pass like
birds. The strongest of men will be carried by their actions while
their Prophet will be on the Sirat, saying, ‘O Lord, grant safety,
grant safety,’ until the actions of the slaves are no longer sufficient
and a man is brought who can only cross crawling. On the sides of the
Sirat there are hooks hanging which are commanded to catch hold of
particular people. Anyone who is scratched is safe but anyone who is
hooked is in the Fire.’ By the One in whose hand is the soul of Abu
Hurayra, the bottom of Jahannam is seventy years deep.” [Muslim]

202. Abu Khubayb ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr said, “When az-Zubayr stood
awaiting the Battle of the Camel, he called me over and I went to his
side. He said, ‘O my son, no one will be killed today except someone
wronging or someone wronged. I think that I will be killed today as one
of the wronged. One of my greatest concerns is my debts. Do you think
that any of our property will remain after out debts are settled?’ He
said, ‘O my son! Sell our property and pay my debts!.’ Then he willed a
third, and a third of it was for his sons, i.e. the sons of ‘Abdullah
ibn az-Zubayr. He said, ‘A third of the third. If anything is left over
of our property after paying the debts, then a third of it is for your
children.’ (Hisham said, “Some of the sons of ‘Abdullah were the same
age as the sons of az-Zubayr: Khubayb and ‘Abbad. At that time he had
nine sons and nine daughters.”)” ‘Abdullah said, “My father began to
order me concerning his debt and say, ‘O my son, if you are unable to
settle any of it, then ask my Master for help in doing it.” He said,
“By Allah, I did not know what he meant so I said, ‘O my father, who is
your Master?’ He said, ‘Allah.'” He said, “Whenever I ran into a
difficulty regarding his debt I said, ‘O Master of az-Zubayr! Pay his
debt for him!’ and He would settle it. Az-Zubayr, may Allah be pleased
with him, was killed without leaving a dinar or a dirham, but only two
pieces of land, one of which was al-Ghaba, and eleven houses in Madina,
two in Basra, one in Kufa, and one in Egypt.” He said, “The debt that
he owed resulted from people bringing him money to leave in his
keeping. Az-Zubayr would say, ‘No, let it rather be a loan, for
otherwise I fear that it might get lost.’ He was never appointed to a
government post of any kind nor to the collection of land-tax (kharaj)
nor anything else. What he had came only from expeditions with the
Prophet, or with Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman.”

‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr said, “When I worked out the debt he owed, I
found it to be two million and two hundred thousand.” Hakim ibn Hizam
met ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr and said, “Nephew, how large a debt does my
brother have?” I concealed it and said, “A hundred thousand.” Hakim
said, “By Allah, I do not think that your property will cover this
amount.” ‘Abdullah said, “What would you think if it were two million
and two hundred thousand?” He said, “I do not think you will be able to
pay this. If you are unable to cover any of it, then ask me for help.”

He said, “Az-Zubayr had purchased al-Ghaba for one hundred and
seventy thousand, and ‘Abdullah sold it for one million and six hundred
thousand. Then he stood up and said, ‘Anyone who is owed anything by
az-Zubayr should come to us at al-Ghaba.’ ‘Abdullah ibn Ja’far came to
him, and az-Zubayr owed him four hundred thousand. He said to
‘Abdullah. ‘If you like, I will forgo it.’ ‘Abdullah said, ‘No.’ He
said, ‘If you like, you can delay payment if you want to.’ ‘Abdullah
said, ‘No.'” He said, “He said, ‘So allocate me a piece of land.’
‘Abdullah said, ‘You can have from here to there.’ ‘Abdullah sold some
of it and paid his debts in full and there remained four and a half
shares of the land. He went to Mu’awiya while ‘Amr ibn ‘Uthman,
al-Mundhir ibn az-Zubayr and Ibn Zam’a were with him. Mu’awiya said,
‘How much have you valued al-Ghaba at?’ He said, ‘Each share at a
hundred thousand.’ He said, ‘How much remains?’ He said, ‘Four and half
shares.’ Al-Mundhir ibn az-Zubayr said, ‘I will take a share for a
hundred thousand.’ ‘Amr ibn ‘Uthman said, ‘I will take a share for a
hundred thousand.’ Ibn Zam’a said, ‘I will take a share for a hundred
thousad.’ Mu’awiya said, ‘How much remains?’ He said, ‘A share and a
half.’ He said, ‘I will take them for one hundred and fifty thousand.'”

He said, “‘Abdullah ibn Ja’far later sold his share to Mu’awiya for
sixty thousand. When Ibn az-Zubayr finishing settling his debts, the
sons of az-Zubayr said, ‘Distribute our inheritance between us.’ He
said, ‘No, by Allah, I will not distribute it until I have made this
announcement for four years during the hajj festival: ‘Anyone who has a
debt owed him by az-Zubayr should come to us and we will settle it.'”
He said, “He announced that every year at the festival and when the
four years were up, he distributed it between them. Az-Zubayr had four
wives and after the prescribed third was removed, each wife got a
million and two hundred thousand. So the total amount of his property
was fifty million and two hundred thousand.” [al-Bukhari]