Lost and Found Items

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Lost and Found Items


Islam has its own unique system in which the protection of the life and property of common people, the upkeep and cleanliness of walkways and streets and other civic (town or city related) duties have not been left as the sole responsibility of a city council or a municipal board. Instead, Islam has obligated one and all with the duty of the upkeep and safety of society. In instances where thorns, nails, broken glass pieces, rocks and similar objects may be lying on walkways and thereby pose a threat to others, Islam teaches every believing Muslim to be wary of these objects and to remove them.


Based on these golden principles related to public service, if the lost property of a person is found by someone, his Islamic, nay, moral duty is not simply restricted to not stealing it, rather it extends far beyond that. In fact (in some situations), it becomes one’s responsibility to pick up the article and make all-out efforts to return it to its rightful owner.


It is so common nowadays that one comes across an item not knowing who the actual owner is. In most cases, if the item is of value and the finder is honest, one will perhaps pick up the item and search for the owner. Moreover, if the finder is dishonest, he conveniently assumes ownership of the item on the false notion of ‘finders keepers losers weepers’. On the other hand, if the item turns out to be of no real worth, then one just ignores it and passes by it unconcerned. This is contrary to the courteous and honest conduct of a true believer!


Hereunder follow a few rules and guidelines pertaining to lost and found items:

1. If a person finds an item on the road, pathway or a public place, it is haraam (prohibited) for him to keep it for himself. Similarly, if a guest leaves some of his personal possessions at one’s home, it is haraam to keep these items for oneself. If one decides to pick it up, one should do so with the intention of looking for its owner and returning it.


2. If a person finds something and does not pick it up, there will be no sin upon him. However, if he finds it at a place where there is the fear of it being stolen or not returned to its owner, then it becomes wājib (compulsory) on this person to pick it up and to return it to its owner.


3. Once a person picks up a lost article, it becomes his responsibility to search for its owner and to return it to him. If he picks it up and replaces it as he found it or takes it away without searching for its owner, he will be committing a sin.


4. When announcing or advertising a lost article, the finder should clearly state 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 falsely claim it. Instead, he should merely give a vague description of it. For example, he should say that he has found some jewellery, clothing or a wallet. Once the claimant comes and provides a clear description of that jewellery, clothing or wallet, it should be given to him.


5. If there is no hope of finding its owner after extensively searching and thoroughly advertising the article, the finder should give that item in charity. If the person is poor himself, he may 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 (the owner), will receive the reward for that.


6. If mangoes, guavas or any other fruit is lying fallen in someone's yard or orchard, it is haraam to pick it up and eat it. However, if an item is of so little value that no one really searches for it, nor does anyone feel offended if it is taken and eaten, it will be permissible to pick up such an item and keep it for oneself. For example, if a person finds some fruit or a few cents, there will be no harm in picking up such items. [Sourced and abridged from: Bahishti Zewar (Eng) – vol.1 pg.386, Zam Zam Publishers]


Note: The sticks of sugarcane that we so often notice lying fallen on the roadside, will also fall within this mas’alah, i.e. since the value of these sticks is so insignificant and neither are the owners affected and bothered by this ‘loss’, it will be permissible to pick them up and consume them. However, the sugar cane which grows in farms, at the roadsides and highways, may not be broken and consumed, as this will be regarded as trespassing and illegally consuming the sugar cane.


Some important points to bear in mind


The wealthy allowing the less fortunate to benefit– A wealthy person refers to one who is liable (responsible) for the payment of zakāt. If such a person finds a lost item, it will not be permissible for him to derive any benefit from it. He will have to search for the owner and subsequently return it to him. If the owner cannot be located, the item will have to be given to the needy.


What should I do if I find a R5 coin?– This ruling will vary in accordance to what regard and importance the people of that particular area attach to this item i.e.


a) if the item was found in an orphanage or school, wherein a R5 is treasured and of real significance, then one will have to make an all-out effort to announce and return the lost item to the rightful owner.


b) However, if it is in such an area where the people are generally not affected nor disheartened by this loss, one should search for the owner from among those around him. Nevertheless, if (in both these cases) the owner cannot be discovered, then the finder may only keep the item for his personal use if he himself is poor. Otherwise, the item should be given to the poor.


How to announce a lost article nowadays– This ruling will also vary in accordance to the value of the lost article, degree of possibility and appropriate methods in discerning the owner. If, for example, the item was lost in a school, one will have to announce the lost item in the assembly or write it on the school notice board since this would be the most effective and efficient manner in locating the owner. Similarly, if a very precious and valuable item is found in a city, then if need be, the item should be advertised in the local newspapers or even aired over the radio.


A Dua to be Recited Upon Losing One’s Belongings


Sayyidunā Abdullah Ibn Umarرضى الله عنهماreports thatwhenever Nabīصلى الله عليه وسلم lost anything, he would recite:


أَللَّهُمَّرَادَّ الضَّالَّةْ, وَهَادِىَ الضَّالَّةْ , تَهْدِىْ مِنَ الضَّلاَلَةْ , أُرْدُدْ عَلَىَّ ضَالَّتِىْ بِقُدْرَتِكَ وَسُلْطَانِكْ , فَإِنَّهَا مِنْ عَطَائِكَ وَ فَضْلِكْ .


Allāhumma rād-dad-dāllah, wa hādiyad-dāllah, tahdī minad-dalālah. Urdud alayya dāl-latī biqudratika wa sultānik, fa innahā min atāika wa fadlik.


O Allah! O the Retriever of lost articles and the Guide of lost things! Certainly You recover lost things. Retrieve my lost item through Your power and might. For certainly, the lost item is of Your gifts and favours. (Majmauz Zawāid – vol.10, pg.133)


Finally, one will notice from the above that Islam has laid down extremely handy and comprehensive guidelines for us Muslims. Implementing these will prove beneficial to one and all. Firstly, we will be rewarded by Allah Yfor ensuring the conservation of society. And secondly, returning a lost article also serves as a means of inspiration and invitation to others, non Muslims especially, as they will observe our honesty and courtesy. May Allah grant us the divine ability to implement all these guidelines and to return any lost item that we may have found.