Property Damage

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Allah, subhanahu wa ta’aala, has prohibited aggression against the properties of other people and against taking it without rightful cause, and held as liable any person who damages other people’s properties without rightful cause even if it were done by mistake. Therefore, anyone who damages the lawful property of the others without their permission will be held liable for retribution.

Imam Ibn Qudamah said, “We are not aware of any dispute among scholars regarding this ruling which applies equally to the damage that is caused intentionally, neglectfully or if the person responsible for the damage is of legal age or not.”

This ruling applies also to the person who did not directly cause the damage but was an accessory to it. Furthermore, all involved in the following example cases are liable for retribution:

* Opening a locked door and as a result a stored-in property is lost.
* Unsealing a container and as a result the contained product is damaged.
* Untying an animal or, tying it, and as a result the animal strayed away and was lost or was hurt.

The same ruling applies when a person parks a car in a road and as a result another car or a pedestrian collides with it and damage resulted because of that. All of these people are liable for retribution. They are liable based on the following hadeeth, “Whoever places an animal in the passing road of Muslims or in a market place of theirs where it caused damage to the property of others with its forelegs or behind legs is liable for retribution.” (Ad-Daraqutni and others) (This is a weak narration) All people, in these cases, are liable for retribution because of their neglect and aggression.

These days, these acts happen quite often by many inconsiderate people. It is common for people to drill holes or place obstacles in the road causing its closure and plenty of harm to others while feeling free of any liability. It is acceptable to these inconsiderate people to takeover a road and use it as if its their own property, to disturb and harm pedestrians without any remorse or feeling of guilt.

The ruling of retribution also applies to cases when a vicious dog owned by a person attacks and bites pedestrians. Similarly, when someone drills a well in his own yard he must take all possible precautions as to cause no harm to passing-by pedestrians, otherwise he will be held liable for retributions if someone is hurt as a result of his negligence. And those who own livestock must watch over them during nighttime to insure that they do not cause any damage to other peoples’ plantations because if they do not then they will be held liable for any damage they cause to others. These neglectful people are held liable because the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wasallam, ruled that “…It is the duty of the owners of the plantations to safeguard their plantations during daytime and that they are entitled for retribution for the damage that is caused by livestock during nighttime.” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah). The owner of the livestock, however, is not liable for the damage caused by his livestock during daytime unless he unleashes them to pasture or wander close to things that are typically damaged by livestock.

Imam al-Baghawi said that, “Scholars say that owners of the livestock are not liable for damages caused to the property of others during daytime by their unleashed livestock. However they are liable for the damage if caused during nighttime because it is the common custom of the plantations’ owners to safeguard their plantations during the daytime and the custom of the livestock’s owners is to safeguard their animals during nighttime. Therefore if someone were to do the opposite of this common custom, he will be held liable for the damage caused by his livestock. This ruling stands true only if the owner of the livestock is not in the company of his animal. He will, however, be liable for retribution if the animal causes damage while in his company”

Allah has told us about the story the Prophets Dawud and Sulaiman, alayhemas salam, “And remember David and Solomon, when they gave judgment in the case of the field in which the sheep of certain people had pastured at night and we were witness to their judgment. And we made Solaiman to understand (the case), and to each of them We gave Wisdom and Knowledge.” [21:78-79] Ibn Taymiyyah commented on this, “It has been confirmed in the Qur’an that Allah has praised Prophet Sulaiman for his understanding that retributions are to be equal to the amount of the damage. In this case the sheep pastured during nighttime in the vineyard of the others and caused damage. Prophet Dawud ruled that the owners of the sheep are liable for the amount of the damage and ordered them to transfer their sheep to the owners of the vineyard because the market value of the sheep was equal to the damage. On the other hand, Prophet Sulaiman ruled that they are liable for equal restoration. He ordered them to restore the vineyard as it was before the damage and during the time of restoration they were responsible for the value of the lost harvests. Therefore he handed over the sheep to the owners of the vineyard to use their offspring for their profit as a makeup for the loss of their produces. He weighed the two goods and found them to be equivalent to each other. This is the knowledge which Allah favored Sulaiman with and praised him for his comprehension.”

The ruling of retribution does not apply to the person who damages unlawful things such as musical instruments, containers of alcoholic beverages, books of falsehood, pornography, myths and superstition, etc. This is based on the authentic hadeeth reported by Ahmad on the authority of Ibn Umar that the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, ordered him to take a knife and to go to the marketplaces of Madinah where there were containers of alcoholic beverages, brought from Syria. These containers were slashed open in his presence and he ordered his companions to do same thing.” This hadeeth proves that damaging such products is required and no liability applies to the person damaging them. However, these unlawful products must be destroyed by permission from legal authority and under its supervision. This is important to protect the interest of the society and to prevent self-interest motivated corruption.

Al-Jumuah vol.11 issue4