Linguistically, ‘Al-Luqatah’ refers to anything that is found and picked up from the ground. Technically, as Imam Ibn Qudamah may Allah have mercy upon him a Muslim scholar, defined it as: ‘Property that the owner loses and a person finds and takes away (to preserve it in trust).’
Muslim scholars vary about the ruling. The Hanafi and Shafi’i jurists maintain that it is better to pick up a lost property because a Muslim is duty-bound to preserve his Muslim brother’s property, as evidenced by the saying of the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam (may Allah exalt his mention) when he was asked about Al-Luqatah:
“Remember the description of its container and the string with which it is tied. Make a public announcement of it for one year. If nobody comes and claims it, then utilise the money but keep it as a trust with you. And if its owner comes back one day seeking it, then return it to him.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
According to the Maliki and Hanbali jurists, it is a Makrooh (disliked) act to take away such property. This is also the opinion of Ibn ‘Umar and Ibn ‘Abbas may Allah be pleased with them. They argued that by taking away such lost items, one is bound to use something that is deemed unlawful. They also argued that one may not be able to undertake his duty efficiently regarding it, in terms of advertising it, returning it to its lawful owner and preserving it.
Its Ruling in Terms of Liability
Al-Luqatah remains a trust with the person who finds it and keeps it, and he is deemed liable for it only if he abuses it. He is also deemed liable for it if he gives it to somebody else without the permission of a judge. If it is damaged while still in the finder’s possession, after publicly announcing that he has found it and asking people to refer its rightful owner to him, then he is not deemed liable for such damage because he volunteered to preserve it in trust. The Ahaadeeth (prophetic statements) on this issue are very clear. The Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) said in the above-quoted Hadeeth: “…But keep it as a trust with you”.
Types of Al-Luqatah
- If it is an animal, the finder should see if it is able to protect itself or not. If it is able to, then he is not allowed to take it away. When the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) was asked about the Islamic ruling concerning a lost camel, he replied:
“It is none of your concern. Leave it, for it has its feet and a water-container (reservoir), and it will reach water and eat from the trees until its owner finds it.” [Al-Bukhari]
However, if the lost animal is not able to protect itself, such as a sheep, a sick camel or a horse with a broken leg, the finder is allowed to take it away. When the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allah exalt his mention ) was asked about the ruling concerning a lost sheep, he replied:
“Take it, for it is either for you, or for your brother (i.e., its owner), or for the wolf.” [Al-Bukhari]
- As for lost property that is not an animal, such as money of an unknown owner, one should consider the following rulings as explained here.