Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Question: What is the ruling on money that is found? to whom does it belong and what does the finder have to do to return it to the owner?
Answer: Walaikum assalam,
It follows the fiqh of lost and found.
Imam Ashraf Ali Thanvi said:
LOST ITEMS THAT ARE FOUND
1. If a person finds an item on the road, pathway or a public gathering, it is haraam for him to pick it up and keep it for himself. Similarly, if he invites some guests to his house for a meal or some other reason and one of the guests leaves some of his personal possessions behind, it is haraam 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 it’s owner and returning it.
2. 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 it’s owner, then it becomes wajib on this person to pick it up and return it to it’s owner.
3. Once a person finds a lost item and picks it up, it becomes his responsibility to search for it’s 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 it’s owner, he will be committing a sin. This is 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. That is, irrespective of whether it was wajib upon him to pick it up or not. The same rule will apply in both cases. That is, once he picks it up, it becomes wajib upon him to search for it’s owner. It is not permissible for him to replace it at the place where he found it.
4. When a person finds an article, he must search for it’s 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 a vague description of it. For example, he must say that he has found some jewellery, clothing or a wallet. Once the claimant comes and gives a clear description of that jewellery, clothing or wallet, it should be given to him.
5. If the person searches extensively for the owner or advertises it properly and still does not find it’s owner to such an extent that he has no hope of finding it’s owner, 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.
6. If a domesticated pigeon or parrot falls in one’s yard or house, it will be wajib on the person to search for it’s owner. It is haraam to keep it for himself.
7. 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 handful of dholl, there will be no harm in picking up such items.
8. If buried treasure is found in a house or in a jungle, the same rules as those mentioned above will apply. That is, the person cannot keep it for himself. He will have to search for it’s owner. If the owner is not found, it will have to be given in charity. If he himself is poor, he can keep it for himself.
(end of quote, from Heavenly Ornaments)