How Do I Return Stolen Items When I Can’t Find Their Owners?
Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
I used to be very far from Islam in practice and used to steal a lot; I stole from unlocked cars and a few people which whom I have no contact now, so I don’t even know the owners to return the money I always feel sad/anxious knowing Allah would never forgive me for my sin of stealing knowing I can’t repay the rightful owners. Please help me in finding a solution knowing my circumstances.
May Allah bless you for repenting and returning to Him. “Truly, Allah loves the oft-repentant, and He loves those who purify themselves.” [Quran, 2:222]
The fact that you have this remorse is a good sign of your sincere repentance. The Beloved Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Remorse is repentance.” [Ahmad; Ibn Maja; and others]
Have gratitude for the gift of this remorse—and complete it with the steps mentioned below. Never listen to the negative self-talk and whispering of the Shaytan of despairing of Allah’s Mercy. Allah Most High promises:
“Say: My servants who have wronged yourselves, never despair of God’s mercy. God forgives all sins: He is truly the Most Forgiving, the Most Merciful.” [Quran, 39:53]
The First Step: Return the Item or Its Value
If you stole from others, you need to take the means to find them and return the item or its monetary value to them—and to repent to Allah Most High. [Khadimi/Birgivi, al-Bariqa al-Mahmudiyya Sharh al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya; Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]
If The Wronged Party Can’t Be Found
If this is not possible, after reasonable efforts in locating them, you must give the item or its monetary value to charity. The intention in doing so is for the reward of the charity to reach the rightful owners—even if the item itself couldn’t be returned. One doesn’t intend to seek the reward of giving charity in this; instead, one intends to rid oneself of the haram. [ibid.]
Completing Your Repentance—and What Sincere Repentance Entails
This redressing of the wrong of stealing would complete your repentance (tawba).
Sincere repentance requires remorse; leaving the sin; and (3) resolve not to return to the sin, for the sake of Allah. If the sin relates to the rights of others, such as stealing, one must also redress the wrong—such as by returning the item stolen; or returning its material value; or giving away the amount in charity if the wronged party cannot be found. [Nawawi, al-Adkhar; Samarqandi, Tanbih al-Ghafilin; ibid.]
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) urged us to hasten to redress the wrongs we owe others—before a Day comes—namely: the Day of Judgement—when no money could redress wrongs; instead, those wrongs would consume our good deeds, and when these are exhausted we would be burdened with their evil deeds. [Bukhari]
Rather, the path of repentance is the path to hasten to and embrace. Allah Most High urges,
یَـٰۤأَیُّهَا ٱلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوا۟ تُوبُوۤا۟ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ تَوۡبَت نَّصُوحًا عَسَىٰ رَبُّكُمۡ أَن یُكَفِّرَ عَنكُمۡ سَیِّـَٔاتِكُمۡ وَیُدۡخِلَكُمۡ جَنَّـٰتَ تَجۡرِی مِن تَحۡتِهَا ٱلۡأَنۡهَـٰرُ یَوۡمَ لَا یُخۡزِی ٱللَّهُ ٱلنَّبِیَّ وَٱلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوا۟ مَعَهُۥۖ نُورُهُمۡ یَسۡعَىٰ بَیۡنَ أَیۡدِیهِمۡ وَبِأَیۡمَـٰنِهِمۡ یَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَاۤ أَتۡمِمۡ لَنَا نُورَنَا وَٱغۡفِرۡ لَنَاۤۖ إِنَّكَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَیۡ قَدِیرۡ
“O believers! Turn to Allah in sincere repentance, so your Lord may absolve you of your sins and admit you into Gardens under which rivers flow—on the Day Allah will not disgrace the Prophet or the believers with him. Their light will shine ahead of them and on their right. They will say, “Our Lord! Perfect our light for us, and forgive us. ˹For˺ You are truly Most Capable of everything.” [Quran, 65:8]
May Allah Most High make you and us of these people.
And Allah is the giver of success and facilitation.
[Shaykh] Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Faraz Rabbani spent ten years studying with some of the leading scholars of recent times, first in Damascus, and then in Amman, Jordan. His teachers include the foremost theologian of recent times in Damascus, the late Shaykh Adib al-Kallas (may Allah have mercy on him), as well as his student Shaykh Hassan al-Hindi, one of the leading Hanafi fuqaha of the present age. He returned to Canada in 2007, where he founded SeekersGuidance in order to meet the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge–both online and on the ground–in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He is the author of: Absolute Essentials of Islam: Faith, Prayer, and the Path of Salvation According to the Hanafi School (White Thread Press, 2004.) Since 2011, Shaykh Faraz has been named one of the 500 most influential Muslims by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.