Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam
Question: As salam alaykum,
When I was younger, I committed some crimes for which I am indescribably ashamed. I don’t remember how much cash and merchandise I have stolen nor even where I can return it.
How do I repent without being able to return or make up for most of those crimes? Is there still forgiveness if the rights of others are not corrected?
I pray that this message finds you well, insha’Allah.
Yes, Allah Most High forgives His servants who have wronged themselves, and He grants them closeness to Him, if He wishes, out of His limitless Generosity, and not in accordance with the number or quality of their works.
Allah Most High says, “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.” [39.53]
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) promised that, “The one who repents from sin is like one who never sinned.” [Ibn Majah]
As for the stolen money or goods, these need to be returned to their rightful owners, actually or effectively, in a manner which does not cause you greater harm:
(1) Actually, by returning the item or the money due, even anonymously–with a note, for instance– or by way of a “gift,” to the owner or management, or
(2) Effectively, by giving it away in charity on behalf of the owner when they cannot be located, if they no longer run the business, or if you cannot remember whom you stole from.
With this, you should make a reasonable judgement of the wealth stolen, erring on the side of caution, and then strive to return it, gradually and sustainably, until you are reasonably sure that you have lifted what is due from you.
Please also see: Returning Stolen Property and: Will Allah Forgive Me After Stealing Something That Can’t Be Returned? and: A Reader on Tawba (Repentance) and: How Do I Repent From the Theft I Committed Many Years Ago When I Was a Teenager?
And Allah alone knows best.
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani