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What is the ruling on transgressing against public property?

Answered as per Shafi'i Fiqh by Darul Iftaa Jordan
What is the ruling on transgressing against public property?


All perfect praise be to Allah the Lord of the Worlds. May His peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Mohammad and upon all his family and companions.

Public property includes funds, items, lands, machineries, factories and the like, for which there is no specific owner. Rather, they are owned collectively by the population of a state and used justly in their favor, as the Muslim ruler sees fit. In the past it was called Bait-ul-Mal (State treasury).

Jurists are agreed that the person who commits any act of transgression against public property, be it stealing, looting, smashing or vandalizing  must make compensation.

In fact, transgressing against public property is one of the gravest sins where the transgressor must make compensation for what he had damaged, give back a similar item-if there is one-or give back its value, even if it outdated, as this is a form of embezzlement. Allah the Almighty says {What means}: " It is not for any prophet to embezzle. Whoso embezzleth will bring what he embezzled with him on the Day of Resurrection. Then every soul will be paid in full what it hath earned; and they will not be wronged." {Al-Emran, 161}.

The evidence on this is reflected in the following narration: It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Humaid as-Sa'idi who said:

The Messenger of Allah (Peace and blessings be upon him) appointed a man from the Asad tribe who was called Ibn Lutbiyya in charge of Sadaqa (i. e. authorised hign to receive Sadaqa from the people on behalf of the State. When he returned (with the collictions), he said: This is for you and (this is mine as) it was presented to me as a gift. The narrator said: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upod him) stood on the pulpit and praised God and extolled Him. Then he said: What about a State official whom I give an assignment and who (comes and) says: This is for you and this has been presented to me as a gift? Why didn't he remain in the house of his father or the house of his mother so that he could observe whether gifts were presented to him or not…….." {Agreed upon}. 

If this is the ruling on the gift taken by an employee, how about the person who embezzles public property, even of the slightest value?! Adi bin 'Umairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said, "Whosoever among you is appointed by us to a position and he conceals from us even a needle or less, it will amount to misappropriation and he will be called upon to restore it on the Day of Resurrection." [Muslim].

This clearly shows that it is forbidden for any person, employee or not, to embezzle state funds or use its property for personal interest, such as using state cars for a purpose other than that determined by those in charge. This is because public property can`t be used save in the manner decided by those in a position of responsibility.

As the funds of the state treasury are spent for public benefit,  they belong to each citizen. Therefore, embezzling from these funds, no matter how small the amount, means stealing from every citizen. It is worth reminding that the punishment of such person is going to Hell. Khawlah al-Ansariyah (RAA) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said: “Some men acquire Allah’s Property (such as the funds of the Muslim state treasury, Zakah etc.) and they will go to Hell on the Day of Resurrection.” {Related Al-Bukhari}.

It is the duty of every citizen-employee or not-to be trustworthy and preserve the state`s funds to be cleared from liability before Allah and to ascertain that his livelihood is lawful for this is true loyalty to Allah first, then country. Therefore, the criteria of selecting those in position of trust must be knowledge, faithfulness, strength and being good keepers. This is reflected in the words of Prophet Yousef who said to the king of Egypt: " Set me over the storehouses of the land. Lo! I am a skilled custodian." {Yousef, 55}. It is also reflected in the words of the woman who said to her father about Mousa, " O my father! Hire him! For the best (man) that thou canst hire in the strong, the trustworthy." {Al-Qasas, 26}. And Allah the Almighty knows best.





This answer was collected from the official government Iftaa Department of Jordan.

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