How does one repent from stealing items from a store when returning the items is not possible? May I donate the exact value of the items to charity?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate
Stealing is a major sin for which repentance is obligatory. Fortunately, the Mercy of Allah is vast, and He loves that His servants repent for their sins. May Allah reward you for your desire to repent and facilitate ease in your actions to fulfill a sincere and accepted repentance.
Allah Most High says, “O My slaves who have wronged themselves! Never lose hope in the mercy of Allah. Verily Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, He is the Most Forgiving and the Most Merciful.” [Qur’an; 39:53]
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The one who repents from sin is like one who never sinned.” [Ibn Maja]
Conditions of Repentance
The following are conditions for genuine repentance when one’s sins are between oneself and Allah:
(1) One must immediately cease sinning.
(2) One must regret one’s sins.
(3) One must resolve never to return to the sins.
Without any of the conditions mentioned above, repentance will not be valid.
When one’s sins involve the rights or property of others, then the three conditions mentioned above apply, along with the following:
(4) One must absolve oneself from the rights of the person/s affected. If, for example, the sin is stealing wealth or property, you should return the items to their rightful owner.
Repentance without the fourth condition would not be sufficient to waive any of the rights owed to others. One must restore the rights of the victim/s.
Returning Items Which are No Longer Extant
Since you’ve indicated that returning the items is not possible (due to their expiration or otherwise), you should return their value to the store/s. You could do so anonymously by depositing the money directly into their bank accounts. You don’t need to confess your sins to the managers, especially if this will cause further problems. Still, an anonymous explanatory note along with the details of your deposit should suffice. Giving the value of the items to charity would not suffice in this case since the steps mentioned above should be possible.
Al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: If the sin has to do with financial duties, such as withholding zakat, seizing property by force and crimes against people’s wealth, then as well as that (repentance) the obligation must also be discharged, such as paying zakat, returning people’s wealth to them if it is still present or paying them the equivalent otherwise, or asking the owner to let him off. If the person has died, then he should give it to his heir. If he does not have an heir (or cannot be located), then refer the matter to a qadi (judge) of good character.
I pray this is of benefit, that Allah guides you and accepts your repentance.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan.
Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.
He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.
Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.