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Property with unknown ownership, or majhūl al-mālik (Arabic: مجهول المالک), is property whose owner is not known and it is impossible to give it to its owner or their heirs. According to the majority of jurists, to manipulate a property with unknown ownership, one needs to receive a permission from the Imam (a) or a Shari'a ruler.
"Majhul al-malik" is a property owned by a person or a number of persons, but the identity or the place of its owner(s) is not known, and there is no way to give it to its owner(s) or his (their) heirs.
The Jurisprudential Ruling of Property with Unknown Ownership
According to the majority of jurists, to manipulate a property with unknown ownership, one needs to receive a permission from the Imam (a) or a jurist who is qualified for issuing fatwas.
Instances of Property with Unknown Ownership
Some general instances of property with unknown ownership are mentioned in jurisprudential books, including:
- Found objects: In jurisprudential terminology, a found child is referred to as "laqit", a lost animal is called "dalla", and other found objects are referred to as "luqata". If the "luqata" is worth less than one dirham (12.6 "peas" or nukhuds of silvers, where each nukhud is equal to 192mg), then the finder can possess it. If it is worth more, then one must announce it as a found object for one year. After one year, there are three rulings in Islamic jurisprudence: personal possession of the found object, giving it as a charity on behalf of its real owner, and trusting the Shari'a ruler (the Judicial Guardian) with it. One reason for submitting the "luqata" to the Shari'a ruler is said to be the general principle that that property with unknown ownership must be submitted to the Judicial Guardian.
- Property obtained via usury, seizure, theft, and gambling: Property gained in these ways must be returned to their owners or their heirs if the owners are known, and if their owners are not known and there is no hope to find the owner or their heirs, then they count as property with unknown ownership.
- Archeological remnants, treasures, and antiques: According to some jurists, archeological remnants (both movable and immovable), which are found in an unowned land or in a land which was purchased for purposes of the revival of a dead earth (ihya' al-mawat) and the buyer knows that the found objects do not belong to the seller, count as property with unknown ownership. According to some other jurists, the finder will possess such objects, and the objects will be subject to judicial rulings such as khums.
- A debt to a missing creditor: If one is indebted to someone and the time for repayment has arrived, but he or she cannot find the creditor or their heirs, then in order to get rid of the debt, he or she should pay the money to the Shari'a ruler, and if there is no Shari'a ruler, then the debtor will remain in debt until they can repay it to the creditor or their surrogates (such as heirs), and if they are disappointed of finding the creditor or their heirs, then according to the majority of jurists, the property counts as being of unknown ownership and must be paid as charity on behalf of the creditor.
- Property without inheritors: If a person dies and there is no one to inherit them, then their property counts as being of unknown ownership, and according to explicit religious evidence, they will be given to the Imam or the Shari'a ruler in order to be spent for public good.
- Accidentally dead earth: An earth that used to be productive and but has lost its productivity is called "mawat bi l-arad" (accidentally dead). Lands with unknown ownership count as accidentally dead. According to the majority of jurists, they can be revived and possessed after an inquiry about their owners and being purchased or rented from the Shari'a ruler once there is no hope to find the owner. If one does not know whether or not the owners have abandoned the land, then precaution should be taken in seizing the land by the permission from the Shari'a ruler.
- Governmental ownership: According to some jurists, property owned by governments count as property with unknown ownership, and this leads to certain judicial consequences. For example, if state banks are not owners, then to receive money from them requires a permission from the Shari'a ruler. Or prizes gained via governmental lotteries count as property with unknown ownership, and thus one needs to receive the permission from the Shari'a ruler before he or she manipulates the prize.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from مجهول المالک in Farsi WikiShia.