Islamic Laws

Re-Cultivation of Barren Lands

By: Allamah Syed Muhammad Husain Tabataba’i
The term applies to the cultivation of a land which is not used (Whether it has never been cultivated before or it has been cultivated at a time, or it has become demolished and entirely fruitless due to the departure of its inhabitants or it may have become a meadow or bamboo-field.). In any case, the re-cultivation or development of barren lands is considered as one of the good deeds in Islam. In addition to serving as a means of ownership, the re-cultivation of barren lands will also lead to thawab.
It is related from the Holy Prophet (S): “He who cultivates a barren land is entitled to the ownership of that land.” Al-‘Imam al-Sadiq (as) is quoted as saying: “Any group of people who develop and cultivate a land will have the preference and that land will belong to them.”
In Islam, barren lands belong to Allah, the Prophet (S) and the Imams (as) (i.e., they belong to the Islamic government) and are considered asanfal (spoils).
Waste lands and barren lands can be cultivated and owned under the following specific conditions. From among the people who cultivate a land, whoever takes the lead will have the priority of ownership. The conditions are as follows:
(i) Permission from the Imam (as) or his deputy.
(ii) The land must not have been fenced with stones, or demarcated, or the like by anyone else in advance.
(iii) The land must not be within the limits of the property of others, such as the borders of rivers, the soil under the wells, and the boundaries of plantations.
(iv) The land must not be a free land, such as demolished mosques and endowments, or it must not be designed for the use of all Muslims, such as streets and roads.
Note: The development and cultivation of lands is based on a general understanding. Thus if the general understanding admits that a certain person has developed such and such a land, then that person’s ownership will be established. Certainly, the development of a land varies according to various objectives, for instance, in agriculture, the development of a land is made by ploughing and grooving it and in the case of construction, it is done by constructing walls around the land.
(v) It is permissible for everybody to derive a benefit from the open mines – which require no excavation and exploitation – to the extent which meets their personal needs. If benefiting from such mines requires excavation, drilling, exploitation, and other technical operations that are required for the excavation of gold mines, copper mines, and the like, the person who has taken pains in embarking on the excavation and exploitation of the mine will have the right of ownership.
(vi) Large rivers are jointly owned by the Muslims. In the utilization of streams and the water of snowfalls and rain, pouring down from mountains, whoever is closer and nearer to them will have priority over others.
Luqtah (Picked Up Article)
Any article which is found and whose owner is not known is called luqtah (picked up article).
(i) Any item which has been found and whose owner is not known and whose price is less than the price of one mithqal of silver, can be kept and possessed by the one who finds it. If the picked up item is worth more than one mithqal of silver in value, it should not be picked up. In case it is picked up, the finder should search for its owner through the normal channels for one year. If the owner is found, he should give the item to him but if the owner is not found, the finder should give the item to the poor on behalf of its owner as sadaqah.
(ii) If an item is found in ruined places having no inhabitants or if it is found in caves, or in barren lands having no owner, it will belong to the finder.
But if it is found in a landed property, the finder should make enquiries from the land’s former owners. The found item should be given to the former owners upon their presentation of some sort of identification to indicate that they had hidden it there; otherwise, the item will belong to the finder.
(iii) If an animal is found whose owner is not known, it will be treated asluqtah.
(iv) If a baby is found whose guardian is not known, it would be wajib kifa’I (an obligatory duty of all Muslims but it suffices when performed by someone) for every Muslim to pick up and bring it up.
(v) If a stolen item is entrusted to a person, it will be considered as luqtah and it should be restored to its original owner, but it cannot be returned to the thief.

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