Assalamualaikum. I have a question. I own a petrol station in a certain area. I’m worried whenever my customers forgot or did not claim their change after filling their tanks.
For example, if my customer paid RM50 for fuel, then his car tank is fully filled when the meter read RM45. He has a right and should claim his balance of RM5 from the cashier at the counter.
The issue is, if he did not claim his change or forgot to do so and just left, what is the status of the money? I would prefer if all my customers claim their change so that it will be easier for me because the status of the money is unclear, whether it is permissible for me to take it or otherwise.
Waalaikumussalam wrt, wbt.,
Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.
Honesty in business is encouraged by Allah SWT and a commendable attribute in Islam. Among the basic principles of muamalat and any form of trade in Islam is to only buy and sell from among matters that Allah SWT has made permissible as well as only profiting in an honest and truthful way not through impermissible means.
Allah SWT clearly states in the Quran:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَأْكُلُوا أَمْوَالَكُم بَيْنَكُم بِالْبَاطِلِ إِلَّا أَن تَكُونَ تِجَارَةً عَن تَرَاضٍ مِّنكُمْ ۚ وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ كَانَ بِكُمْ رَحِيمًا
“O you who have believed, do not consume one another's wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.”
Surah al-Nisa’ (29)
Imam Qurtubi Rahimahullah (died in 671 H) when commenting on this verse said that Allah SWT prohibited His ummah against eating, taking or profiting through impermissible or unjust means. Originally, any form of trade is included as permissible by syarak except if it contains other prohibited elements according to syarak. (See Tafsir al-Qurtubi, 5/150)
From this, the petrol station is also a business that is not excluded from this basic muamalat principle.
Regarding the status of unclaimed change (money), after customers have refuelled their tanks, there are several Islamic legal maxims that can be applied to determine the rightful person of the money.
First, one of the maxims states:
الثَّابِتُ بِالْعَادَةِ كَالثَّابِتِ بِالنَّصِّ
“A matter of which is accepted and practised in a society (its status) is the same as though it is based on evidences.”
This maxim explains that every deed and action that is unexplained by syarak whether it is halal or haram, valid or invalid, then the status of it depends on the practice of a certain society. If society considers it permissible then its ruling is the same as though there is evidence that ruled it permissible and vice versa. (See al-Mausuah al-Qawaid al-Fiqhiyyah, 2/538)
According to our observation regarding the custom of the society in Malaysia, any unclaimed balance or change left is considered as though it is given to the petrol station’s management even when the customers did not explicitly say this. Thus, the right on the change is transferred to the owner of the petrol station and it is halal for the management to use it.
In another maxim, it is stated:
لَا يُنْسَبُ إلَى سَاكِتٍ قَوْلٌ لَكِنَّ السُّكُوتَ فِي مَعْرِضِ الْحَاجَةِ بَيَانٌ
“The decision of a person who stayed silent is not counted, however, in situations where a response in necessary then his act of keeping quiet is enough as an explanation.”
The above maxim explains that generally, if a person is silent on a matter, then we cannot assume that he agrees or disagrees on it. However, scholars have set that the silence of a person when he should not keep silent is an explanation as to whether he accepted or refused it. (See al-Mausuah al-Qawaid al-Fiqhiyyah, 8/1095)
If this maxim is applied, then customers who stayed silent and did not claim their change is considered to have agreed to give the balance money to the petrol station. The reason is the situation calls for an explanation from the customer for it involves his property with the addition of the factor of the custom of the society. Thus, when the customer stayed silent, he is considered to have given his change to the petrol station.
However, there is an exception for both of these maxims such as the customer asks back for his change, whether he asks it back right after he fills his tank or after some time because he forgot about it but then turned back to claim his change.
The exception for both these maxims is stated by scholars through another maxim:
اعتبار الصريح أولى من اعتبار الدلالة عند تعارضهما
“Considering a clear matter is prioritized compared to what is implied when both matters coincide.”
This maxim gives an exception when the custom of a society and a stronger and clearer argument coincide, then the clearer and stronger argument is prioritized. This is due to the fact that something which is clearly stated such as spoken words or speech is convincing while something that is just implied is categorized as doubtful matters. (See al-Qawaid al-Fiqhiyyah Wa Tathbiqatuha Fi al-Mazahib al-‘Arba’ah, pg. 154)
Hence, if a customer asks for his change, then the custom of considering unclaimed change as the right of the petrol station owner is no longer applicable for there is clearer evidence, which are the words from the customer who asks for his change back.
According to the above explanation, we can conclude several matters:
- Unclaimed change becomes the right of the owner of the petrol station if the customer does not ask for it back.
- If the change is asked back by a customer, then it is wajib for the management of the petrol station to return his money, which also includes cases for people who forgot and came back to ask for their change.
- If the manager of the petrol station is doubtful on the validity of the claim, then the maxim ‘Evidence Upon Those Who Claim, Oath Upon Those Who Deny’ applies. Please refer to the discussion on this maxim in our previous article: https://muftiwp.gov.my/en/artikel/irsyad-usul-fiqh/4155-irsyad-usul-al-fiqh-series-46-discussion-on-evidence-upon-those-who-claim-and-oath-upon-those-who-deny
- Considering that there is a possibility that the unclaimed change may be claimed later, it is best if the management set aside a separate account to avoid any dispute and argument later, especially when faced with doubtful customers.
- The management is advised to remind their customers to claim their change at the counter.
- The best solution for this issue is to channel the unclaimed change for the benefit of the public such as to the poor and needy, cash wakaf and others. It is closer to the attribute of warak and being cautious.