Punishment for Theft- the Quranic perspective.
The Quran always asks mankind to be “balanced” in everything it undertakes and it has laws and regulations that help maintain a “civilized” society. There would be anarchy in the world if people were allowed to deliberately flout these laws so punishment is required as a deterrent and an answer for their crimes. We may ponder over some of the punishments which on the surface seem wrong or illogical but when the Quran “speaks” it does so with the authority of our Creator, Allah. Punishment must be in accordance with the crime committed which is clearly shown in:-
Surah 5 verse 45:-
And We prescribed for them therein. The life for the life, and the eye for the eye, and the nose for the nose, and the ear for the ear, and the tooth for the tooth, and for wounds of retaliation. But whoso forgoes it (in the way of charity/forgiveness) it shall be expiation (atonement for past sins) for him. Whoso judge not by that which Allah hath revealed; such are wrong-doers.
This verse clearly says that there must be punishment in order to maintain law and order but the punishment must fit the crime; we should base our judicial system on this and if we do not then we would be deemed wrong-doers. It also opens the door for forgiveness and compensation so it is not a rigid system but one which has compassion as well.
Religious scholars have declared in the Sharia (“Islamic” law) the removal of the hand for criminals who steal. This has come down from our ancestors who knew better than us what Islam is and how to practice it. They have stated that all discussion is at an end and we have to accept what they have said or we are “out of Islam”, and you know what they would like to do (and have done) to those who leave Islam (see punishment for apostates section).I have never been able to understand how the removal of a persons hand is equivalent to stealing, for example, a gold ring. This cutting of the hand does not make sense based on Surah 5 verse 45 but we have Surah 5 verse 38 -41 to prove the case so what am I up to by questioning the wisdom of the Sharia?
Surah 5 verse 38 -41 As to the thief, male or female, cut off his or her hands: a punishment by way of example, from Allah, for their crime: and Allah is Exalted in power. But if the thief repents after his crime, and amends his conduct, Allah turns to him in forgiveness; for Allah is forgiving, Most Merciful. Know you not that to Allah (alone) belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth? He punishes whom He pleases, and He forgives whom He pleases: and Allah has power over all things. O Messenger, do not let them upset you, those who race each other into unbelief: (whether it be) among those who say "We believe" with their lips but whose hearts have no faith; or it be among the Jews,- men who will listen to any lie,- will listen even to others who have never so much as come to you. They change the words from their (right) times and places: they say, "If you are given this, take it, but if not, beware!" If any one's trial is intended by Allah, you have no authority in the least for him against Allah. For such - it is not Allah’s will to purify their hearts. For them there is disgrace in this world, and in the Hereafter a heavy punishment.
It says that the hand should be cut off but then does this not mean that the Quran is contradicting itself? Also, it says “hands” should be cut off so why is only one hand of a thief cut off by the implementers of Sharia Law? Since the Quran states that if it had been from other than Allah it would contain many contradictions then we can say that the Quran does not have any contradictions. We must exercise our minds and think because as I have shown from the above Quranic quotes when the Quran says something it also explains it. Hence, the traditional translation of verse 38 does say cut the hand, the word YAD in Arabic being hand in English. However, YAD also means strength of hands, power, property, wealth, blessings, obligation, and support. Pick up any Arabic dictionary/lexicon if you doubt me. A simple question no one seems to ask is how can there be forgiveness and repentance for a thief who has his hand removed, it would be impossible to restore it to its original full use? Those who reject truth have beliefs based on previous experience and are heavily influenced by these. The correct translation by Dr Shabir reads:-
Surah 5 verses 38-39
(Theft is a crime that steals away the sense of security from a society). A habitual thief, male or female both, must have their ability (to steal) cut off. This is the reward for their doings, and a deterrent from Allah. Allah is Almighty, Wise.
[For QAT’A YADDAIN the so-called cutting of hands, please see 12:31. ‘Yadd’ = Hand = Ability. ‘Allah’s hand’ at many places in the Quran, of course, denotes His Power and Authority. So, consider all circumstances with wisdom, and take measures to prevent this crime in the society]
5:39 Whoever repents after the crime and makes amends, God grants him pardon. God is Forgiving, Merciful. [If the hand is cut off, what about making amends, pardon and mercy?]
Here the verse now states that the thieves should have his means to steal removed, house arrest, gaol or their possessions removed appropriate compensation to the victim which is a “fine” for their crimes. They should repay their theft, money for money, gold for gold etc which is a more fitting punishment for their crime than amputation. It fits in with verse 45 and makes much more sense than removing their hand which does not benefit the victim. A one handed person is less likely to support themselves so becomes a burden upon society. A better understanding of the verse eliminates the apparent contradiction. Once the thief returns the stolen property, pays compensation to the victim and genuinely repents then they can be forgiven. Removing the hand is a permanent punishment which cannot be recompensed by forgiveness so is not right. There are various unauthentic hadith which says that our beloved Prophet had the hands and feet removed over a period of time of a persistent thief and finally had him killed. The Prophet would have understood the Quran and so would not have resorted to such barbarism.
It may be argued that if one thief had their hand removed then overnight the crime rate would fall so even if you agree with the fact that the Quran does not say cut the hand then this is a reason for such a law. This means that one person should undergo a barbaric act in order to stop others but this is not in agreement with the teachings of the Quran or normal justice, the punishment should fit the crime. We do not have the idea of a sacrificial cow (or Jesus taking the sins of others upon the cross).
Not satisfied with this new interpretation of the Quran which goes against the centuries of old practice that our ancestors so vigorously upheld and passed down to us? What about this:-
Surah 12 verses 30-31
Ladies said in the City: "The wife of the (great) 'Aziz is seeking to seduce her slave from his (true) self: Truly has he inspired her with violent love: we see she is evidently going astray."
When she heard of their malicious talk, she sent for them and prepared a banquet for them: she gave each of them a knife: and she said (to Joseph), "Come out before them." When they saw him, they did extol him, and (in their amazement) cut their hands: they said, "(Allah) preserve us! No mortal is this! This is none other than a noble angel!"
The ladies “cut their hands” in Arabic “QAT’A YADDAIN” which is from the same root as the words used in Surah 5 verse 38 above for cutting hands off. Why “make cuts on their hands” in one understanding of the Quran and removal of hands in another? Surely the words are better understood as making more sense if the persons “strength” i.e. ability to steal, is removed than amputation.
Bukhari Volume 3, Book 48, Number 816: Narrated 'Urwa bin Az-Zubair:
A woman committed theft in the Ghazwa of the Conquest (of Mecca) and she was taken to the Prophet who ordered her hand to be cut off. 'Aisha said, "Her repentance was perfect and she was married (later) and used to come to me (after that) and I would present her needs to Allah's Apostle."
Volume 5, Book 59, Number 597: Narrated 'Urwa bin Az-Zubair:
A lady committed theft during the lifetime of Allah's Apostle in the Ghazwa of Al-Fath, ((i.e. Conquest of Mecca). Her folk went to Usama bin Zaid to intercede for her (with the Prophet). When Usama interceded for her with Allah's Apostle, the color of the face of Allah's Apostle changed and he said, "Do you intercede with me in a matter involving one of the legal punishments prescribed by Allah?" Usama said, "O Allah's Apostle! Ask Allah's Forgiveness for me." So in the afternoon, Allah's Apostle got up and addressed the people. He praised Allah as He deserved and then said, "Amma ba'du ! The nations prior to you were destroyed because if a noble amongst them stole, they used to excuse him, and if a poor person amongst them stole, they would apply (Allah's) Legal Punishment to him. By Him in Whose Hand Muhammad's soul is, if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad stole, I would cut her hand." Then Allah's Apostle gave his order in the case of that woman and her hand was cut off. Afterwards her repentance proved sincere and she got married. 'Aisha said, "That lady used to visit me and I used to convey her demands to Allah's Apostle
Volume 8, Book 81, Number 779:
The Quraish people became very worried about the Makhzumiya lady who had committed theft. They said, "Nobody can speak (in favor of the lady) to Allah's Apostle and nobody dares do that except Usama who is the favorite of Allah's Apostle. " When Usama spoke to Allah's Apostle about that matter, Allah's Apostle said, "Do you intercede (with me) to violate one of the legal punishment of Allah?" Then he got up and addressed the people, saying, "O people! The nations before you went astray because if a noble person committed theft, they used to leave him, but if a weak person among them committed theft, they used to inflict the legal punishment on him. By Allah, if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad committed theft, Muhammad will cut off her hand.!"
Volume 8, Book 82, Number 797: Narrated Anas bin Malik:
A group of people from 'Ukl (or 'Uraina) tribe ----but I think he said that they were from 'Ukl came to Medina and (they became ill, so) the Prophet ordered them to go to the herd of (Milch) she-camels and told them to go out and drink the camels' urine and milk (as a medicine). So they went and drank it, and when they became healthy, they killed the shepherd and drove away the camels. This news reached the Prophet early in the morning, so he sent (some) men in their pursuit and they were captured and brought to the Prophet before midday. He ordered to cut off their hands and legs and their eyes to be branded with heated iron pieces and they were thrown at Al-Harra, and when they asked for water to drink, they were not given water. (Abu Qilaba said, "Those were the people who committed theft and murder and reverted to disbelief after being believers (Muslims), and fought against Allah and His Apostle").
Volume 8, Book 81, Number 774: Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "Allah curses a man who steals an egg and gets his hand cut off, or steals a rope and gets his hands cut off." Al-A'mash said, "People used to interpret the Baida as an iron helmet, and they used to think that the rope may cost a few dirhams."
The Bible may well have influenced the abused translations of these verses which is seen in:-
Bible, Matthew Chapter 18 verses 7-9
18:7 Woe unto the world because of offences! For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
18:8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
18:9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
The Bible has been a source of many hadith which is confirmed by some scholars who have recognised this, although they still accept them as authentic since Allah gave revelation to the people of the book so why should they not have some truth in them? The fact that the Quran should be the ONLY criterion to judge what is truthful seems to have eluded them and if it is not in this book, then it is not from Allah.