So, the benevolent governor of Riyadh, Prince Salman, took me to the Grand Mufti, Abdul Aziz bin Baaz.
We discussed the atrocious punishment and convinced him that the ayah about "cutting off hands" needed Ijtihaad (Rethinking). Allah the Merciful would never be so unkind.
First of all, we made the Grand Mufti agree with us that as-Saariq and as-Saariqah mean "habitual thieves" - there is 'As-' in the beginning. That was easy.
Then relating to verse 12:31, we presented our case that the women of Prophet Joseph's time obviously did not chop off their hands.
12:31 When she heard their gossip, she invited them, and prepared comfortable couches for them, and they schemed. She gave a knife to each of the women. Then, she called Joseph, “Come out to them!” And when they saw him they flattered him and ‘cut their hands’ (exhausted their efforts). They exclaimed in their flattery, “Good Sustainer! This is no mortal man! This is but an angel!”
[The governor's wife and her friends had planned to incite Joseph into behaving indecently. “Cut their hands” = They exhausted their efforts. There is absolutely no mention of the supposed “beauty’ of Joseph, a fabrication adopted by ancient and modern commentators. Secondly, the root word Qat’a in this verse is of very special significance. Did these women chop off their hands? Must the thieves get their hands chopped off? Please see 5:38-39]
Therefore, the verse must be taken to understand as cutting off the ability to commit theft. For some reason, the hard nut Mufti Azam was easy to placate on that particular day. Prince Salman dictated a letter to the University of Al-Azhar, Cairo, and the blind Mufti Azam stamped it without hesitation.
It was not even a week when the university issued a fatwa that from then on, amputations for any crime would be considered un-Islamic.
"All is well that ends well," they say. But is that right? This might nessitate another post :-)