The Quran about punishment for theft
In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful
Appropriation of any material value in every society is estimated differently. In one case, this action is assessed equally by all, when there is a misappropriation – theft. Even among thieves themselves there is a view, that there is always a line that must not be crossed. This phenomenon has always had a negative acceptance, and different methods of punishment for such a crime have been developed. The purpose of this material is to consider the methods of punishment for theft described in the Quran.
The basic thesis about the punishment for theft in the Quran is the following prescription:
As for the thief, both male and female, cut off (fakta,u) two hands for two. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from God. God is Mighty, Wise. (5:38)
The passage above used the term “akta,u”, which root is “kata,a” – “to cut, to chop, to stop, to tear”. The word constructed from this root “akta,u”means “to provide; to endow; allow to cut, to chop, to tear”. It turns out that this measure is the highest and is used by the court’s discretion. Creator allows you to apply an extreme measure in the form of corporal punishment; however that is not a single solution.
The next term that is used in the verse is “aydiyahuma”. The term is composed from two-word forms in the dual form – “aydiya” – two hands, and “hum” – both of them. As it can be seen from the meanings, there are two hands of both male and female criminal. It is indicated that two hands belong to both criminals, i.e. one hand of each criminal is punished. Speculations that this term is used in the plural form do not withstand any criticism.
Yet whoever repents, even after his injustice, and corrects himself, then surely God accepts his repentance. Surely God is Forgiving, Merciful! (5:39)
This crime can be compensated if the criminal rectifies the situation and exercise sincere repentance.
What is repentance? Repentance means that you do not return to the old act. If a person repeats the crime, there is no repentance, and it is necessary to apply the extreme measure of punishment in order to prevent further recurrence.
It is interesting that in the Quran the term “aydiyahuma” is used only once, only at 5:38. Thus, we do not find any the same situation in the Quran.
Thieves are different, with different capabilities and ranks. Nowadays, there is an opinion that this ayat should not to be understood as call for corporal punishment. It is proposed to understand it as a call for deprivation of resources and opportunities for the thief. This is more applicable to embezzlers, bribe takers, etc. corrupt officials, depriving their ability to hold an office. However, the majority of thieves among the people are ordinary citizens. They have no important posts and ranks. They receive prison terms and after serving the sentence, they again accept the old life style.
How can we deprive them of the resources and opportunities? Access for lock picks, knives, razors, etc. instruments of crime is free. There is always a possibility to steal. This view does not correspond to reality and contradicts the real possibility of combating this crime
There is also an opinion that the verb “akta,u” does not mean the amputation of limbs, but only a cut or a mark on the hand, referring to the story of Joseph, when women cut their hands:
So when she heard of their scheming, she sent for them and prepared for them a banquet and gave each one of them a knife and said, “Come out before them.”
And when they saw him, they greatly admired him and cut (kata,na) their hands and said, “Perfect is God! This is not a man; this is none but a noble maintainer!”(12:31)
However, in this passage, it is another form of the verb. If we look at the passages of the Quran that use the form of the verb from the ayat 5:38, we see the following picture:
Surely I shall have your hands and feet cut off (ukatti,anna) upon alternate sides. Then I shall crucify you every one. (7:124)
…now surely I shall cut off your hands and your feet alternately (20:71)
…verily I will cut off your hands and your feet alternately (26:49)
The passages above talks about the pharaon’s threat to the invited sorcerers because of their faith. The meaning of these passages is straightforward – amputation.
The historic Islam asserts that following the divine guidance only by the Quran is impossible, because many of the provisions have not been described in the Prescription. One of the examples of the supporters of this point of view is the punishment for theft – cutting off hands.
How to determine the size of the part of the body that should be cut off?
The answer is simple – it is necessary to analyse the Prescription more carefully. The fact is that the body parts are described by Creator in very details.
Or [it is] like a rainstorm from the sky within which is darkness, thunder and lightning. They put their fingers in their ears against the thunderclaps in dread of death. But God is encompassing of the closed people. (2:19)
And indeed, every time I invited them that You may forgive them, they put their fingers in their ears, covered themselves with their garments, persisted, and were arrogant with [great] arrogance! (71:7)
As we can see, the fingers are described by the particular term. Moreover, even fingertips are described separately:
Here you are loving them, but they are not loving you. You believe in the Prescription – all of it. And when they meet you, they say, “We believe.” But when they are alone, they bite their fingertips at you in rage. (3:119)
Also fingers are described using a collective term:
When your Lord suggested to the maintainers, “I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who closed themselves, so strike them upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.” (8:12)
Yea, verily. We are Able to restore his very fingers! (75:4)
There is no lack of terms, so if there is an order to cut off the fingers, there would be a specific requirement to do so. Thus, we exclude fingers. From what place we can tell do the hand start? Here is the story of Job:
God said, “And take in your hand a bunch and strike with it and do not break your oath.” Indeed, We found him patient, an excellent servant. Indeed, he is repenting! (38:44)
Everyone understands that we seize any material thing, holding it with your fingers. But we have already deduced that the penalty does not apply to the fingers.
The next part of the hand is wrist. Wrist is the region hand from carpus to fingertips. It is this part of the body that allows us to seize something with our hands things. In the Quran, the word “wrist” is not used alone. As we can see, it is called “hand”. Now we may safely say that the hand can be cut from a wrist.
There is a court for punishing sanctions. The court is free to apply the level of penalties that also applies to the parts of the body. In our case, the court is empowered to define cutting off hands from the wrist. Of course, the trial is accompanied by the provision of evidence-database and if the theft is proved, the court shall render a judgment, taking into account all the opportunities provided by God in the Quran:
1) To allow for the first time to fix the crime;
2) In the case of repetition of the crime to apply the extreme measure of punishment – cutting off the hand, starting from the wrist.
Of course, this kind of punishment by the liberal opinion is considered as medieval and savagery. However, any opinion can be wrong. We must firstly understand that it is – the divine prescription. In the second place, such procedure of the punishment can be a real tool in the fight against theft. In practice, the level of theft is much less, in the countries where the penalty of cutting the hand for theft is applicable. In countries where it is not used, the level of theft is higher.
Another statement in the historic Islam is that the Quran does not determine the value of the stolen property starting from which the person can be considered as a thief, and in the tradition (hadiths, akhbars), this measure is determined. I would like to reply in this way. Any sane/clear-headed person in any society will not treat a person as a thief if he or she took without permission, for example, matches or an apple or chips. In all nations there is a kind of an objective bar, to which the person who has stolen something is not called a thief. The person may be called a bully, rascal, or in some other way, but he won’t be called the full-weight theft. Regarding our time, the criminal code of all the countries constitutes the measure, the excess of which leads to criminal liability. So, there are no objective obstacles for the use of Quranic prescriptions of the punishment for theft. I am sure that any prescription of the Quran can be performed in all societies at all times. This only requires a social and political will.