The punishment enforced in some Islamic countries for the crime of theft is based on the wrong interpretation of the following verse:
5:38 As to the thief, Male or female, cut off their hands (iqta’u aydiyahuma) a punishment by way of example, from Allah, for their crime: and Allah is Exalted in power.
According to the incorrect interpretation of 5:38, the law in these Islamic countries deems the punishment of severing the hand of anyone caught stealing. But is this the correct interpretation of Allah’s words in verse 5:38?
Now let us see the Arabic word “YAD” (used in dual plural in 5:38) or hand is used in Quran in its literal and figurative meanings.
Example in Verse 27:12 uses it in its literal meaning while 5:67 uses it in its figurative one to refer to wealth and how to spend it.
27:12 “And place your hand into your pocket; it will come out white with no blemish, one of nine signs to Pharaoh and his people; for they are a wicked people.”
5:64 “And the Jews said: “The hand of Allah is tied-down!” Their hands will be tied-down, and they will be cursed for what they have said. No, His hands are wide open spending as He wills. And for many of them, what has been sent down to you will increase them in rebellion and rejection; and We have cast between them animosity and hatred until the Day of Resurrection. Every time they ignite the fire of war, Allah puts it out; and they seek to make corruption in the land; and Allah does not love the corrupters.”
Another example for the figurative meaning is 38:45. It uses
“YAD” in plural form. It conveys the meaning of power and possession of resources.
“Remember also our servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were resourceful (“ulu al-aydee”), and possessed vision/They possessed power and vision .” 38:45
“YAD” is also used to infer someone’s actions and doings (2:195, 22:10).
“YAD” is used too to mean possession of a responsibility or a contract (2:237).
The verse 12:50 does indicate that women cut their hands in literal sense but please note they did not cut their hands from the wrists and became handicapped.
12:50 And the king said: “Bring him to me.” So when the messenger came to him, he said: “Go back to your lord and ask him what was the matter regarding the women who cut their hands (qattaAAna aydiyahunna)? Indeed, my Lord is aware of their plans.”
A GOOD EXAMPLE ABOUT HOW TO PUNISH THE THEFT 12:70-79
12:70 So when he furnished them with their provisions, he placed the measuring bowl in the saddlebag of his brother, then a caller cried out: “O you in the caravan, you are thieves!”
12:71 They said, while coming towards them: “What is it you are missing?”
12:72 They said: “We are missing the measuring bowl of the king, and whoever can produce it, will be given the load of a camel; and I will be bound by this.”
12:73 They said: “By Allah, you know we have not come to cause Rebellion in the land, and we are not thieves!”
12:74 They said: “What shall be the punishment, if you are not truthful?”
12:75 They said: “The punishment is that he in whose saddlebag it is found will himself serve as the punishment. It is so that we punish the wicked.”
12:76 So he began with their bags before the bag of his brother. Then he brought it out of the bag of his brother. It was such that We planned for Joseph, for he would not have been able to take his brother under the system of the king, except that Allah wished it so. We raise the degrees of whom We please, and over every one of knowledge is the All Knowledgeable.
12:77 They said: “If he has stolen, there was a brother of his before who also had stolen.” Joseph kept this all inside himself, and did not reveal anything to them. He said: “You are in an awkward position, and Allah best knows what you describe.”
12:78 They said: “O governor, he has an elderly father, so take one of us in his place. Indeed we see you as one of the good doers.”
12:79 He said: “Refuge is sought with Allah that we would take anyone except he whom we found our belongings with. Indeed, we would then be wrong doers.”
The way I understand from the verses 12:70-79 is this is Allah’s law for theft in application. Joseph and his brothers were submitters and children of Jacob and Abraham’s great great-children. They were applying ‘Allahs law then. It is very clear from these verses that they were not following the king’s law but rather Allah’s law.
First the presumed thieves were given the chance to come forward, acknowledge their wrongdoing, and then give back what they have stolen and they might even get a reward.
And if they refuse to do so, they must be proven as thieves. Then, what was stolen, if found, should be restituted to their owners. Thieves should work to repay the fees involved in the whole process. They should also work to repay what was stolen in case they do not give it or the whole of it back.
These verses give us also an example of someone who was set up for theft for a good reason of course. But, what would happen to someone who was set up maliciously and has to face marking or cutting of his or her both hands?
Had Joseph known that Allah’s punishment for theft is marking or cutting hands (which his brothers would have apply), he would not scheme that way in order to keep his brother with him.
PUNISHMENT OF CUTTING HANDS AND FEET
The “cutting off of one’s hands and feet” simply means destroying one’s power to operate freely.
5:33 The recompense of those who fight ALLAH and HIS MESSENGER, and SEEK REBELLION in land, is that they will be killed or crucified or that their power will be destroyed to operate freely (Qatta’a Aydihim wa Arjuluhum min khilafin) or that they be banished/expelled from the land; that is a disgrace for them in this world and in the Hereafter they will have a great retribution.
In the Quran Pharaoh said “UQATTI’ANNA AYDIHIM WA ARJULUHUM MIN KHILAFIN”
7:124 Pharaoh said: “I will destroy their power to operate freely (Uqatti’anna Aydikum wa Arjulukum min khilafin), then I will crucify you all.”
20:71 He (Pharaoh) said: “Have you believed to him before taking my permission? He is surely your great one who has taught you magic. So, I will destroy your power to operate freely (Uqatti’anna Aydikum wa Arjulukum min khilafin), and I will crucify you on the trunks of the palm trees, and you will come to know which of us is greater in retribution and more lasting!”
26:49 He (Pharaoh) said: “Have you believed unto him before I permitted you? He is surely your great one who has taught you magic. So you shall come to know, I will destroy your power to operate freely (Uqatti’anna Aydikum wa Arjulukum min khilafin), and I will crucify you all.”
The reason I’m giving these verses is because we need to ask, how can you be crucified when you don’t have hands or feet ?
The cutting or marking hands as a punishment of thieves run into contradictions within Quran.
PUNISHMENT FOR THE THEFT ACCORDING TO THE QURAN
5:38 As to the thief, Male or female, Iqta’u (Cut what was stolen ) aydiyahuma (from their financial Ability/Resources): a punishment by way of example, from Allah, for their crime: and Allah is Exalted in power.
Therefore, “iqta’u aydiyahuma” in the above verse 5:38 means to cut off from the thieves resources and power.
“Whoever repents after his wrongdoing and amends, then Allah will accept his repentance. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” 5:39
This helps the chance to the thieves to come forward, acknowledge their crime, and give back what they have stolen to the victim. They might even get a reward.
If they do not come forward, prove should be found who are the thieves. Then thieves should work to pay the fees involved for the whole thing. What was stolen, if found, should be restituted to their owners. Otherwise, thieves should work for them until what they have stolen is repaid. This is exactly what is applied to thieves in some Muslim rural areas.
The words “iqta’u aydiyahuma” in the verse 5:38 mean to cut off from the thieves resources and power.
If the hands of a thief are Chopped/Cut off, then how does a Muslim wash himself after attending to the calls of nature ?
How he will perform Wudu/Ghusil ?
How is he going to find a job to support himself & his family?
He becomes a burden on society and may end up begging on the streets.
Also he may become an atheist.