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Punishment for theft


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Zeynab
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« on: June 15, 2008, 10:50:14 pm »

 BismEm


Waalssariqu waalssariqatu faiqtaAAoo aydiyahuma jazaan bima kasaba nakalan mina Allahi waAllahu AAazeezun hakeemun (5:38) Surah Al-Maidah.
 
English Translation:

As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise. (5:38)

The meaning of Verse 5:38 has been interpreted in two different ways by various translators.

The brief and generally accepted meaning of Verse 5:38 is to cut off the hands of a thief, male or female, as a punishment for his/her crime.  According to this interpretation, the Arabic term  "aydiyahuma" (plural of 'yad') is taken to mean 'hands.'

However, the Arabic term "aydiyahuma" has also been interpreted as the equivalent of the English term "resources" by some translators.  This interpretation comes on the basis of the following Verse 5:39, which says:

But whoso repenteth after his wrongdoing and amendeth, lo! Allah will relent toward him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.  (5:39)

Thus, these translators say that on studying Verse 5:39 after 5:38, it's highly likely that cutting the hands does not carry a literal meaning.  Verse 5:39 states about Allah forgiving the offender if he or she repents.  This could mean, lessening their punishment or complete pardon.  This reflects that the punishment is of a kind that can be lessened or revoked if one repents.  If the hands are severed, the penalty cannot be undone even if the person repents.  Therefore, they interpret it as 'cutting off the resources' which could mean incarceration or a prison sentence. 

However, according to most historical data, there's no evidence of existence of prisons in 7th century Arabia.  Also, as per my perception, it is possible that Verse 5:39 does not refer to earthly forgivness but to Allah's forgiveness to such a violator in the next world.

The assumption of interpreting the Arabic term 'yad' (plural = aydiyahuma) as "resources" is derived by these translators from Surah Yusuf (Joseph), Verses 12:70 to 12:76.  This narrates the story of Prophet Joseph (pbuh) and his brother, when Prophet Joseph contrived a plan to keep his brother with him.

And when he provided them with their provision, he put the drinking-cup in his brother's saddlebag, and then a crier cried: O camel-riders! Lo! ye are surely thieves! (12:70)

They cried, coming toward them: What is it ye have lost ? (12:71)

They said: We have lost the king's cup, and he who bringeth it shall have a camel-load, and I (said Joseph) am answerable for it. (12:72)

They said: By Allah, well ye know we came not to do evil in the land, and are no thieves. (12:73)

They said: And what shall be the penalty for it, if ye prove liars ? (12:74)

They said: The penalty for it! He in whose bag (the cup) is found, he is the penalty for it. Thus we requite wrong-doers. (12:75)

Then he (Joseph) began the search with their bags before his brother's bag, then he produced it from his brother's bag. Thus did We contrive for Joseph. He could not have taken his brother according to the king's law unless Allah willed. We raise by grades (of mercy) whom We will, and over every lord of knowledge there is one more knowing. (12:76)


An interpretation of these verses connected to the law of theft at a geo-cities Islamic discussion site was as follows:

QUOTE:

"Joseph and his brothers were children of Jacob and great - grand children of Ibrahim, who were also Prophets of Allah. The Quran does mention the mischief that Joseph's brothers showed towards him, but it never identified them as rejecters. They continued living with their father Jacob as Muslims (12:38). 

So, if they were Muslims, and Joseph knew that, and if the punishment for theft would have been chopping off of hands, Joseph would never ask them to judge their younger brother according to their law (the Islamic law) instead of the law of the king of Egypt, as his whole purpose was to teach them a lesson. Now, his other brothers, children of the Prophet Jacob, told him what the punishment for theft is according to their law (the Islamic law). It is to take the resources and power of the thief and put him in service of the person whose goods are stolen.

It is very clear from verse 12:75 that they were not following the kingís law to punish the thieves but rather Godís law.

First, the presumed thieves were given the chance to come forward, acknowledge their wrongdoing, and then give back what they have stolen. They might even get a reward/or state compensation if it is found that they stole out of dire need or poverty.

Second, if they do not 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.

This process put in application the theft punishment stated in 5:38 that is to cut off from the thievesí resources and power. It leaves also the door open for thieves to repent and reform as God states in 5:39. This whole process is what is applied to thieves in some Muslim rural areas.

Had Joseph known that God'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.

Some would argue that this was the Divine Law for theft for previous communities and we are not bound by it. But when God wants to change something, He specifies it (2:187). Furthermore, Quran specifies when some laws do apply only for some communities (16:118) and therefore we are not bound to apply them.

So, in conclusion we see that because of the reasons mentioned above and the example of Joseph and his brothers in the Quran, we conclude that the punishment for theft is to take away the resources and power of the thief and make him pay back all the cost to the person whose goods he stole.  However, if he repents (5:39) Allah forgives him."


UNQUOTE:

Another interpretation by certain other translators is:  the Arabic term "iqtaAAoo" which is generally translated as "cut" has been translated as "mark" by certain other translators.  Hence they say that Verse 5:38 does not refer to 'cut' the hands of a male or female thief but to 'mark' their hands as an evidence of their crime.

Regarding all these various explanations, only Allah knows best which is correct. 
 
Each community / country is entitled to interpret it to the best of their thoughts and conscience.  However, certain important points that need to be stated are as follows.
 
- Even if we take the literal meaning of cutting the hands, there are certain factors to be kept in mind.

- Forgiveness is always the first and best course in the Noble Quraan.  Hence, even if this punishment is taken literally, according to the general values of the Quraan and in the light of Verse 5:39, it is to be carried out as a last step when all other means to reform the criminal have failed. 

- Moreover, it's important to perceive rationally that this punishment is not supposed to be given at random to just any petty thief.  Forgiveness being the first preference (and a culprit can be forgiven more than once), the punishment for theft is appropriate eventually only for those who threaten and terrorize the community and the wayfarers  e.g. gangs of armed robbers and highway robbers who wait to ambush the common unarmed citizens.
 
- Only adults can receive this punishment, not minors. 
 
Secondly - In my opinion, such practical and non-spiritual issues are flexible ones that can be adjusted or replaced with different penalties like prison term or fine, if that's easier for the community to handle during a particular period of time.  In the 7th century, there was no concept of prisons in the Arabian peninsula.
 
 
 
And only Allah knows the final and most correct interpretation.  Allah-o-Alim.
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« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2008, 07:25:32 pm »

Peace dear sister Zeynab,

This is an excellent piece of work and Allah has the best rewards for His servents who write with sincerity, which is what I see in your writing.

I agree with your view that this Verse refers to removing the thieve's resources from them. I am thinking of few other Verses in my mind where the word "hand" has been used which perhaps helps to highlight this. For instance, "power belongs in God's hands" Verse 1 in Surah Al-Mulk, and "all that is good lies in God's hands" Verse 26 in Surah Ala-Imran perhaps supports our argument. And another Verse which comes to mind is in Surah Al-Hajj, Verse 10, "That is because of what your own hands have earned" (refering to a sin under discussion) which also supports our view. There must be more Verses like this.

Another point is that I personally dont feel Prophet Yusuf's story is a very good argument precisely because of the reason you identified. The Verse 2:187 you quoted does not, in my view, do anything to prove what you were trying to prove (that God always specifies it when he is changing something), unless I am overlooking something. And I think you quoted 6:18 on the other side of the argument...in which case you're right, 6:18 proves that Allah can specify new and different things in different Sciptures.

You are very right about forgiveness and mercy. A fundamental theme of the Qur'an is fairness and justice, this means the punishment must be equivalent to the crime comitted. We must interpret the Verse in light of all other Verses and in light of Allah's infinite compassion, mercy and more importantly fairness.

To be honest, I really dont think any sincere believer who tries to follow the Qur'an as it is, without resorting to other "sources", will interpret Verse 5:38 to literally cut off the hands. So far, out of many "Qur'an only" people I have met, I have not found a single person of this view, nor you or I. I personally would therefore, not give leeway to this interpretation.

But wonderful stuff sister Zeynab, thanks very much for sharing it with us. Its always a pleasure being able to discuss the Verses of the Glorious Qur'an. Smiley

Peace.
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« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2008, 06:14:48 pm »

Peace dear sister Zeynab,
Another point is that I personally dont feel Prophet Yusuf's story is a very good argument precisely because of the reason you identified.

Salaams and peace br. Ace.  Many thanks for your appreciation of this piece. 

Regarding your above statement, first of all .. those aren't my views to be precise.  I quoted a brother from geocities Islamic discussion site.  But I think you've misunderstood something somewhere.  This brother had mentioned the incident of the life of Prophet Yusuf (pbuh) to highlight the possible connection of 'yad' (plural = aydiyahuma) as "resources."  As per his perception, he probably considers the concept of severing of 'resources' as the thief being put into the custody of the person who's property he stole.  While I cannot confirm that V.5:38 refers to such a punishment for a thief, I cannot rule it out either.

Summarizing the topic, the total interpretations include :

1) The literal meaning of cutting the hand

2) The concept of 'yad' interpreted as cutting off the thief's 'resources'
The term 'resource' has again been sub-interpreted into 2 concepts --
a) Imprisonment.
b) Putting the convicted thief in the custody of the person from whom he stole so that he can work for him and compensate him.

3) Marking the hand / hands of a thief. 

As I already mentioned in my post, history gives no evidence of the existence of prisons in 7th century Arabia.  It's possible that prisons didn't exist in this part of the world when the Quraan was revealed.  That could probably be because of the existance of slavery, which of course was rampant around the world at the time.  Please correct me if I'm wrong, the Quraan too does not make any references to imprisonment in any of the Surahs .. not to my knowledge.  While Allah knows best, the reason could be the existance of slavery.  The Noble Quraan introduced the concept of gradually abolishing slavery.  Introduction of prisons in that era could be misinterpreted by the people as a hindrance to abolishing slavery.  Anyhow, considering that there's no concept of imprisonment in the Quraan, I would think that the term "resource" derived from V.5:38 could better be connected as shown in Surah Yusuf quoted by the brother in geocities site. 

Again, as already stated in my post, as per my opinion this matter has to be kept open.  We can interpret to the best of our conscience but final explanation is known to Allah alone.


The Verse 2:187 you quoted does not, in my view, do anything to prove what you were trying to prove (that God always specifies it when he is changing something), unless I am overlooking something. And I think you quoted 6:18 on the other side of the argument...

I don't quite follow you here brother and how this is connected to anything I stated here or elsewhere. 

What I've made very clear in this post is that the interpretation of 5:38 remains open to the individual human mind or society, as to whatever they consider most apt.  Only Allah has the final explanation.  Personally I think, forgiveness would be right.  But if the offender persists in his dangerous offence, the safety & security of the community becomes the first priority.  Thus, stiffer measures can be taken as per one's individual interpretation depending on the social circumstances in accordance with justice.  I repeat, Allah is the Final Judge and Knower.

Thus, we make our own choices (a quality given to us by Allah to use our own discretion) and Allah makes the final judgment.


in which case you're right, 6:18 proves that Allah can specify new and different things in different Sciptures.

Verses 6:18 and 2:187 are quoted below.  I'd appreciate if you give the link of that post where I quoted these verses for any topic under discussion.  I cannot recall when or why I quoted these verses or how these are linked with any of my recent discussions.

6:18/19 - Al-Anam
18. He is the Omnipotent over His slaves, and He is the Wise, the Knower.
19. Say (O Muhammad): What thing is of most weight in testimony ? Say: Allah is Witness between me and you. And this Qur'an hath been inspired in me, that I may warn therewith you and whomsoever it may reach. Do ye in sooth bear witness that there are gods beside Allah ? Say: I bear no such witness. Say: He is only One God. Lo! I am innocent of that which ye associate (with Him).

2:187 - Al-Baqrah
It is made lawful for you to go in unto your wives on the night of the fast. They are raiment for you and ye are raiment for them. Allah is Aware that ye were deceiving yourselves in this respect and He hath turned in mercy toward you and relieved you. So hold intercourse with them and seek that which Allah hath ordained for you, and eat and drink until the white thread becometh distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn. Then strictly observe the fast till nightfall and touch them not, but be at your devotions in the mosques. These are the limits imposed by Allah, so approach them not. Thus Allah expoundeth His revelation to mankind that they may ward off (evil).
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« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2009, 12:59:47 am »

Assalam Alaikum.  very important and well written topic.  Only Allah knows the right interpretations but here's my personal view from how I understand Verses 5:38 and 5:39.   

I think V.5:38 does literally mean severing the hand as punishment for theft.  The Arabic vocabulary (or one of the Arabic vocabularies) for hands is أيادى   

But quite obviously this punishment is not to be carried out in a hurry.   This is clear from 5:39 which does not indicate against the cutting of hand or hands, but it indirectly refers that this punishment must be carried out after very careful scrutiny, only as a last measure when there's no other alternative to reform the criminal who's apparently become a menace for society.  Hence, when Allah says in V. 5:39 that whoever repents, Allah will relent toward him, explains that the thief must be given a chance to confess to the truth and if he's guilty he must be given a chance to apologize and express earnest repentence.  If he does so, Allah might forgive him.  In this case (that is, if he genuinely expresses remorse for his actions), the thief should be absolved of the earthly punishment. 

And Allah knows best.

I would also like to add that apologists and critics should not get so ruffled about this penalty.  After all, the kind of cruelties and injustices that are going on in the modern world and as a result of modern warfare are much, much harsher than rarely chastising a dangerous robber with severing his hand as punishment who won't make amends and has terrorized the community he's living in.  So many parts of the non-Muslim world including USA still carry the death pentalty for murder.  In countries like China and Singapore there's death penalty even for financial corruption and drug trafficking. 

There are poor people and hardworking people in all middle-class communities.  They spend a lifetime in sweat and toil, saving money for their family, parents and children.  And if that saving gets swindled off in a minute by some bold criminal gang of racketeers at gun point, such troublemakers have to be dealt with firmly.  Yet, the Quran gives them the right to repent.  But it's when such criminals refuse to appreciate kindness and start taking advantage of their right of repentence, then stiff measures need to be taken.  Like sister Zeynab mentioned correctly, the society in 7th century Arabia did not consist of prisons.  This did not exist in their legal system at that time.  Therefor, in such extreme cases, severing of hand was the last resort.
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« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2009, 01:55:25 am »

Again, as already stated in my post, as per my opinion this matter has to be kept open.  We can interpret to the best of our conscience but final explanation is known to Allah alone.

What I've made very clear in this post is that the interpretation of 5:38 remains open to the individual human mind or society, as to whatever they consider most apt.  Only Allah has the final explanation.  Personally I think, forgiveness would be right.  But if the offender persists in his dangerous offence, the safety & security of the community becomes the first priority.  Thus, stiffer measures can be taken as per one's individual interpretation depending on the social circumstances in accordance with justice.  I repeat, Allah is the Final Judge and Knower. 



I think V.5:38 does literally mean severing the hand as punishment for theft.  The Arabic vocabulary (or one of the Arabic vocabularies) for hands is أيادى   

But quite obviously this punishment is not to be carried out in a hurry.   This is clear from 5:39 which does not indicate against the cutting of hand or hands, but it indirectly refers that this punishment must be carried out after very careful scrutiny, only as a last measure when there's no other alternative to reform the criminal who's apparently become a menace for society.  Hence, when Allah says in V. 5:39 that whoever repents, Allah will relent toward him, explains that the thief must be given a chance to confess to the truth and if he's guilty he must be given a chance to apologize and express earnest repentence.  If he does so, Allah might forgive him.  In this case (that is, if he genuinely expresses remorse for his actions), the thief should be absolved of the earthly punishment.  And Allah knows best.

I would also like to add that apologists and critics should not get so ruffled about this penalty.  After all, the kind of cruelties and injustices that are going on in the modern world and as a result of modern warfare are much, much harsher than rarely chastising a dangerous robber with severing his hand as punishment who won't make amends and has terrorized the community he's living in.  So many parts of the non-Muslim world including USA still carry the death pentalty for murder.  In countries like China and Singapore there's death penalty even for financial corruption and drug trafficking. 

There are poor people and hardworking people in all middle-class communities.  They spend a lifetime in sweat and toil, saving money for their family, parents and children.  And if that saving gets swindled off in a minute by some bold criminal gang of racketeers at gun point, such troublemakers have to be dealt with firmly.  Yet, the Quran gives them the right to repent.  But it's when such criminals refuse to appreciate kindness and start taking advantage of their right of repentence, then stiff measures need to be taken.  Like sister Zeynab mentioned correctly, the society in 7th century Arabia did not consist of prisons.  This did not exist in their legal system at that time.  Therefor, in such extreme cases, severing of hand was the last resort.

Sister zeynab and Br. Persian, that's exactly the way I see it too.  Br. Persian, you've put it best.  Assalaam alaikum and peace, dear all.
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« Reply #5 on: February 10, 2009, 07:13:47 pm »

Many thanks br. persian.   While only Allah knows best, your reading of Verse 5:39 as it comes along following Verse 5:38 is clearly very meaningful.   This is definitely an enlightening explanation.  It's always great to learn from our brethren in Faith like yourself who believe in explaining the Glorious Quraan for the love of Allah Almighty and subsequently for upholding their conscience, and not for pampering their desires.  Salaams and peace.
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