وَالسَّارِقُ وَالسَّارِقَةُ فَاقْطَعُوا أَيْدِيَهُمَا جَزَاءً
بِمَا كَسَبَا نَكَالًا مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
(5:38) And [when it comes to] the male thief and female thief, faïqta’ou (cut?) the hands to both of them (أَيْدِيَهُمَا = aydiyahumâ = literal translation) as an equivalent retribution of what they earned: [this is] An exemplary punishment from God; God is Almighty, Most Wise.
What does the Quran really say regarding the punishment for theft? Shall we amputate the hand systematically or in some cases in accordance with the laws of Sunni and Shia Islam, or should we study the actual context of 5:38 and examine if the literal expression “cut the hands to both of them” (اقْطَعُوا أَيْدِيَهُمَا) could in reality be figurative and imply a completely different meaning in the Quran that can be easily deciphered based on the way both words are used in the Quran?
We are first going to study the foundation of Quranic law which is the law of retaliation (also known as “lex talionis”). We will cite as a matter of comparison the fact that even a murderer can potentially be forgiven in Islam under specific conditions. We will then explain the definition of the verb “quti’a” (cut?) in the form 1 and its various, mostly symbolical usages throughout the Quran, which will be followed by several examples of the way the word “hand” (or “hands”) is used. We will incontrovertibly prove that both words are employed in an allegorical or metaphorical manner in most cases.
We will then quote sura 12 and the story of the brother of Joseph (Benjamin) who was accused of theft in the kingdom of Egypt, and will draw a comparison between Biblical and Quranic law regarding theft.
We will then analyze verse 5:38 by placing it in the context of sura 5, and will prove why it is grammatically impossible that the verb “quti’a” (verbal form 1) in 5:38 could literally mean “to cut off” or “amputate” because of the meaningful use of the verb “qata’a” (“to cut”) in a different verbal form (form 2 instead of form 1) only five verses earlier in verse 5:33.
We will finally cite a few heartless and very shocking hadiths reported by Bukhari and Muslim that have been classified as “sahih” (authentic) and advocate amputating the hand in case of theft. This will allow us to understand why hadiths are directly responsible for the malevolent interpretation and distortion of the Quranic law regarding theft, the latter being based on equivalence and mercy when analyzed in the light of the Quran alone.
Table of contents
1. The law of retaliation
2. Forgiving in case of murder
3. Definitions: The root “qata’a”, the verb “quti’a” (5:38, form 1), and the verb “Qatta’a” (5:33, form 2)
4. Quranic verses where the verb “quti’a” (قُطِعَ) occurs
5. Expressions using the word “hands” are often figurative or symbolical once used with the verbs or expressions to which they are related
6. The story of Joseph’s brother (Benjamin), accused of theft in the kingdom of Egypt and comparison with the law of the Thora
7. The Quranic punishment for theft
7.1 Verse 5:38 and its context
7.2 Contextual difference and significant alternation between the verbs “quti’a” (5:38, form 1) and “Qata’a” (5:33, form 2)
7.3 Precise analysis of verse 5:38
7.4 5:39-40: Forgiveness following the sentence
8. The corruption of hadiths
1. The law of retaliation
وَكَتَبْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ فِيهَآ أَنَّ ٱلنَّفْسَ بِٱلنَّفْسِ وَٱلْعَيْنَ بِٱلْعَيْنِ
وَٱلْأَنفَ بِٱلْأَنفِ وَٱلْأُذُنَ بِٱلْأُذُنِ وَٱلسِّنَّ بِٱلسِّنِّ
وَٱلْجُرُوحَ قِصَاصٌ فَمَن تَصَدَّقَ بِهِۦ فَهُوَ كَفَّارَةٌ
لَّهُۥ وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَآ أَنزَلَ ٱللَّهُ فَأُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلظَّٰلِمُونَ
(5:45) And we ordained in it for them: “The soul for the soul, the eye for the eye, the nose for the nose, the ear for the ear, the tooth for the tooth; [the law of] retaliation is [also] applicable to injuries; but whoever forfeits it [instead] as a charitable act, will be blessed with an expiation. And whoever does not judge in accordance with what God has revealed are indeed the wrongdoers!
الشَّهْرُ الْحَرَامُ بِالشَّهْرِ الْحَرَامِ وَالْحُرُمَاتُ قِصَاصٌ
فَمَنِ اعْتَدَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ فَاعْتَدُوا عَلَيْهِ بِمِثْلِ مَا اعْتَدَىٰ
عَلَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ
(2:194) The sacred month(s) are contiguous to the sacred month(s); violations shall be met with an equivalent retaliation. So whoever caused any harm to you, cause harm to him in a similar manner as he caused harm to you; fear God, and know that God is with the [God] fearing.
ادْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ
وَجَادِلْهُم بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ
بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ
(16:125)Invite unto the path of your Lord with wisdom and kind enlightenment. Debate with them in the best possible manner. Indeed, your Lord knows well who has strayed away from His path and He knows well those who are rightly guided.
وَإِنْ عَاقَبْتُمْ فَعَاقِبُوا بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبْتُم
بِهِ وَلَئِن صَبَرْتُمْ لَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لِّلصَّابِرِينَ
(16:126) And if you reciprocate, reciprocate in a similar manner as what you were subjected to. But if you make patience a virtue, the patient will certainly benefit from it.
وَجَزَاءُ سَيِّئَةٍ سَيِّئَةٌ مِّثْلُهَا فَمَنْ عَفَا وَأَصْلَحَ
فَأَجْرُهُ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الظَّالِمِينَ
(42:40) The requital for an evil deed ought to be proportionate thereto. But whoever forgives and seeks reconciliation shall receive his reward from God. For He loves not the wrongdoers.
God established the law of retaliation, better expressed as the law of equivalence, as the foundation of the Islamic judicial system. Any judicial decision has to be based upon equivalence, in other words it had to be just. Most importantly, God shines with Love and Mercy, and the above verses demonstrate that He advocates pardon and reconciliation rather than retaliation, and rewards goodness and mercy by forgiving our sins.
2. Forgiving in case of murder
God decreed that killing one person equates to killing the entire mankind:
مِنْ أَجْلِ ذَٰلِكَ كَتَبْنَا عَلَىٰ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ أَنَّهُ مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًا
بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا
وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَلَقَدْ جَاءَتْهُمْ رُسُلُنَا
بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ ثُمَّ إِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنْهُم بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فِي الْأَرْضِ لَمُسْرِفُونَ
(5:32) From that time, we have prescribed to the children of Israel that anyone who slays a soul, other than for avenging another soul (i.e. in case of a murder), or spreads corruption on earth, it shall be as if he had slain all of mankind; but whoever saves one, it shall be as if he had saved all of mankind. Assuredly, our messengers have come unto them endowed with (irrefutable) proofs. Then, subsequently, many of them became transgressors on earth. The golden rule in Islam is that a single human life has as much value as the entire mankind. It is why even if a life is lost unjustly, God still leaves the door open for forgiveness:
يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلْقِصَاصُ فِى ٱلْقَتْلَى ٱلْحُرُّ
بِٱلْحُرِّ وَٱلْعَبْدُ بِٱلْعَبْدِ وَٱلْأُنثَىٰ بِٱلْأُنثَىٰ فَمَنْ عُفِىَ لَهُۥ مِنْ أَخِيهِ
شَىْءٌ فَٱتِّبَاعٌۢ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَأَدَآءٌ إِلَيْهِ بِإِحْسَٰنٍ ذَٰلِكَ تَخْفِيفٌ
مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ فَمَنِ ٱعْتَدَىٰ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فَلَهُۥ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
(2:178) O you who believe, the law of equivalence has been prescribed to you in case of murder: The free man for the free man, the slave for the slave, the female for the female; But whoever is forgiven by his brother [the brother of the deceased] for a particular matter, an appropriate payment to his intention must then ensue in a civil manner; This is an indulgence from your Lord and a mercy. But whoever transgresses after that shall incur a painful punishment.
God forgives manslaughter (4:92) and even allows a murderer to be exonerated from the capital punishment if the brother of the deceased (or by default, his family) agrees to a pardon in exchange of an agreeable compensation (!). With that in mind, is it just to amputate the hand of someone who would steal an egg or even something very substantial? Is this the law of equivalence?! Open your heart and judge for yourself.
The ultimate goal of this article is to prove that Quranic justice is profoundly just and we have much more to say to prove that cutting the hand of the thief is an abomination in the light of the Quran.
3. Definitions: The root “qata’a”, the verb “quti’a” (5:38, form 1), and the verb “Qatta’a” (5:33, form 2) The verbs quti’a (5:38, قُطِعَ, form 1 = to cut?) and qatta’a (5:33, قَطَّعَ, form 2 = to cut/to amputate) obviously share the same root and both occur in verses that deal with the punishment for theft. The significant alternation between these two verbs is absolutely crucial to understand the real meaning of the law edicted in 5:38, which will be discussed in detail in Section 7.
– The root qata’a (قَطَعَ) means “to cut”, “to separate”, “to hinder”, “to turn”, “to divide”, “to suppress” “to tear”, “to intercept”. The verb “quti’a” (قُطِعَ) in 5:38 is in the form 1 and has several meanings. Depending on the context, it means “to cut”, “to separate”, “to isolate”, “to annihilate”, “to traverse “, “to climb”, “to take”. Most importantly, the use of this verb is usually allegorical in the Quran, which we will prove later.
– The verb Qatta’a (قَطَّعَ, form 2) means “to Cut”, “to cut into pieces”, “to divide”, “to disperse separately”, “to amputate”, “to slash”. The use of this verb is mostly literal (rather than allegorical) in the Quran.
4. Quranic verses where the verb “quti’a” (قُطِعَ) occurs We are going to assess whether the verb “quti’a” (قُطِعَ = form 1) which occurs in the verse addressing the punishment for theft (5:38) consistently means “to cut” or “to amputate” or whether it has other meanings in the Quran. This verb occurs exactly 11 times in addition to 5:38 (12 times in total):
الَّذِينَ يَنقُضُونَ عَهْدَ اللَّهِ مِن بَعْدِ مِيثَاقِهِ وَيَقْطَعُونَ مَا أَمَرَ اللَّهُ
بِهِ أَن يُوصَلَ وَيُفْسِدُونَ فِي الْأَرْضِ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ
(2:27) Those who breach God’s covenant after pledging it, and separate that which God has commanded to be joined, and spread corruption on earth: Those are the losers.
لِيَقْطَعَ طَرَفًا مِّنَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَوْ يَكْبِتَهُمْ فَيَنقَلِبُوا خَائِبِينَ
(3:127) In order for Him to isolate/separate a fringe of those who disbelieve or annihilate them, and cause them to retreat in defeat.
فَقُطِعَ دَابِرُ الْقَوْمِ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا وَالْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
(6:45) Thus, the rest of the wrongdoers were annihilated. Praise be to God, Lord of the universe!
فَأَنجَيْنَاهُ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ بِرَحْمَةٍ مِّنَّا وَقَطَعْنَا
دَابِرَ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا بِآيَاتِنَا وَمَا كَانُوا مُؤْمِنِينَ
(7:72) We thus saved him (Noah) as well as those with him out of mercy from Us, and We annihilated the rest of those who rejected Our signs; They were not believers.
وَإِذْ يَعِدُكُمُ اللَّهُ إِحْدَى الطَّائِفَتَيْنِ أَنَّهَا لَكُمْ وَتَوَدُّونَ
أَنَّ غَيْرَ ذَاتِ الشَّوْكَةِ تَكُونُ لَكُمْ وَيُرِيدُ اللَّهُ
أَن يُحِقَّ الْحَقَّ بِكَلِمَاتِهِ وَيَقْطَعَ دَابِرَ الْكَافِرِينَ
(8:7) And [call to mind] when God promised you that one of the two groups would be destined unto you, you hoped that it was other than the armed group that was destined unto you; But God willed to establish the truth with His words and to annihilate (lit: “cut off the roots”) the disbelievers.
وَلَا يُنفِقُونَ نَفَقَةً صَغِيرَةً وَلَا كَبِيرَةً وَلَا يَقْطَعُونَ
وَادِيًا إِلَّا كُتِبَ لَهُمْ لِيَجْزِيَهُمُ اللَّهُ أَحْسَنَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
(9:121) And they do not spend anything, small or great, nor do they cross any valley, unless it is consigned in their record, that God may reward them for the best of that which they have wrought.
وَالَّذِينَ يَنقُضُونَ عَهْدَ اللَّهِ مِن بَعْدِ مِيثَاقِهِ
وَيَقْطَعُونَ مَا أَمَرَ اللَّهُ بِهِ أَن يُوصَلَ وَيُفْسِدُونَ
فِي الْأَرْضِ أُولَٰئِكَ لَهُمُ اللَّعْنَةُ وَلَهُمْ سُوءُ الدَّارِ
(13:25) As for those who breach the covenant of God after pledging it, and separate what God has commanded to be joined, and spread corruption on earth: Those are the ones who shall be cursed, and a miserable abode shall be assigned unto them.
مَن كَانَ يَظُنُّ أَن لَّن يَنصُرَهُ اللَّهُ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ فَلْيَمْدُدْ
بِسَبَبٍ إِلَى السَّمَاءِ ثُمَّ لْيَقْطَعْ فَلْيَنظُرْ هَلْ يُذْهِبَنَّ كَيْدُهُ مَا يَغِيظُ
(22:15) Whoever thinks that God will not help him in this world and in the Hereafter, then let him establish a [spiritual] bond towards heaven, then sever it. Then let him see if his plan will rid him of what torments him.
أَئِنَّكُمْ لَتَأْتُونَ الرِّجَالَ وَتَقْطَعُونَ السَّبِيلَ وَتَأْتُونَ
فِي نَادِيكُمُ الْمُنكَرَ فَمَا كَانَ جَوَابَ قَوْمِهِ إِلَّا أَن
قَالُوا ائْتِنَا بِعَذَابِ اللَّهِ إِن كُنتَ مِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ
(29:29) Don’t you approach men lustfully, blockade the highway and commit wickedness in your assemblies?! And the answer of his people (the people of Lot) was no other than to say, “Bring down God’s retribution upon us if you are truthful!”.
مَا قَطَعْتُم مِّن لِّينَةٍ أَوْ تَرَكْتُمُوهَا قَائِمَةً
عَلَىٰ أُصُولِهَا فَبِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ وَلِيُخْزِيَ الْفَاسِقِينَ
(59:5) Whether you cut off some of the palm trees or leave them standing on their roots rests with God, and so is the fact that He may disgrace the transgressors.
ثُمَّ لَقَطَعْنَا مِنْهُ الْوَتِينَ
(69:46) Then, We would certainly have severed the vein of his heart.
The verb “quti’a” (قُطِعَ, form 1) signifies “to cut off” or “severe” in a literal sense only twice as seen in the last two verses, while the other nine same verbs in the same form 1 signify “to separate”, “to isolate”, “to annihilate”, “to cross” “to severe” in an allegorical manner as well as “to blockade”. In other terms, in almost 82% of cases (9 times out of the 11 verses above), the verb “quti’a” has a metaphorical or allegorical meaning and does not literally mean “to cut off” or “to amputate”. For instance, when it comes to “cut off the roots” of evil people (meaning “annihilate” them) in 7:8 and 7:72, no root is actually “cut off” and the actual meaning is to “annihilate” them, or to oust them in such a way that none of those people will ever live again on the land that they once occupied. In 9:12, of course, we are not talking about “cutting” a valley but simply to “cross” it. This section is a preliminary step in our analysis, which allows us to see that it is the meaning of a given verse in its context, and in the general context of the Quran that allow us to understand what is intended.
5. Expressions using the word “hands” are often metaphorical or allegorical once used with the verbs or expressions to which they are related I read and studied very carefully all Quranic verses where the 120 words “hand” are mentioned (singular or plural). After making a table, I calculated that 76 times out of 120, the use of the word “hand” is metaphorical or allegorical and does not necessarily signify the word “hand” in a literal sense. In 63% of cases, the word “hand” is metaphorical and refers for example to people, actions, owning something, etc… In other terms, the word “hand(s)” refers specifically to one or more “hands” only in about 37% of cases.
In this section, we translated very literally a number of Quranic expressions that use the word “hand”, which we had to retranslate simultaneously in a non-literal manner because they would otherwise be extremely awkward, or even incomprehensible, because of their metaphorical meaning. Relying on the fact that almost two-thirds of the word “hands” are used metaphorically or allegorically, and do not refer to physical hands, will be one of the arguments that will allow us later to correctly understand the actual meaning of the expression used in 5:38 regarding the hands of thieves.
(2:66) “… an exemplary punishment for those in front of their hands”: The sentence actually means “an exemplary punishment for those who were in their presence”, which also signifies “an exemplary punishment for their contemporaries”: “The hands” do not represent hands as such but people who transgressed as a whole (in this case those who transgressed the Sabbath); It is therefore figurative language.
(2:95) “… They will never want it because of what their hands have produced” = “because of their actions,” or “because of what they did”. Again it is figurative: The hands represent people’s actions in general, and not necessarily something they actually did with their own hands. A person can for instance manipulate someone to do something reprehensible without having done anything with his hands.
(2:97) “… Verily, it (the Quran) was sent down in your heart (the heart of Muhammad) by the grace of God, confirming what was in his hands… “, that is to say” the books already revealed previously through Gabriel before the Quran and available to the people of the book at the time of Muhammad; “What was in his hands” is an allegory representing the previous scriptures revealed, not physical books in Muhammad’s hands, bearing in mind that Muhammad could not even read before the Quran was revealed.
(2:195) “And spend in God’s path, and do not throw [yourselves] with your hands into destruction …” = “And spend in God’s path, and do allow your actions to destroy yourselves.” Here again, the hands reflect people’s actions in general and not the hands as such.
(2:255) “… He knows what is in their hands and what is behind them …” = “He knows their present actions and their past”. Again, “the hands” represent people’s actions.
(3:50) And confirming what is between my two hands of the Torah …: This metaphorical expression means “And confirming the Torah available in my time”. Jesus refers to the fact that the gospel confirms the Torah, the latter not being literally “in his hands” at the moment he speaks.
(3:73) Say, “Indeed, grace is in the hand of God …”: “The hand of God” is an allegory, and does not necessarily mean that God has physical hands like we do (God knows best). One can translate the sentence as “Indeed, grace belongs to God”.
(9:67) “and they clench their hands” = “and they are stingy”: Hands are again used in a figurative manner, and we can imagine people whose hands are clenched due to their stinginess.
(14:9) “Their messengers came to them with clear proofs, but they returned their hands to their mouths and said, “indeed, we disbelieve in what you were sent with…”: This could be translated as “but they clapped their hands to their mouths [both in awe and rejection of the miracles they were witnessing] and said, “indeed, we disbelieve in what you were sent with …”. “Their hands” is again metaphorical in the sense that it is used to indicate people’s awe and rejection.
Of course, there are also many cases where the hands are to be taken in a purely literal sense:
(2:249) “Except for anyone who takes some (i.e. water) [no more than] in the palm of his hand”: Clearly, the verse refers to a physical hand.
(4:43) “… and wipe your faces and your hands …” We are dealing here with the dry ablutions using with clean, dry soil. The hands are therefore literal and not metaphorical.
We have thus proven that “hands” often represent “people’s belongings”, “their actions”, “people” in general, etc., as well as “hands” in the literal sense of the term, although the latter meaning represents only a minority of all cases (37%).
We will analyze verse 5:38 in great detail in section 7 and all verses of the Quran related to “cutting the hands” in order to prove, God willing, that its correct meaning in not literal but symbolical. Bearing in mind that the foundation of the judicial system in the Bible and the Quran relies upon the law of equivalence, we are first going to study the punishment for theft in the days of Jacob and his son Joseph as well as later when the Thora was revealed.
6. The story of Joseph’s brother (Benjamin), accused of theft in the kingdom of Egypt and comparison with the law of the Thora (12:70) Then, when he had provided them with their provisions, he put the cup in his brother’s sack (ie Benjamin). Later, an official spokesman announced: “O you in the caravan, indeed, you are thieves!”. (17:71) They (Joseph’s brothers) replied, turning towards them, “What are you missing?”. (12:72) They said, “We are missing the king’s cup, and whoever brings it unto me shall receive a camels load (of goods), and I guarantee it personally.” (17:73) They replied: “By God, you know full well that we did not come to cause trouble in the land and we are not thieves!” (12:74) They (the Egyptians) said: “So, what will be the sentence if you are liars?”. (12:75) They (the brethren of Joseph) said, “The sentence of the one in whose sack it is found, [it is himself who] will be the reward. This is how we (meaning we, the people of the tribe of Jacob in our country) reward the wrongdoers. (12:76) He then began with their sack before [searching] his brother’s sack; afterwards, he took it out (i.e. the king’s cup) from his brother’s bag. Thus did We implement [our stratagem] for Joseph. He could not arrest his brother according to the king’s law, except by the will of God. We elevate in degrees whomever We will, but the Omniscient stands above each and every one who possess knowledge.
Joseph was a brilliant man and the fact that he chose to claim that the King’s Cup had been stolen was most likely due to his great monetary value (The Egyptians even offered to give a full camel’s load as a reward to anyone who would return it which considerably increases its value from a psychological point of view), as well as the prestige attached to its owner. We are not sure of all the details regarding the Israelite law regulating theft (was the punishment the same whether you steal an apple or something very valuable, I doubt it); the only thing we are certain of is that the punishment for stealing something very valuable at the time of Jacob, something so valuable that Joseph’s brothers could not afford to match its value, was so severe that the thief would lose his freedom.
The law of the Thora, revealed about 430 years later (Exodus 12:40) at the time of Moses, is similar, and may even be strictly identical since the story of Joseph only deals with the theft of an extremely valuable object.
Exode 22 :
(Exodus 22:3) But if the sun be risen upon him, there shall be bloodshed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he should be sold for his theft.
(Exodus 22:4) If the theft certainly be found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double.
(Exodus 22:7) Suppose a neighbor asks you to keep some silver or other valuables, and they are stolen from your house. If the thief is caught, the thief must repay double.
(Exodus 22:9) Suppose two people claim to own the same ox or donkey or piece of clothing. Then the judges must decide the case, and the guilty person will pay the owner double. The penalty is therefore that the thief must return twice the amount of what was stolen (verses 4, 7 and 9). First, the stolen property or its equivalent must be fully restituted if possible. Then, a fine equivalent to what was stolen must be paid. Secondly, if the property was dilapidated or damaged, at the end of the day, twice the amount of what was stolen must be paid.
(5:45) And we ordained in it for them: “The soul for the soul, the eye for the eye, the nose for the nose, the ear for the ear, the tooth for the tooth; [the law of] retaliation is [also] applicable to injuries; but whoever forfeits it [instead] as a charitable act, will be blessed with an expiation (of sins). And whoever does not judge in accordance with what God has revealed are indeed the wrongdoers!
Otherwise, if the thief cannot pay, he loses his freedom and becomes a slave (temporarily or possibly permanently because if someone is sold as a slave in accordance to Exodus 22:2, it is likely permanent), as evidenced in Sura Joseph regarding the punishment for theft that was applicable at the time of Jacob to the descendants of Abraham and people who followed Islam at the time.
7. The Quranic punishment for theft
7.1 Verse 5:38 and its context
One very grave mistake people make when they analyze verse 5:38 is that they separate the verse from its context; This is why we quote here verses 5:28-45, which culminates with the law of equivalence:
(5:28) If you (Cain) extend your hand to kill me (Abel), I will not extend my hand to kill you. Indeed, I fear God, the Lord of the universe. (5:29) I pray that you will incur my sins and your sins, that you may end up with the companions of the fire; Such is the reward of evil people. (5:30) Then, his soul inspired him to kill his brother; He killed him, and became one of the losers. (5:31) Afterwards, God sent a raven; He scratched the soil to show him how to cover the corpse of his brother. He exclaimed: “Woe to me! I can’t even do like this raven and cover the corpse of my brother! And he became filled with remorse. (5:32) Since then, we have instructed the children of Israel that anyone who slays a soul, unless he is guilty of murder or spreads corruption on earth, it shall be as if he had killed all of mankind. And whoever saves a soul, it shall be as if he had saved all of mankind. Indeed, our messengers have come unto them endowed with proofs, but many of them ended up committing evil on earth afterwards.
إِنَّمَا جَزَاءُ الَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ
فِي الْأَرْضِ فَسَادًا أَن يُقَتَّلُوا أَوْ يُصَلَّبُوا أَوْ تُقَطَّعَ
أَيْدِيهِمْ وَأَرْجُلُهُم مِّنْ خِلَافٍ أَوْ يُنفَوْا مِنَ الْأَرْضِ ذَٰلِكَ
لَهُمْ خِزْيٌ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ
(5:33) The only reward for those who fight against God and His messenger, and strive to corrupt the earth, shall be to be killed or crucified, or to cut (تُقَطَّعَ = verb in the form 2) their hands and feet on opposite sides, or to be banished from the land. This shall be the disgrace they incur in this world, and they shall suffer a grievous retribution in the hereafter. (5:34) Except for those who repent before you prevail over them. God is Forgiver, Merciful. (5:35) O you who believe, fear God, be mindful of your duty to Him and fight in His path, that you may succeed. (5:36) As for those who disbelieve, if all that is on earth belonged to them, even twice as much, in order to ransom themselves therewith in exchange for the retribution of the day of resurrection, it would not be accepted from them. They have incurred a painful retribution. (5:37) They will wish that they could get out of the fire, but they will not be able to come out of it, and they shall incur a lasting retribution.
وَالسَّارِقُ وَالسَّارِقَةُ فَاقْطَعُوا أَيْدِيَهُمَا جَزَاءً
بِمَا كَسَبَا نَكَالًا مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
(5:38) And [when it comes to] the male and female thieves, you shall [symbolically] cut (فَاقْطَعُوا, faïqta’ou, form I, = to cut symbolically, meaning “to seize, “to deprive”) their hands (أَيْدِيَهُمَا = aydiyahumâ = literal translation, i.e. “the fruit of their labor”, “their belongings”) as an equivalent retribution of what they earned: [this is] an exemplary punishment from God; God is Almighty, Most Wise. (5:39) But whoever repents after this, and reforms, then, indeed, God will redeem him. Indeed, God is Forgiver, Most Merciful. (5:40) Do you not know that the kingdom of the heavens and the earth belongs to God? He punishes whomever He wills, and He forgives whomever He wills. God is Omnipotent over all things. (5:41) O messenger! Do not be saddened by those who hasten to disbelieve among those who say, “We believe”, with their mouths, while their hearts do not believe. And among those who have embraced the Jewish faith, some listen to falsehood, and listen to other people whom you haven’t met. They distort words beyond their [Quranic] context. They say, “If you are given this, take it, but if it is not given to you, then beware.”. And whoever God wills to dissent, you will never have any power over him in any way against God. Such are those to whom God does not wish to purify their hearts. They have incurred disgrace in this world, and will incur a terrible retribution in the Hereafter. (5:42) They listen to lies and consume what is unlawful. Therefore, if they approach you, judge between them or turn away from them; and if you turn away from them, then they will never be able to harm you in any way. And if you officiate as a judge, then judge between them equitably. In truth, God loves those who are equitable. (5:43) But why should they appoint you as a judge since they have in their possession the Torah that contains God’s judgment?! Then, they turn away after that. They are not part of the believers. (5:44) Verily, we revealed the Torah which contains guidance and light, by which the prophets who submitted [unto God] judged the Jews, the rabbis and the scholars, as dictated to them in the Book of God, and they were witnesses thereof. So do not be afraid of people, but fear Me! And do not barter my verses for a cheap price; and whoever does not judge according to what God has revealed, then, those are the disbelievers! (5:45) And We commanded therein unto them: a soul for a soul, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, and a tooth for a tooth, and the law of equivalence applies to wounds; But whomever favors charity [instead] regarding such matters, will be granted an expiation in his favor. And whoever does not judge according to what God has revealed, then, those are the evildoers!
7.2 Contextual difference and significant difference between the verbs “quti’a” (form 1) in 5:38 and “Qatta’a” (form 2) in 5:33
Any sincere person who studies the Quran can only be amazed by the absolute precision of Quranic words, meaning that the most minute detail is always relevant. The first thing that strikes me in the above verses is that the root “qata’a” (قَطَعَ) is used twice in relation to “the hands” in 5:33 and 5:38. It is very clear in 5:33 that one of the possible Quranic punishments for people who “fight God and His messenger and spread corruption on earth” (that is to say people who are the equivalent of serial killers) is that their hands and feet can be “amputated” (تُقَطَّعَ = verb in the form 2) on opposite sides (فَاقْطَعُوا أَيْدِيَهُمَا = form 2) to humiliate them and set them as an example, and prevent them physically from continuing to commit horrendous crimes in the future. However, and by contrast with 5:33, God chose the verb in the form 1 (فَاقْطَعُوا, faïqta’u) in 5:38 – still associated with “the hands” (أَيْدِيَهُمَا) – regarding the punishment for theft. We will cite below a few examples that illustrate the variation in meaning of verbs regarding whether they are in the form 1 or the form 2 in the Quran:
This is to emphasize that it is very obvious that the meaning of a verb in the form 1 is always different from one in the form 2, and this is in our case reinforced by the fact that the two verbs “قُطِعَ” (quti’a, form 1) and “قَطَّعَ” (qatta’a, form 2) are used in the same section and Quranic context (5:38 and 5:33 respectively). Furthermore, in both cases the same word “hands” are used as a direct object with the verb! Since the first verb in the form 2 in 5:33 undeniably means “cutting” in the sense of “amputating”, the second verb in the form 1 in 5:38 regarding the punishment for theft cannot have but a different meaning. This is the most basic Arabic grammar we are dealing here with.
In 7:124 and 20:71, Pharaoh threatened to “cut off the hands and feet” of the magicians who professed their faith in God after witnessing the profound miracle of the serpent that devoured their magic tricks, and it is logically the Form 2 (قَطَّعَ = qatta’a) that is used, just like in 5:33, because the meaning is indeed “to amputate the hands and feet”, unlike the typical symbolical use of the verb in the form 1 (as discussed in detail in section 4) that we find in verse 5:38.
7.3 Precise analysis of verse 5:38
Let us now focus on 5:38 and its translation:
وَالسَّارِقُ وَالسَّارِقَةُ فَاقْطَعُوا أَيْدِيَهُمَا جَزَاءً
بِمَا كَسَبَا نَكَالًا مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
(5:38) And [when it comes to] the male and female thieves, you shall seize (فَاقْطَعُوا, faïqta’u, form I, = to cut symbolically, to seize, to deprive,) their belongings (literally “hands”, أَيْدِيَهُمَا = aydiyahumâ = literal translation, i.e. their belongings or the fruit of their labor) as an equivalent retribution of what they earned: [this is] an exemplary punishment from God; God is Almighty, Most Wise.
“Their hands” signify here “their belongings” which is a very frequent symbolical use for the word “hand(s)” as discussed in section 5. One can also draw a comparison for example with verse 9:67, where people “clench their hands” (the verb is in the form 1 like “quti’a” in 5:38), which is a metaphor to expose their stinginess: Any given verb (to cut, to close, etc…) followed by “their hands” can be allegorical instead of literal.
God could have simply said “cut off their hands” in the form 2, but in fact, He says that their hands shall be “symbolically cut off” (form 1) as an equivalent retribution (جَزَاءً = jaza’an) of what they earned”.
– The root jazaya (جَزَيَ) means “to reward”, “to serve as a substitute”, “to pay” (a debt), “to satisfy someone”, “to give the equivalent”.
– The definition of the word “jaza” (جَزآء) is “retribution”, “reward”, “compensation”, “equivalent”, “satisfaction”.
Given the fact that the law of retaliation or equivalence which governs Quranic law is strategically mentioned just a few verses after the punishment for theft in 5:45 (what a statement!), I translated the passage as “seize their belongings (or the fruit of their labor) as an equivalent retribution of what they have earned”, as it is a retribution/sanction against the thief that is purely based on “equivalence”, meaning that it shall be proportionate to the offense committed. Such a retribution logically implies that the belongings or salary are seized or garnished in accordance with the law of retaliation in order to compensate the injured party, and one can draw a direct comparison with the law of the Thora.
The stolen property (or its equivalent if the property has been dilapidated or damaged) must by definition first be returned to its rightful owner. In addition to this, “an equivalent retribution” (جَزَاءً = jaza’an, 5:38) must be paid to the victim(s), which is the result of the fact that the thief’s personal property or salary must be seized partially or totally (symbolically cut) to match the amount that was stolen. In other terms, he is also obliged to pay a fine equivalent to the property that was stolen. If the only punishment were to return the stolen property, there would obviously be no actual sentence for the thief and it would be opening the door to chaos in society.
My translation of “jaza’an” combines two possible translations of the word (“retribution” and “equivalent”) because the punishment for theft is a matter of penalizing the thief and compensating the victim(s) according to the law of equivalence mentioned shortly after in 5:45.
In the case of the theft of exorbitant amounts (imagine a dictator or a king who enriched himself at the expense of people he was supposed to serve), and if it’s impossible for the thief to ever return what he stole and pay an equivalent fine, his sentence should be life in prison. If a person cannot find a job or successfully operate a business, we can imagine a prison sentence where his wage will be set aside until he or she repays what he owes to the victims including a fine equivalent to what was stolen. Quranic justice is firm and just at the same time. Again, it is a very similar justice system as the one found in the Thora and sura Joseph studied in the previous section.
Note: God mentions the Jews in 5:43, shortly after the verse about the punishment for theft (5:38):(5:43) But why should they appoint you as a judge since they have in their possession the Torah that contains God’s judgment?!…
It is legitimate to ask whether the Jews came to consult the Holy Prophet concerning a judgment regarding theft, God putting the emphasis on the absurdity that they even needed to consult him because the law of God is clearly enacted in the Torah. In the light of the Torah, the punishment for robbery has most obviously never been to cut off the hand of the thief. Not making any distinction between stealing an egg or an apple, and a car or something much more valuable as seen in hadiths and applying in all cases the same horrific sentence to amputate a hand is most obviously the very exact opposite of the law of equivalence/retaliation.
God’s law is about seizing partially or completely the thief’s belongings or the fruit of his labor depending on the amount stolen in order to compensate the victims by equivalence. In other words, when one places 5:38 in the precise context of the Sura 5 and in the general context of the Quran, one can never cut off the hand of the thief and it would be a high crime to do so because it is the exact opposite of the letter and spirit of the Bible and the Quran.
The Sunni and Shia law regarding theft based on heartless non divine justice advocates cutting one hand to the male or female thief, and the purely literal expression in 5:38 is actually to “cut the hands of the two thieves(فَاقْطَعُوا أَيْدِيَهُمَا): “Hands” (أَيْدِي) is in the plural (3 or more hands by definition in Arabic), followed by the pronoun in the dual form (هُمَا) which designates the male and female thieves: If one chooses to be blind and disregard the mandatory allegorical meaning of 5:38 due to the critically important alternation between Qatta’a (form 2, to cut off) in 5:33 and quti’a (form 1, to cut in an allegorical manner) in 5:38, it would be then necessary to cut off both hands of the male and female thieves (!).
Isn’t there enough horror in hadiths as is to add more horror? The reason why 5:38 allegorically commands to cut off both hands of the male and female thieves is because when you work, you use your both hands, and it is the fruit of such labor (the belongings or future work) which is seized in order to compensate the victims. The Sunnis and Shias do not understand the blatant mandatory metaphorical meaning of 5:38 and do not understand its literal meaning either, which demonstrates that they are completely missing the point from start to finish regarding this law. As usual, all this is due to the malevolent influence of “hadiths other than God and His verses” (45:6) regarding theft, which are cited in the next section.
The purpose of the Quranic punishment regarding theft is therefore to punish justly the thieves according to what they actually stole and compensate the victims by having the thieves pay a fine based on a fine equivalent to what was stolen (at fair market value), not to amputate, which would make a person partially disabled and possibly unable to make an honest living afterwards, meaning that such a person would then likely become dependent on society for the rest of his life.
Moreover, if the punishment in the verse were really to amputate as claimed by corrupt Sunni and Shia doctrines, this would imply that 5:38 would not provide the detail regarding any compensation to the victims in the verse, which would imply that the Quran is not fully detailed.
Understanding that symbolically “cutting both of their hands as an equivalent retribution of what they earned” is metaphorical and means “seizing their belongings or the fruit of their labor as an equivalent retribution of what they earned” combines, on the contrary, a fair sentence and implies restitution and compensation to the injured party (exactly like the law of the Torah). Even if by some macabre justice one gave an amputated hand as a trophy to the injured party, it would never repair any damage caused, contrary to the fact that we “shall seize their belongings as an equivalent retribution of what they earned”, meaning that they obviously must return what is stolen, and then pay an equivalent amount as what was stolen.
Finally, the reason why God points at the law of the Thora shortly after 5:38 in 5:43-45 is for one good reason: It is the same law, except that it does not imply enslavement anymore if you cannot provide restitution right away (Exodus 22:3), and simply implies in the worst case scenario working or being forced to work while your wage is garnished partially or completely depending on the situation (a thief may still have to feed his family in the meantime) until restitution (or its monetary equivalent) and an equivalent fine is paid.
7.4 5:39-40 : Forgiveness following the sentence
فَمَن تَابَ مِن بَعْدِ ظُلْمِهِ وَأَصْلَحَ فَإِنَّ
اللَّهَ يَتُوبُ عَلَيْهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
(5:39) But whoever repents after his crime, and reforms himself, then, indeed, God will grant him repentance. Indeed, God is Forgiver, Merciful.
أَلَمْ تَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ لَهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ يُعَذِّبُ
مَن يَشَاءُ وَيَغْفِرُ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَاللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
(5:40) Do you not know that the kingdom of the heavens and the earth belongs to God? He punishes whomever He wills, and He forgives whomever He wills. God is Omnipotent over all things.
God’s mercy is omnipresent in the Quran and we learn immediately after 5:38 (5:39-40) that God can still “forgive” the thief, which explicitly means in the context of 50:40 that it is possible to revoke the sentence if the thief meets two conditions:
1. The thief must repent.
2. The thief must reform.
Verse 5:40 specifies that the sentence may potentially be lifted at some point if the thief repents, for example by swearing before the victims and/or a court of law that he will not reoffend and reforms. “To reform” means that you have to demonstrate your good faith with acts and not just words: For example, the thief will only return the stolen property or its equivalent if it was dilapidated and do community service instead of paying a fine equivalent to the stolen property to demonstrate his good faith.
Establishing such a system of forgiveness is legitimate due to the fact that the family of a person who was murdered has the power to forgive a murderer in exchange for blood money (2:178): Based on the same approach, we can ask the victims of theft if they wish to forgive the thief by waiving the equivalent fine that is due to them after the initial restitution. From there, if they accept to forfeit the fine, it is possible for the thief to reform by doing community service instead (for example) in proportion of the offense committed. In any case, if a family has the right to potentially forgive a murderer (5:32: … anyone who slays a soul, other than for avenging another soul (i.e. in case of a murder), or spreads corruption on earth, it shall be as if he had slain all of mankind;…), the least we can say is that there is no reason not to potentially forgive a thief. It is therefore perfectly clear that if the thief is arrested, but sincerely repents and reforms afterwards, he may be forgiven and it is logically up to the victims to grant such forgiveness.
If what has been stolen is too much to ever be repaid or returned in full (for example, a dictator who appropriated to himself the resources of his country, or a scammer like Bernard Madoff), the sentence of the thief must in my opinion be life in prison unless all victims are in agreement to grant forgiveness, which is virtually impossible in some extreme cases.
8. The corruption of hadiths
Hadiths other than God and His verses written over two hundred years after the death of the prophet make no distinction between the verb Qatta’a (قَطَّعَ, as seen in 5:33, form 2 = to cut/to amputate) and the verb quti’a (قُطِعَ, as seen in 5:38, to cut symbolically the thief’s belongings) in Sura 5, and advocate the amputation of one hand of the thief, even for very minor thefts (see the shocking hadiths of Muslim below):
Sahih Bukhari 5:59:597 :
Narrated By ‘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.”
Sahih Muslim 17:4190 :
Jaibir reported that a woman from the tribe of Makhzum committed theft. She was brought to Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) and she sought refuge (intercession) from Umm Salama, the wife of Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him). Thereupon Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: By Allah, even if she were Fatima, I would have her hand cut off. And thus her hand was cut off.
Sahih Muslim 17:4183 :
bn ‘Umar reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace upon him) cut off the hand of a thief (in case of the theft) of a shield the price of which was three dirhams.
Sahih Muslim 17:4185 : Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Let there be the curse of Allah upon the thief who steals an egg and his hand is cut off, and steals a rope and his hand is cut off.
Cutting off the hand of a person who steals an egg or a rope?! What is the relationship between these blind and heartless hadiths and the law of equivalence, the foundation of Quranic law? None of course. Therefore, we see once again that hadiths are the root of the evil that plagues the Muslim world, and we are on the contrary witnessing a desecration of the law of equivalence (5:45) to the benefit of a blind, deeply inhuman, and catastrophically disproportionate justice (the hadiths). We are far away from the message of mercy of the Quran and the true message expressed in 5:38-40 which we analyzed.
God alerts us in the strongest terms regarding those who judge by following laws other than those found in the book of God:
(5:44) … And do not barter my verses for a cheap price. Whoever does not judge according to what God has revealed, those are disbelievers!
Let us remember that the law of retaliation (based on equivalence) is mentioned in the next verse (5:45). Cutting off the hand of the thief is the law of hadiths, not the law of the Quran, and the Quran makes it clear that people who advocate cutting off the end of the thief in case theft are disbelievers who transgress the divine law of equivalence.
God’s law is the law of retaliation (ٱلْقِصَاصُ = “Al Qisâs”, “lex talionis”, “The law of equivalence”, 2:178), based on equity and equivalence. It is the foundation of the entire judicial system in Islam, which, of course, naturally includes the punishment for theft: It is therefore about establishing a punishment proportionate to any harm committed.
وَالسَّارِقُ وَالسَّارِقَةُ فَاقْطَعُوا أَيْدِيَهُمَا جَزَاءً
بِمَا كَسَبَا نَكَالًا مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
(5:38) And [when it comes to] the male thief and female thief, seize (“symbolically cut”) their belongings (أَيْدِيَهُمَا = aydiyahumâ = their hands = their belongings or the fruit of their labor) as an equivalent retribution of what they earned: [This is] an exemplary punishment from God; God is Almighty, Most Wise.
Verse 5:38 describes the sentence for thieves and mentions literally (symbolically) “cutting the hands to both of them as an equivalent retribution of what they earned”.
The verb “to cut” (قُطِعَ = quti’a) in 5:38 is the first verbal form of the root qata’a (قَطَعَ), and a careful analysis of all 12 usages of this verb in the Quran proves that in 83% of all cases (including 5:38), the meaning of the verb “to cut” is symbolical and does not literally mean “to cut off”.
In addition, we proved that in about 63% of all cases (76 times out of 120), the word “hand” is also used figuratively in the Quran and is very often associated to the fact of “possessing something”.
– The key to understand the significance of verse 5:38 is to study the context of the verb in sura 5 and take note of the critically important alternation between the verb “qatta’a” (قَطَّعَ, form 2) in 5:33 and the verb “quti’a” (قُطِعَ, form 1) in 5:38, both verbs being associated with the word “hands” in 5:33 and 5:38. The verb “qatta’a” (form 2) in 5:33 is associated with the word “hand”, and we note that the verb “qatta’a” (form 2) and “hand” are mentioned together 6 times in the Quran (5:33, 7:124, 12:31, 12:50, 20:71, 26:49): Unlike “quti’a” in 5:38 (form 1) which is used in a symbolical way, it consistently signifies to “cut” the hand or hands literally and physically, even though the verb refers to minor cuts of the hand in 12:31 and 12:50.
Regarding 5:38 and the punishment for theft, it is the one and only time in the Quran that “quti’a” (form 1) and “hands” are combined in a same sentence in the entire Quran.
Given the fact that we have such a significant, critically important alternation between the same verbal root in the form 2 and 1 in a close context (5:33 and 5:38 respectively) and that the usage of qatta’a (“to cut/to cut off”, form 2) in 5:33 is consistently literal in the Quran while the usage of “quti’a” in 5:38 (form 1, which mentions the punishment for theft) is overwhelmingly symbolical in the Quran (in 83% of cases throughout the Quran as studied in part 4), it is simply impossible that the verb “Qatta’a” in 5:33 (“to cut”, “to cut off”, form 2) and “quti’a” (“to cut in a symbolical way”) in 5:38 (form 1) could have the same meaning: A verb in the form 2 always has a different meaning as a verb in the form 1 in Arabic.
In other terms, the verb qatta’a in 5:33 (form 2) in used in a literal way (it is about cutting off the hands of great criminals who spread corruption on earth on opposite sides so they cannot recidivate), while the verb “quti’a” (form 1) in 5:38 relating to the sentence in case of theft is used in a symbolic way. What we are describing here is the most basic Arabic grammar.
5:38 is therefore about symbolically “cutting” the hands (اقْطَعُوا = verb in the form 1 = cut symbolically), that is to say “seize” the belongings/the fruit of their labor of the thieves (“their hands”, meaning “their belongings” or “the fruit of their labor”) as an equivalent retribution of what they earned (5:38).
We never literally cut the hands of thieves in the Quran and in pure Islam; on the contrary, his or her punishment is proportionate to what was stolen, which is the Quranic law of retaliation or equivalence (2:178).
What was stolen must by definition be restituted (or its equivalent if it was damaged or dilapidated) to its owner because it does not belong to the thief. Therefore, the message of 5:38 is that, in addition to that, some of the belongings or ability to work of the thief must be seized (symbolically cut) as an “equivalent retribution” (جَزَاءً, jaza’an) as what he or she stole, that is to say that he or she needs to pay a fine equivalent to what was stolen.
If anyone insists upon following the malevolent laws of hadiths, give me one good reason why God’s law before Muhammad outlined in the Thora was to pay a fine equivalent to what was stolen (following the law of equivalence) and all of a sudden, the law became based on blindness and heartlessness instead of equivalence and we had to amputate the hand of a thief after the Quran was revealed, regardless of what was stolen, whether it is an egg or millions of dollars (see for instance Muslim 17:4185). God’s system never changes (33:62, 35:43, 48:23) and God’s law is just, not blind and heartless like what we witness in hadiths.
The Quranic sentence is exactly the same as the one in the Bible (Exode 22:2, 22:6, 22:8) where the thief must return what has been stolen, in addition to paying a fine equivalent to what was stolen, or otherwise pay double the amount of what was stolen if it can’t be restituted.
Sura 12 also shows regarding Jacob’s family and tribe, that the thief had to pay a compensation, and would otherwise lose his freedom, which concurs with Exodus 22:2. It is similar to the Quranic law: If a thief cannot return the goods that he stole and provide an equivalent financial compensation, “we symbolically cut his belongings or his ability to work” (symbolically, “his hands”) as long as needed for him to meet the Quranic sentence based on equivalence, which is the law (2:178). He may have to work, possibly in jail if need be, and have his salary garnished partially or completely until he can honor the sentence. Respecting your neighbor’s property is one of the cornerstones that guarantees peace in any society and a pure Islamic society shall be just and firm when it comes to enforcing the law.
In addition to a sentence based on restitution and a fine that is equivalent to what has been stolen, verses 5:39-40 show that a thief can be pardoned if he “repents and reforms”, which implies making a pledge of repentance, and accomplishing actions or good deeds that prove that the thief deserves to be pardoned.
We see in 4:92 regarding the death penalty that the brother (or by default, the family of the victim) of the deceased can pardon a murderer. Based on the same system, the victim(s) of theft can decide to forgive and abolish the monetary sentence of the thief. In such a case, the thief has to repent and reform (5:39), which means that he could for instance do instead community work to prove that his repentance his sincere and that he actually reformed himself.
A thief who would have received a life sentence because he stole an amount that is too large to ever be repaid could also be forgiven if all or enough victims are in agreement.
All this is in line with the message of forgiveness of the Quran and the infinite mercy of God.
Hadiths other than God and His verses (45:6) advocate outright amputation, even for an extremely minor theft like stealing an egg or a rope (Muslim 17:4185). This shows the shocking disparity between the just and measured Quranic sentence (God’s law) commensurate to what has been stolen, and satanic laws that advocate outright amputation and that are the exact opposite to the Quranic law of retaliation based on equivalence (2:178).
Some people may wonder why God would have allowed any ambiguity regarding the sentence for theft. It is a fact that there is absolutely no ambiguity when you take into account the context and precise language of sura 5 and the Quran in general and follow the most basic grammatical laws of Arabic. This said, the Quran also serves as a test and reveals the true nature of people: An evil soul will lean towards darkness and embrace laws that contradict the Quran, while a good soul will be guided towards light and carry out justice based on equivalence, in a firm and merciful way. Quranic justice is nothing else than being just, firm and merciful at the same time.
Let’s say it one more time: Regardless of what was stolen, true Muslims who follow the word of God (the Quran) never amputate the hand of a thief according to the Holy Quran, and only disbelievers who are heartless, blind and under the influence of extra Quranic laws, in this case “hadiths other than God and His verses” (45:6), can engage in or support such atrocities.
Article initially published in 2017, updated on 10/05/2023.