Punishment for Theft in The Quran

What is the theft punishment in Quran? This article will show, God willing (Gw), that is to give 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 then 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. First, the article will explore the two classical understandings related to this issue and show their shortcomings. Then, it will conclude with the third and the closest to Quran’s spirit understanding just stated.

So far, two punishments for theft were proposed as an understanding of aya 5:38.

5:38, "The male thief, and the female thief, you shall "eqta’u" (in Arabic) their "aydiyahuma" as a punishment for their crime, and to serve as a deterrent from GOD. GOD is Almighty, Wise."

Meaning of both Arabic words above will be given soon, Gw.

The first understanding says that 5:38 means to cut off the thief's hand. First, the Arabic "aydiyahuma" is the plural of "yad" (hand) used in dual form. Should we then cut off both hands of a thief?

Second, what will benefit the one who lost his/her stolen goods in case s/he would not recovered them? And what would happen if someone were accused mistakenly or maliciously of theft and his/her hands were cut off? What if someone does not have hands and uses only his brain to plan thefts for his/her accomplices? This is not a fiction; it happened.

The second understanding that was proposed for aya 5:38 is to only mark the thief's hand. This understanding runs against the same problems as the first one. First, we should then not only mark one hand for each thief but both hands. Second and besides the same above problems, we have a specific one to this case. With all esthetic surgery advances, someone could manage to steal millions and spend a few thousands to offer himself/herself an esthetic

Surgery to hide his/her hands’ markings. Criminals nowadays do go thru

Facial surgery in order to hide from justice.

Furthermore, Ayat 12:31 and 12:50 are used to convey this meaning of marking the hands to 5:38. However, 12:31 and 12:50 do not use the exact wording as 5:38. They use the Arabic variation "qatta'a" of "qata'a" used in 5:38. Even though if someone agrees that both have the same meaning, the same word "qatta'a" is used in 5:33, 7:124, 20:71, 26:49 as to mean cut off or amputate. Therefore why should someone use 12:31 and 12:50 to convey the meaning "to mark" and not 5:33, 7:124, 20:71, 26:49 to convey the meaning "to cut off/amputate"?

The third meaning and the closest to Quran’s spirit is this. Give 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. Here you are three reasons why this understanding is the closest to Quran’s spirit.

First, the Arabic word "yad" (used in dual plural in 5:38) or hand is used in Quran in its literal and figurative meanings. For instance, 27:12 uses it in its literal meaning while 5:64 uses it in its figurative one to refer to wealth and how to spend it. 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.

38:45, "Remember also our servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were resourceful ("ulu al-aydee"), and possessed vision/They possessed power and vision ."

"yad" is also used to infer someone's actions and doings (2:195, 22:10). It is used too to mean possession of a responsibility or a contract (2:237).

Therefore, "eqta’u aydiyahuma" in the above aya 5:38 might mean to cut off from the thieves’ resources and power.

Second, let's consider the case of murder in Quran which is a worse crime than stealing. There are two earthly punishments. 4:92 deals with a believer's accidental killing. Neither capital punishment nor jail are involved. 2:178 deals with the second case when someone meant the killing. This aya gives the option of sparing the murderer's life. In both cases, there is ransom involved if possible. It is the case maybe because when someone is killed, a source of income is cut from their family and therefore should be compensated. In either case, punishment does not tall the cutting or marking of hands if it was the case in 5:38.

Last but not least, sura 12 gives us a good example about how to punish the theft.

12:70, "When he provided them with their provisions, he placed the drinking cup in his brother's bag, then an announcer announced: "The owners of this caravan are thieves."'

12:71, "They said, as they came towards them, "What did you lose?"'

12:72, "They said, "We lost the king's cup. Anyone who returns it will receive an extra camel-load; I personally guarantee this."'

12:73, "They said, "By GOD, you know full well that we did not come here to commit evil, nor are we thieves."'

12:74, "They said, "What is the punishment for the thief, if you are liars?"'

12:75, "They said, "The punishment, if it is found in his bag, is that the thief belongs to you. We thus punish the guilty."'

12:76, "He then started by inspecting their containers, before getting to his brother's container, and he extracted it out of his brother's container. We thus perfected the scheme for Joseph; he could not have kept his brother if he applied the king's law. But that was the will of GOD. We exalt whomever we choose to higher ranks. Above every knowledgeable one, there is one who is even more knowledgeable."

12:77, "They said, "If he stole, so did a brother of his in the past." Joseph concealed his feelings in himself, and did not give them any clue. He said (to himself), "You are really bad. GOD is fully aware of your accusations."'

12:78, "They said, "O you noble one, he has a father who is elderly; would you take one of us in his place? We see that you are a kind man."'

12:79, "He said, "GOD forbid that we should take other than the one in whose possession we found our goods. Otherwise, we would be unjust."'

The way I understand the above ayat is this is God'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 God’s law then. It is very clear from the above ayat that they were not following the king’s law but rather God’s law.

  1. 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.

  2. 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 ayat 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 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.

Someone would argue that was God's theft law for previous communities and we are not bound to it. Well, 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.

The cutting or marking hands as a punishment of thieves run into contradictions within Quran. However, meaning of "cutting hands" in 5:38 as cutting from the thieves’ resources and power, the case of murder’s punishment in Quran, and the example of God’s law in application in 12:70-79 are the three arguments, put forward in this article, to propose the third and closest to Quran’s spirit punishment for theft. It goes as follow. Chance should be given 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 then 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.

"..Our Lord, shower us with Your mercy, and bless our affairs with Your guidance."       18:10

God bless you all,
Peace,
Brother Joe.

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