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
Qurans spirit understanding just stated.
So far, two
punishments for theft were proposed as an understanding of aya 5:38.
male thief, and the female thief, you shall "eqtau" (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.
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.
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
Surgery to hide
his/her hands markings. Criminals nowadays do go thru
Facial surgery in
order to hide from justice.
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 Qurans 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 Qurans 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
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 ."
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).
"eqtau aydiyahuma" in the above aya 5:38 might mean to cut off from the
thieves resources and power.
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.
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."'
said, as they came towards them, "What did you lose?"'
said, "We lost the king's cup. Anyone who returns it will receive an extra
camel-load; I personally guarantee this."'
said, "By GOD, you know full well that we did not come here to commit evil, nor are
said, "What is the punishment for the thief, if you are liars?"'
said, "The punishment, if it is found in his bag, is that the thief belongs to you.
We thus punish the guilty."'
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."
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."'
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."'
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 Gods law then. It is very clear from the above ayat that they were not
following the kings law but rather Gods law.
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.
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
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 murders punishment in Quran, and the example of Gods
law in application in 12:70-79 are the three arguments, put forward in this article, to
propose the third and closest to Qurans 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.
Lord, shower us with Your mercy, and bless our affairs with Your guidance."