The punishment for thief
[The Quran 5:38] The male thief, and the female thief, you shall cut their hands as a punishment for what they have committed, and to serve as a deterrent from God. God is Dignified, Wise.
Footnote 5:38 – The word ‘fa aqta’oo’ has been wrongly interpreted by the traditional scholars to mean ‘to sever’. But the word for sever in Arabic is ‘batara’, and God did not use this word. The act of cutting can simply mean causing a wound or a marking. An example is of one who would be working in the kitchen and then may say “I have cut my hand”, this does not mean that he severed his hand!
To confirm the correct meaning, God has given us in the Quran a clear indication in the story of Joseph. When the women, who were the guests of the governor’s wife, saw how handsome Joseph was they cut their hands (12:31). The same word used in 5:38 is used in 12:31. Needless to say these women did not sever their hands.
We note that the sum of Sura and verse numbers in both cases is identical. This is a sign from God to confirm that the same word in both verses has the same meaning:
5 + 38 = 43 and 12 + 31 = 43
Consequently, the punishment for theft according to the Most Merciful is to mark or make a wound in the hand of the offender so that he would be shamed in front of the people. This is in addition to applying the rule of equivalence (2:178-179 and 2:194) whereby the offender is decreed to fully compensate the victim.
God, the Most Merciful, would not decree any person to be punished for the sins of another (6:164). Severing the hand of the thief would deprive him of his livelihood. As a result, his family and dependants would experience hardship for no fault of theirs! God’s law is fair and God’s wisdom is unequalled.
Applying the correct punishment for theft would give the offender the opportunity to repent and reform, and then he would be able to resume normal life after the cut in his hand heals.
On the other hand, severing the hand would be a terminal punishment that cannot be reversed should the offender genuinely wish to repent and reform.
Finally, God gives us in the very next verse (5:39) additional conclusive evidence for the correct meaning of the punishment for theft. In 5:39 God says that He will ‘yatoob’ (redeem) all those who repent and reform. There is no exception given in 5:39 and thus it includes those who have committed theft. The meaning of the word ‘yatoob’ means to forgive and restore to previous state. Needless to say, a person with a severed arm can never be restored to his previous state since he will be carrying the punishment of his crime till his dying day.
Those who insist on claiming that the punishment of theft is to sever the hand are therefore those who reject God’s infinite mercy.
The punishment for the thief is prescribed in the following verses of the Quran.
[5:38] The thief, male or female, you shall “eqta’u” their “aydiyahuma” as a punishment for their crime, and to serve as an example from GOD. GOD is Almighty, Most Wise.
[5:39] If one repents after committing this crime, and reforms, GOD redeems him. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
The above verse 5:39 suggests that the above punishment for the thief can be retracted if the thief repents and reforms.
So, what kind of punishment is that which can be retracted? We need to analyze the Arabic words “eqta’u” and “aydiyahuma” of the above verse 5:38 in the light of the Quran to retrive some meaningful punishment for the thief.
The Arabic word “qatta’a” is used in the following verses 12:31 and 12:50 to convey the meaning of “wound” or “mark“.
The same Arabic word “qatta’a” is used in the verses 5:33, 7:124,20:71 and 26:49 to mean “sever” or “ampiutate“.
So, in the Quranic context, the Arabic word “qatta’a” means either “mark” or “ampitute”.
In the Quranic story of Joseph, the suggestion was made to keep Joseph’s brother as a punishment for stealing the cup. Although the whole thing was a scheme, the story gives us one example what to do with a thief. It was not “marking” or “ampituting” the thief’s hand!
Perhaps we need to find out also the meaning of the Arabic word “aydiyahuma” used in 5:38 above in addition to “eqta’u” in the Quranic context.
The Arabic word “yad” (used in dual plural in 5:38 above as “aydiya“) is used in the Quran in its both literal and metaphorical meanings.
The following verse 27:12 convey the literal meaning of hand.
[27:12] “Put your hand in your pocket; it will come out white, without a blemish. These are among nine miracles to Pharaoh and his people, for they are wicked people.”
In 5:64, it is used in its metaphorical meaning of spending wealth.
[5:64] The Jews even said, “GOD’s hand is tied down!” It is their hands that are tied down. They are condemned for uttering such a blasphemy. Instead, His hands are wide open, spending as He wills. For certain, your Lord’s revelations to you will cause many of them to plunge deeper into transgression and disbelief. Consequently, we have committed them to animosity and hatred among themselves until the Day of Resurrection. Whenever they ignite the flames of war, GOD puts them out. They roam the earth wickedly, and GOD dislikes the evildoers.
In 38:45. the plural form “yad” conveys the meaning of resources.
[38:45] Remember also our servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were resourceful (“ulu al-aydee”) , and possessed vision.
The word “yad” is also used in the following verses to infer one’s actions.
[2:195] You shall spend in the cause of GOD; do not throw yourselves with your own hands into destruction. You shall be charitable; GOD loves the charitable.
[22:10] This is what your hands have sent ahead for you. GOD is never unjust towards the people.
The word “yad” is used to mean possession of a responsibility or a contract (2:237)
[2:237] If you divorce them before touching them, but after you had set the dowry for them, the compensation shall be half the dowry, unless they voluntarily forfeit their rights, or the party responsible for causing the divorce chooses to forfeit the dowry. To forfeit is closer to righteousness. You shall maintain the amicable relations among you. GOD is Seer of everything you do.
Please note that the law of equivalence is maintained throughout the Quran.
[5:45] And we decreed for them in it that: the life for the life, the eye for the eye, the nose for the nose, the ear for the ear, the tooth for the tooth, and an equivalent injury for any injury. If one forfeits what is due to him as a charity, it will atone for his sins. Those who do not rule in accordance with GOD’s revelations are the unjust.
[2:178] O you who believe, equivalence is the law decreed for you when dealing with murder – the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the female for the female. If one is pardoned by the victim’s kin, an appreciative response is in order, and an equitable compensation shall be paid. This is an alleviation from your Lord and mercy. Anyone who transgresses beyond this incurs a painful retribution.
[2:179] Equivalence is a life saving law for you, O you who possess intelligence, that you may be righteous.
[4:40] GOD does not inflict an atom’s weight of injustice. On the contrary, He multiplies the reward manifold for the righteous work, and grants from Him a great recompense.
Clearly, cutting or injuring hand for stealing is unQuranic and unjust law.
Please know that God Almighty is the Teacher of the Quran. The true guidance comes from God Almighty. We must remember to establish justice without violating God’s law in the Quran in dealing with thief.
[55:0] In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
[55:1] The Most Gracious.
[55:2] Teacher of the Quran.
[55:3] Creator of the human beings.
[55:4] He taught them how to distinguish.
[55:5] The sun and the moon are perfectly calculated.
[55:6] The stars and the trees prostrate.
[55:7] He constructed the sky and established the law.
[55:8] You shall not transgress the law.
[55:9] You shall establish justice; do not violate the law.
Thank you and may God guide me,
From: Student of the Quran < >
Subject: [Progressive-Muslim] Ma’idah: 38-40 by Al-Quran Protidin (Punishment for the thief)/ comment
Date: Saturday, June 11, 2011, 3:12 PM
[33:62] God’s Sunnah is unchangeable
[39:23] The Quran is the best Hadith