Is the punishment of “cutting the hand of the thief off” given by Islam as a result of committing theft?

Details of the Question
Is the punishment of “cutting the hand of the thief off” given by Islam as a result of committing theft?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Theft is a great treachery, which hurts one’s heart by stealing his/her property which s/he gained by working hard; and it is an unscrupulous act. This act has always been seen in every era and every place. For this reason, Islam ordered that the hand of the person who committed this unscrupulous act be cut off, which is a severe sanction, so that the punishment will be appropriate for the crime. If this sanction was applied, the cases of theft would be minimized.

Theft has been forbidden with evidence of the Quran, sunnah and the consensus of Islamic scholars. The following is stated in the Quran: “As to the thief, male or female, cut off his or her hands” (al-Maidah, 38). The Prophet stated: “The people before you were destroyed because they set an honorable person free when he committed theft.” (ash-Shawkani, Naylu’l-Awtar, VII, 131,136). When the crime of theft is proved, the punishment of cutting one hand off is applied. As for cases in which this punishment is not necessary, the thief compensates for the loss.

Islamic jurists have discussed lawfulness in crime and punishment, under what conditions the crime of theft will be considered to have been committed in order to provide justice and lawfulness, the conditions under which the punishment can be applied, the effect of situations such as repetition, enforcement and forgiving on punishment, one by one and they have established a rich law doctrine. In short, they have decided that, in order for the crime of theft to be valid, it is necessary that there must not be excuses such as obligation, enforcement and starvation, which extenuate the commitment of the theft crime partly or totally. It is necessary that the crime be committed willingly and deliberately, the subject must have criminal liability, the stolen property must be under protection and it must be more than a specific amount.

Penalties in Islamic law are characterized as final and obligatory interventions which can be applied after the necessary precautions are taken in order to prevent crime. In this sense, it must be kept in mind that the main purpose of Islam is not punishing people but, diversely, taking precautions which will hinder committing the crime of theft, educating and directing people. It is of great importance that, in order for all those endeavors in society to be successful, religious education, society’s general moral values and additionally lawful regulations and official politics be in harmony with each other.

Allah, the Supreme, ordered that theft be punished. Under these general conditions, it is necessary to cut the hand of the person off who dared to commit theft like a gangrenous organ of the Islamic social institution.

O you who believe! Cut off the hands of thief men and women, whose crime has been revealed and is without any doubts and excuses, as a punishment for what they have done, as a severe anguish by Allah, as an appropriate hindrance, as handcuffs so that they will not dare to do it again. Indeed, Allah is both supreme and wise.” His orders cannot be argued. He judges wisely. Justice is safe with His supreme protection and His punishment is totally full of wisdom. Allah does not approve oppression, torment and mischief. He bestowed upon us hands and strength to work for goodness and justice. Allah orders that we fear Him, make efforts for the good of religion, protect the poor, take care of the needy and help the weak, as He stated in many Quranic verses. He also made it fard (obligatory) for the rich to give freely from their property to the poor and to the weak with His judgments about helping, alms-giving and charity. A true Muslim must not disobey those orders of Allah and must apply them into their lives. If one does not fear Allah, does not seek nice reasons to approach Allah, cannot resist his lower-self’s desires and attempts to take a property of somebody else’s surreptitiously, for which he has got no right doubtlessly, as if Allah does not see him doing so, it is of course attacking Allah’s honor, and it is a secret war waged against Him. And, the hand of such a man deserves to be cut off as a punishment.

In this sense, it must not be thought that there is not equality between the crime and the punishment. As a matter of fact; that punishment is not only for the compensation of the stolen property, but also for the surreptitious perfidiousness and attack against Allah’s honor. It is as if that person has put his hand in fire or hit it on a sword. That punishment is, both for him and the ones who will follow his way and go astray, like an irremovable handcuff. With it, both the thief and the others are purified from mischief. Moreover, Allah deems the ones who attack His honor in this way worthy of such punishment not only because of His anger but also because there is wisdom in it. In a society in which this punishment is applied, theft is exterminated. There will not be a hand which is worthy of cutting off anymore. This punishment must be applied fairly and without any doubt so that it will not give rise to any unfairness. Otherwise, Allah’s honor and wisdom would look adverse. If the punishment for a hand which stole something is cutting off, consider what the punishment for someone who stole a hand unfairly (who cuts one’s hand off unfairly) would be!

So, if a thief whether a woman or a man who caused their hands to be cut off because they stole something, repents after the commitment of the crime and improves their behavior, Allah will accept their repentance because He is merciful and forgiving. And He does not punish them in the Hereafter, takes mercy on them and forgives them. In this sense, those who had their hands cut off and repented later should not be deemed malicious because they committed theft before; they should be helped.

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