Amputation: A punishment to fit the crime

Q34 :The Repast - "Al-Maidah":"As for the man or woman who is guilty of theft, cut off their hands in retribution for what they have earned, as an exemplary punishment ordained by Allah. Allah is Almighty, Wise. But whoever repents after having thus done wrong, and makes amends, shall have his repentance accepted by Allah. Allah is Much-forgiving, Merciful. Do you not know that to Allah belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth? He punishes whom He wills and he forgives whom He wills. Allah has power over all things.": Surah 5;Verses 38-40. Commentary by Sayyid Qutb.


A34 : When someone thinks of stealing, he actually thinks of increasing what he owns at the expense of someone else. He feels that what he earns legitimately is too little for him and, therefore, he wishes to add to it in an illegitimate way. The fruits of his own labor do not satisfy his greed and he wants to appear to be wealthy or to get himself in a position where he does not need to work or where he is assured of a comfortable life in future. In short, the motive for stealing is to increase one's income or one's wealth. Islam counters this motive by prescribing the punishment of cutting of the thief's hand or leg, since such a punishment will markedly decrease the thief's ability to work and reduce his income and wealth. When a thief is punished according to Islam, his ability to show off is greatly curtailed and his need to work hard is much greater. Moreover, his worry about his future is infinitely greater. We see, then, that by prescribing the punishment of cutting off a thief's hand, Islamic law counters the psychological motives of theft with even stronger psychological factors which resist the temptation to steal. If, nevertheless, a person yields to temptation and is guilty of stealing, the severity of the punishment will have lasting effects on him to prevent a repeat. This is the basis for the Islamic punishment of theft. It is indeed the best basis for punishing this crime, ever since the creation of mankind. Most legal codes punish theft with imprisonment, a punishment that has miserably failed in combating crime in general and theft in particular. The failure is due to the fact that imprisonment does not strengthen any psychological influence on a thief to turn him away from stealing. It does not prevent him from work and earning except for the duration of his time of imprisonment, when he has no need to earn since his basic needs are met. When he is discharged, he can go back to his work. Indeed, he has every chance to increase his wealth by both legitimate and illegitimate means. He can easily pretend to be a man of honor and integrity to secure the help of others. If eventually, he achieves his goal, well and good; or that is what he thinks. If not, his loss is minimal. On the other hand, if a person guilty of stealing has his hand cut off, his punishment drastically reduces his ability to work and earn. This means, in practical terms, that his chances of increasing his income are totally lost, while a drastic reduction in income is most probable. He will not be able to win people's confidence as his own hand tells of his past crime. The unmistakable result, then, is that a thief will definitely end up in a loss if he is punished with cutting off his hand, while he is more likely to profit if he receives a prison sentence. It is in human nature that people do not hesitate to do what is likely to bring them profit and to refrain from something which makes loss a certainty. I wonder at those who claim that the Islamic punishment for theft is not suitable to our present society in view of the great advancement achieved by mankind. Do progress and advancement mean that we should encourage and reward a thief and allow people to live in fear? Or do they mean that we should work hard so that thieves and dropouts get away with the fruits of our labor? Or do they mean that we ignore the findings of science and human nature as well as the results of human experience and the conclusions of logical thinking in favor of an argument which is supported by new evidence, simply because it receives much propaganda? If effectiveness in reducing crime is the criterion which makes a certain punishment fitting to an age of progress and advancement, then imprisonment should be abolished as a punishment for theft and replaced by cutting off hands of thieves. This is because the latter is supported by undeniable psychological evidence, human nature and experience as well as logic. Imprisonment as a punishment is supported by none of these. The basis of this Islamic punishment is a thorough study of human nature and human thinking. It is then, suitable for both the individual and community because it reduces crime and increases security. As such, it is the best and the fairest punishment. Despite all this, some people object to the Islamic punishment for theft, because they find it cruel. Indeed, this is their only argument. But it is indeed a hollow argument, because no punishment is effective if it is felt not to be serious. Indeed, a punishment must be stern if it is truly a punishment. In prescribing a severe punishment for theft, Allah, the most Compassionate and Merciful, says: "As for the man or woman who is guilty of theft, cut off their hands in retribution for what they have earned, as an exemplary punishment ordained by Allah." The setting up of a deterrent example is intended, because to provide a deterrent is an act of mercy to anyone who contemplates stealing as he stops short of doing it. It is also an act of mercy to the community as a whole, because it increases its security. No one can claim to be more merciful to people than their Creator. Practical experience shows that over the first century of Islam, only very few hands were cut off in punishment of theft. That is because the Islamic society with its stern punishment and adequate safeguards and provisions produced only very few thieves. But Allah wants to leave the door open to anyone to repent and refrain from committing any crime in future, provided that he does not stop at this rather negative aspect but goes on to do what is positively good: "But whoever repents after having thus done wrong, and makes amends, shall have his repentance accepted by Allah. Allah is Much-forgiving, Merciful." Wrongdoing is an action which is both positive and evil. Therefore, it is not sufficient that a wrongdoer stops doing what is wrong. He should go further than that and do something which is both positive and good. In Islamic law, however, the matter goes further than that. Man is a creature who has to have something to do. If he stops doing evil without moving on to do good, he feels himself to be in a vacuum which may turn him back toward evil. But when he is positive and does good action, then he moves far from evil. This is an important aspect of the Islamic method of educating people and cultivating goodness in them. Finally, the surah states the overall principle of punishment in this life and in the hereafter. Allah, the Creator and Owner of the universe, can 'will' anything and determine the fate of every creature. It is He who enacts legislation for people to implement in their lives, and it is He who rewards them for their actions both in this life and in the Hereafter: "Do you not know that to Allah belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth? He punishes whom He wills and He forgives whom He wills. Allah has power over all things." It is then a single authority of dominion which issues legislation in this life and administers reward and retribution in the life to come. There is no division or multiplicity of authority. Indeed, human life can only be set right when the authority to legislate and to reward is united in both this life and the life to come.


Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )