I was at a social gathering recently and when we returned home my wife mentioned someone complaining that the cutting off of hands was unacceptable. The person concerned qualifies as a “good” Muslim by any standard.
This is a matter of far greater importance than simply the way we approach punishment for theft. Have we stopped to think about the implications of speaking in this manner, or of our duty as a Muslim when we hear someone speak in this way? Of even greater importance, what is our view of this practice?
One wonders how it is possible for one gifted with the awareness of God to feel revulsion for a practice enjoined by God and implemented by His Prophet (PBUH). What does this tell us about our trust in God and His guidance to us?
To voice such disapproval in public is tantamount to a renunciation of our faith. How many of us have inadvertently become apostate, and end up dying in this state of disbelief, God forbid. Anyone who feels this way about amputation must review his faith or belief.
This episode also serves as a warning that we need to review this aspect of the criminal justice system.
Only four misdemeanors are defined (they are regarded as crimes against the Almighty) and punishment has been prescribed. These are theft, robbery, perjury and adultery. Strict criteria must be met for ones activity to qualify and for the punishment to be effected.
Here are some of the guidelines as stated in “Hidaya, Commentary on the Islamic Laws” regarding theft, the crime which qualifies for amputation.
The item in question
-Must be in safe custody (such as locked in a home or shop, or clearly under ones personal protection). It does not apply to items left carelessly in public and unattended.
-Must be valued in excess of 10 Dirhams. At today’s price (
14/02/2011) that means more than R231.50.
[1 Dirham = 3 grams of silver
Price of silver = $30/oz
1 oz = 28.35 grams
Price of silver = $30/28.35/g of silver = $1.06 per g of silver
10 Dihhams = 30 g silver = 30 x $1.06 = $31.8
$1 = R7.28
10 Dirhams = R7.28 x 31.8 = R231.50].
Taking items of trivial value does not qualify one for amputation.
Taking possession of the following does not qualify as theft.
-Relatively unimportant items such as grass, bamboo and wood
-Perishables such as milk, meat or fruit
-A copy of the Quran
-The door of a mosque
-Items taken from within a mosque
-Crucifix or chess pieces even if made of Gold
-a drum or pipe
-Items that belong to ones mother, father or child
-Items belonging to a person one may not marry (the forbidden relationship)
A confession by the thief or the testimony of two competent witnesses completes the requirements.
For a first offence, the punishment is amputation of the right hand, and for a second, the left foot.
It is abundantly clear that amputation is not something that is taken lightly, and strict criteria must be met for its application.
But more to the point of our discussion, why is amputation appropriate punishment, and hence ordained by the Almighty.
In its absence, some other form of punishment is called for, and it has to be one that serves as a potent deterrent; a vitally important objective. Everyone knows that stealing is wrong, even if we do not understand the deep ramifications of this to a civilization at large. The temptation to have what others enjoy is strong. But no one has any inherent right to every privilege available on Earth. Most of us have to learn patience and to be accepting of our limitations. We need to learn that for things we wish to acquire, personal sacrifice is required. We do not usurp the products of the efforts of others.
We need to develop self respect, dignity and a sense of personal honor. Stealing destroys all of these, and in the process destroys the entire civilization. Once started, there is no end. We become tolerant of theft by others (such as taxes) as we learn to become adept thieves ourselves, whether by way of medical aid fraud, insurance scams, fraudulent business practices etc. These are all manifestations of the same underlying disease. Theft is no minor issue just because, generally, no physical harm is caused to anyone, and the punishment has to reflect the seriousness of the pathology at hand.
What may these alternative punishments be?
The individual may be whipped or flogged. Here the thief’s back is usually affected. This is contrary to the underlying principles of Islam since it was not the back that was used to commit the crime. The back will heal, and the crime may be committed again.
By removing the hand the point is also being made that this individual does not value this gift of God and does not know how to use it with respect and dignity. He has lost the right to its use. In effect, this hand will never again be a party to this crime. The idea that one can be educated against stealing is a fallacy. All the education available has failed to deter this individual, and in the absence of insanity, we have to accept that it will continue to fail.
The person may be levied a fine, which is nothing but another form of taxation and much loved by Democracies. This is most unsuitable as a deterrent. In most cases the guilty party may not have the means to pay. Does he do community service instead? If so, what is to stop him stealing from the community he is sent to serve? If he does settle the fine, what is to there to discourage him from stealing again in order to recover his “loss”?
Imprisonment transfers the burden of the crime to those who are innocent, since it is their money which is used to house and feed the criminal. This is an injustice.
Whatever alternate punishment is instituted, it requires some form of permanent record keeping. Premises, equipment (stationery, cupboards, air-conditioning etc) and staff make this a costly process, and again puts a financial burden on those innocent of the crime. These records can be stolen, destroyed, either accidentally or by intent, or falsified making this system unreliable. People who wish to know about the individuals past have to endure much cost and difficulty trying to acquire this information. In time, the guilty person can easily fall victim to the temptation once more.
All these problems are solved by the application of amputation.
No one else bears any cost or inconvenience as a result of the actions of the thief.
There is a permanent reminder to the thief to resist the temptation to steal.
When dealing with such a person one is immediately aware of his past and this is important where a criminal past excludes one from occupying public office or from appearing as a witness. This practice excludes thieves from positions of responsibility. Can we say the same for today’s “Democracy”?
Moving around with the tell tale sign of the missing hand is a permanent source of embarrassment to the thief and serves to reinforce our determination not to find ourselves in that situation.
Some may claim that it is inhumane to subject a person to a lifetime of humiliation for a once off crime. Who thinks in this way and who is it that wishes us to think like this? To steal the hard earned fruit of another’s efforts shows a total disregard for the welfare of others or of the pain they must endure from their loss. The items taken may have sentimental value, making them priceless and irreplaceable. There is no end to the loss. Why should anyone who does this to others not be made to bear a similar burden?
There are advantages and disadvantages to the practice, but the good far outweighs the bad and the Almighty has guided us to it. People of wisdom should ponder on this.
We must remember to think very carefully before voicing disapproval of anything advocated by God or His messengers (PBUT). Should we have doubts, we should research the issue with sincerity and an open mind and trust that God will guide us to the truth and the proper explanation.
The current education system has destroyed our foundation of thinking. We no longer think with the mind of a Believer. This is why we fail to appreciate the great wisdom and forethought behind the guidance we have received. We accept the modern understanding of “barbarism” failing to realize that its practice is rooted in injustice and slavery, something which is incomparably barbaric compared to the practical and wise advice of the Almighty.
We owe it to ourselves to revert back to the teachings of the Almighty and to strive to make our world the image of God’s vision for us. Shariah is a comprehensive system that guarantees the free will of every individual and ensures peace and security for everyone who does not violate the rights of others.
To make this a reality requires that we first revert back to Gods guidance, study it and master its reasoning. This will help us develop that degree of trust which compels us to accept all His guidance even when we feel reservations. When we act in this way, in time, He will grant us the cool tranquility of knowing that we are in the right when acting in terms of His guidance, irrespective of what the injunction may be.
May God make this easy for all of us. Amen.
Until next time (God willing).