The Punishment of Theft
The punishment enforced in a number of Islamic countries for the crime of theft is based on the wrong interpretation of the following verse:
"The male thief, and the female thief, you shall "eqta’u" their hands as a punishment for their deeds, and to serve as a deterrent from God. God is Almighty, Wise" 5:38
The way these so called Muslims interpret this verse makes them enforce the punishment of severing the hand of anyone caught stealing. But is this the correct interpretation of God's words in 5:38?
To determine the correct meaning of 5:38 we analyse the key word in the verse. The key word in this verse is the Arabic word "eqta’u".
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.
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.
In addition, God gives us in the very next verse (5:39) 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.
Indeed, God does prescribe a punishment for the thief, but being the Most Merciful, God would not deprive a sinner (thief) from the ability to earn his living (if his hands were severed). Any other sinner continues to earn a living, so why should the one who committed theft be singled out among all sinners for this life long punishemt?
Moreover, if a thief steals a thousand dollars from you, and they cut his hand, what do you get? The Quran solves this problem, as well as the problems associated with the criminal justice systems prevalent in today's world.
Equivalence is the Law in the Quran (2:178-179). According to the Quranic criminal justice, the thief who is convicted of stealing a thousand dollars from you must work for you until you are fully paid for the thousand dollars you lost, plus any other damage and inconvenience the theft may have caused you. At the same time, the thief's innocent wife and children are not deprived of their man.