During his visit to Nigeria in 1988, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV, may Allah have mercy on him, was invited by BTV, a local television company, to take part in a series of televised interviews in which a number of questions regarding Islam and Ahmadiyyat were raised. We presented another one of these questions and its answer below.
QUESTION: What does the Holy Qur’an say about the cutting of limbs?
Again, the ‘cutting of hands’ is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an but the Arabic term ‘qatta’na aidiyahunna’ should not be only interpreted literally although I fully agree that it can also be translated literally as ‘cutting of hands’.
However, the same Arabic term is used in the Holy Qur’an, (Sura Yusuf, 12:32), with regard to the chief’s wife who tried to lure Joseph. She persuaded some other ladies of the court to join her in her scheming so that Joseph was trapped. In reference to these ladies, [describing their state of amazement when they saw the handsome countenance of Joseph], the Holy Qur’an uses the same term ‘cutting of hands’ which is exactly the same term as used in the description of punishment for thieves. However, it is quite evident that the same term has a different meaning here.
Despite the fact that the same idiom, the same words were used, it does not here mean that they severed their hands.
This term also means ‘prevention’ – the term ‘cutting of hands’ also means ‘to prevent someone from doing something’. Hence, when the term ‘qatta’na aidiyahunna’ can be translated in this way as well, that means that the punishment laid down by Islam for theft covers a large area. In many cases the injunction that applies is that measures of prevention should be taken.
However, in advanced cases the hand should also be severed. Why is this so? It is so because Islam provides every person in Islamic society with the minimum requirements of livelihood. The state is responsible for this provision hence there is no justification for theft and Allah has also given us hands to earn our livelihood. However, if instead of using our hands to contribute to the economic process, we use the hands to destroy the economic ‘wheel’, then the hand is no longer required. The process of the economic ‘wheel’ is destroyed when some people try to short-circuit it through acts of stealing which is exactly the opposite of the economic process. The hand, therefore, is no longer required. This is the significance of the injunction of the ‘cutting of hands’. In advanced cases, when a hardened criminal has had to be punished in this way, he would be there for all to see that a creature of God, a human being, was provided with the means of livelihood and he was guaranteed that even if he did not find a job to earn his livelihood, the Islamic state is responsible for his livelihood, yet he chooses not to use his hand for the purpose for which it was created. Hence, such a hand should be severed and he should be a lesson for others to heed the warning.
If this is considered barbaric and this punishment is rejected by society in the name of advancement and civilisation, what is the consequence? Theft becomes rampant, and all measures of imprisonment have no effect. Thieves maim and kill people in great numbers and the whole society is working under fear of thugs and thieves.
Consider what is happening in Nigeria. Thieves here have become so daring that they attack even mosques and other religious places. I have just received a report that our Centre was attacked. Thieves here attack, leaving children, women and men maimed. Despite the fact that the poor people out of fear offer them all they have, they still beat them and torture them. So is this not cruelty? Yet, should the hands of such hardened criminals be cut, it appears to be cruelty to the opponents of Islamic teachings.
Remember that if severe punishments were not meted out to the hardened criminals, it would be the innocent people who would suffer. They have a legitimate and greater demand for pity. In a society where strict measures of prevention are not carried out, the suffering is not lessened. It is very rare that the hands of a thief would be cut, but much more often the innocent people in a society would be maimed and punished every day for no crime of their own, at the hands of the thieves. Consider what is happening in the US. In New York, I have been told, the incident of mugging is so common that there is hardly a family that has escaped mugging. It is not only that the muggers steal things, they leave behind a trail of torture. People are killed or left suffering horrendous injuries and some are maimed.
In short, given the background of Islamic teachings relating to economic concepts, with the background of guarantees that no person should be permitted to go hungry or be left without shelter or clothing, I think this is the right thing to do.