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Stealing

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

 رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي ; وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي ; وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِنْ لِسَانِي ; يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي

Definition, literal and legal (combined), of Stealing is Wrongful or Willful taking of anything belonging to someone else, with an intention to deprive the owner of its use or benefit, either temporarily or permanently. It also means taking another person’s things (any property) without his/her permission/knowledge or without a legal right to do so. And, the person who steals is called a thief. This is applicable to stealing anything (of prescribed value) either from an individual or from an institution.

Stealing is a sin, a big sin in Islam. How big a sin stealing is can be understood by understanding the following verse of Qur’an:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ إِذَا جَاءَكَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتُ يُبَايِعْنَكَ عَلَى أَنْ لا يُشْرِكْنَ بِاللَّهِ شَيْئاً وَلا يَسْرِقْنَ وَلا يَزْنِينَ وَلا يَقْتُلْنَ أَوْلادَهُنَّ وَلا يَأْتِينَ بِبُهْتَانٍ يَفْتَرِينَهُ بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِنَّ وَأَرْجُلِهِنَّ وَلا يَعْصِينَكَ فِي مَعْرُوفٍ فَبَايِعْهُنَّ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُنَّ اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ

“O Prophet (PBUH)! When believing women come to you to give the Bai’ah (the pledge), that they will not associate anything in worship with Allah, that they will not steal, that they will not commit illegal sexual intercourse, that they will not kill their children, that they will not utter slander, intentionally forging falsehood, and that they will not disobey you in Ma’ruf, then accept their Bai’ah, and ask Allah to forgive them. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

(Aayah No. 12, Surah Al-Mumtahanah, Chapter No. 60, Holy Qur’an).

This verse is about ‘Oath of Allegiance’ for women. It can be seen that one of the requirements of the pledge was that a woman shall undertake that she shall not steal. Stealing has been included along with other grave crimes like Shirk, Illegal sex, Murder (of children) etc. I also wish to quote one hadith to highlight how grave a sin stealing is:

Narrated Ibn Abbas (RA): The Prophet (PBUH) said, “When an adulterer commits illegal sexual intercourse, then he is not a believer at the time he is doing it; and when somebody steals, he is not a believer at the time he is stealing.”

(Hadith No. 6782, Book of Al-Hudud, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 8).

This narration clearly tells us that at the time of stealing, the thief is not in the state of Iman, hence the enormity of the sin.

As is the case with every big sin, there is a prescribed punishment for the thief. It is commonly understood that the Islamic punishment (the Hadd) for stealing is to cut off the hand of the thief. This is absolutely true; however, there are lot of conditions to be met before this punishment is carried out. Let us try to understand details associated with this delicate subject which has often been misunderstood by the world.

1. Prescribed punishment for a thief

The punishment for a thief is mentioned in Holy Qur’an.

وَالسَّارِقُ وَالسَّارِقَةُ فَاقْطَعُوا أَيْدِيَهُمَا جَزَاءً بِمَا كَسَبَا نَكَالاً مِنْ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ

“And (as for) the male thief and the female thief, cut off (from the wrist joint) their hands as a recompense for that which they committed, a punishment by way of example from Allah. And Allah is All-Powerful, All-Wise.”

(Aayah No. 38, Surah Al-Ma’idah, Chapter No. 5, Holy Qur’an).

Allah commands and decrees that the (right) hand of the thief (male or female) be cut off. Non-Muslims try to highlight this punishment as an act of cruelty. Even some Muslims try to interpret this verse in somewhat softer manner, thereby trying to say that the verse does not calls for hand amputation, rather it asks for establishing such a society where acts of stealing does not take place. But all these theories are wrong. The actual meaning of the verse is what it really conveys. The verse says that the hand of the thief be cut off, and that is the punishment what the thief has earned. The punishment is from Allah, and it is so severe that it sets an example for all. Whoever sees a thief being punished in an Islamic manner, will never even think of committing a theft.

2. The criterion for hand cut off

Let me start this section with a hadith:

Narrated Ibn Umar (RA): Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) cut off the hand of a thief for stealing a shield that was worth three Dirhams.

(Hadith No. 6795, Book of Al-Hudud, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 8; Hadith No. 1446, Chapters on Legal Punishments, Jami’ At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 3).

We come across several narrations telling that hands were cut off for a theft worth 3 Dirhams & more or one quarter of a Dinar or more. During Prophet’s (PBUH) time, silver coins were called Dirhams and gold coins were called Dinars. In value, 1 Dinar was equal to 12 Dirhams. Therefore, one-quarter of a Dinar was equal to 3 Dirhams. Thus, minimum value of theft which amounts to hand amputation is 3 Dirhams. On this account, Imam Malik, Imam Shafi’ & Imam Ahmad, all three held the view that the hand be cut off for a fourth of a Dinar or more.

Imam Abu Hanifah has a different view. According to him, hand should be cut off for a minimum theft value of ten Dirhams. There is a narration in support of this view as well.

It was narrated that Ata said: The least for which the hand of a thief is to be cut off is the price of a shield. And the price of a shield in those days was ten Dirhams.

(Hadith No. 4956, Book of Cutting Off the Hands of the Thief, Sunan An-Nasa’i, Vol. 5).

This is the view of the people of Kufah as well.

I personally favour the earlier view, the one about 3 Dirhams. Following narration throws some more light on the subject and substantiates my stand on this issue:

It was narrated that Abu Hurairah (RA) said: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “May Allah curse the thief for he steals an egg and his hand is cut off, or he steals a rope and his hand is cut off.”

(Hadith No. 4408 (1687), Book of Oaths Hudud, Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4).

This narration has been reported by Bukhari, Abu Dawud, An-Nasa’i as well as Ibn Majah. We see that there is a mention of hand amputation for a thing as small as an egg and/or a rope. Therefore, I go with the view of Imam Malik, Imam Shafi’ and Imam Ahmad, that a hand be cut off for a theft of 3 Dirhams and above.

Some scholars say that the weight of 1 Dinar of those times was equal to 4.24 grams; based on this, a quarter of a Dinar i.e. 3 Dirhams equate to 1.105 grams of gold. However, this minimum value should be equated in terms equivalent to gold and/or modern currencies; the ruler, in consultation with religious scholars, historians and other advisors of the area, shall decide what amount in a particular currency of modern era works out equivalent to the value of 3 Islamic Dirhams.

3. Some specific cases

3.1. Stealing of fruits, other edibles etc.

There is a difference of opinion among four Imams about stealing of fruits etc. According to Imam Abu Hanifah, cutting off the hand is not applicable for stealing edibles. Have a look at following hadith in support of Imam Abu Hanifah’s view:

Rafi bin Khadij narrated that he heard Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) say, “There is no cutting of the hand for fruits or palm marrow.”

(Hadith No. 1449, Chapters on Legal Punishments, Jami’ At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 3).

Other three Imams say that if edibles are not secured in a house or by an enclosure, then there is no cutting of a hand; cutting off the hand is applicable for stealing from a protected place. There is a narration in support of second view as well:

It was narrated from Amr bin Shuaib, from his father, from his grandfather Abdullah bin Amr, that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) was asked about fruit on tree. He said, “Whatever a needy person takes without putting any in his pocket, there is no penalty on him. But whoever takes anything away, he must pay a penalty twice its value and be punished. Whoever steals something after it has been stored properly, and its value is equal to that of a shield, his hand must be cut off. Whoever steals something less than that, he must pay a penalty of twice its value and be punished.”

(Hadith No. 4961, Book of Cutting Off the Hand of the Thief, Sunan An-Nasa’i, Vol. 5).

The second hadith is more comprehensive and clarifies the matter a lot. Based on both views, we can summarize the rulings for stealing of fruits/edibles etc. as follows:

  • A needy person (applicable to hungry in case of edibles) can pick fruits/edibles in order to satisfy his/her hunger, nothing more. In that case, he/she is not considered a thief. But if he takes more than that (to eat later or for others), that is considered as stealing.
  • Cutting off the hand is not applicable to stealing fruits from unguarded places, like trees etc., though it still constitutes a theft. However, penalty of this theft shall be twice the value of the stolen material as well as additional punishment as decided by the ruler (it can be up to maximum of ten whips).
  • Stealing of edibles/fruits after they have been stored in a safe place by the owner, leads to cutting off the hand of the thief, if the amount of this theft goes up to 3 Dirhams or more.

3.2. Borrowing & denying

If someone borrows from people and then denies having borrowed the thing, and if there are witnesses to it (that the person has borrowed but not returning now), then such an act constitutes a theft, and such a person is considered a thief, for which his/hands are to be cut off (provided the value of theft is 3 Dirhams or above). This is mentioned in following hadith:

It was narrated from Ibn Umar (RA) that a Makhzumi woman used to borrow things then deny that she had borrowed them, so the Prophet (PBUH) ordered that her hand be cut off.

(Hadith No. 4891, Book of Cutting Off the Hand of the Thief, Sunan An-Nasa’i, Vol. 5).

3.3. Stealing while travelling/military expeditions

It was narrated that Junadah bin Abi Umayyah said: We were with Busr bin Artah at sea, and a thief called Misdar was brought, having stolen a long-necked she-camel. He said: I heard Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) say, “Hands are not to be cut off when travelling. Were it not for that, I would have cut off his hand.”

(Hadith No. 4408, Book of Legal Punishments, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 5).

Based on this hadith, it is understood that the hand of a thief should not be cut off if it takes place during a travel. However, there is again a difference of opinion among the scholars on this issue. Let me quote another narration (by the same narrator) which supports the other view:

Busr bin Artah narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “The hands are not cut in battles.”

(Hadith No. 1450, Chapters on Legal Punishments, Jami’ At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 3).

Many people of knowledge hold the opinion that this ruling is applicable only for travels related to military expeditions. One of them, Al-Awzai, says that the legal punishments should not be carried out in battles in presence of enemy, lest the one the punishment was implemented upon may join the enemy. So, when they return from the Land of War to the Land of Islam, the punishment be given to the deserving.

It is up to us to adopt whichever ruling we understand better, and leave the rest to Allah, for Allah knows best.

4. Exempted from the prescribed punishment

It is worth mentioning that there are three categories of people who are exempted from the legal punishments (the Hudud). These three categories are: a sleeping person, an insane person and a child. Refer to following hadith:

It was narrated from Aishah (RA) that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “The Pen has been lifted from three: From the sleeping person until he awakens, from the insane person until he comes to his senses, and from the child until he grows up.”

(Hadith No. 4398, Book of Legal Punishments, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 5).

5. Hand amputation punishment should not be ignored (or waived off) in any case, and must be carried out strictly.

It is not allowed to relax the rulings of any of the legal punishments prescribed in Islamic Shariah, in any case. Howsoever influential the culprit be, he/she should be taken to task and be punished according to his/her sin and the punishment laid down in Islam for that. The same applies to stealing. If the sin of stealing is proven against anyone, and all the conditions (required to be met) for cutting off the hand are met, then he/she should not be pardoned in any case. The hand should be cut off. No one is allowed to intercede on his behalf and request for relaxing the punishment. We have to get inspiration from following narration:

It was narrated from Aishah (RA) that Quraish were concerned about the case of Makhzumi woman who had stolen. They said, “Who will speak to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) concerning her?” Then they said, “Who would dare to do that but Usamah, the beloved of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH)?” So Usamah spoke to him, and Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “Are you interceding about one of the Hadd punishments of Allah?” Then he stood up and delivered a speech in which he said, “O people, those who came before you were doomed because if a nobleman among them stole, they let him off, but if a lowly person stole, they carried out the punishment on him. By Allah, if Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad, were to steal, I would cut off her hand.”

(Hadith No. 4410 (1688), Book of Oaths Hudud, Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4; Hadith No. 6788, Book of Al-Hudud, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 8).

Therefore, it is not allowed to intercede in any of the punishments prescribed by Allah, and on the same lines, wherever the punishment of cutting off the hand of a thief is proven, it should be carried honestly, irrespective of the status of the sinner.

Concluding Remarks

We have tried to discuss almost all issues related to stealing in Islamic perspective. We should bear in our minds that the definition of stealing which we discussed at the start of our discussion, applies to stealing the property from individuals as well as from the institutions. How it applies to an individual stealing something from an individual is very clear to all. But there are some grey areas when it comes to an individual stealing from an institution. I wish to say few words about this before I end my talk.

There are several acts which constitute stealing from institutions. For example: if an employee of a bank takes away some cash, without informing the bank authorities and without having a legal right to do so, and uses this cash for himself and his family, it is a case of an individual stealing from an institution. The penalties/punishments applicable are similar to what we have discussed earlier. But there are some more cases which a lot of Muslims are involved doing in without even giving a thought that they are involved in stealing. I am talking of a very common act of people from Indian sub-continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc.) i.e. stealing from public utility services. It is very common to see people using electricity without paying the bills to the electricity authorities. Alternate means (like bypassing the meters, consuming directly from the main lines with no measurement etc.) are adopted to reduce the meter readings, thereby allowing them to pay much less than what is consumed. Similar treatment is meted to water supplies as well. Such thefts are committed on a regular basis.

If they are pointed out that using electricity in homes illegally is an act of stealing, and Muslims, particularly, should refrain from it, their plea is that the government is not doing anything for them and hence their theft is justified. They defend their actions with stupid reasoning, and consider doing so as their right. A poor man, if he commits such an action, might be excused up to some extent (not fully though) owing to his inability to meet the expenses of such utilities; but when a financially strong person does so and puts forward lame excuses, it is a pity.

Is this what Islam teaches us? What has happened to us? Remember, all such acts of using public utilities (electricity, water, communication services etc.) illegally, without paying due expenses to the relevant government authorities, fall under stealing, and all the penalties/punishments associated apply, as and where applicable.

I request all to strive and try abolishing this sin in whichever forms it exists in the society.

And Allah knows best.

May Allah forgive me if I am wrong and guide us to the right path…Ameen.

سُبْحَانَ رَبِّكَ رَبِّ الْعِزَّةِ عَمَّا يَصِفُون َ ; وَسَلامٌ عَلَى الْمُرْسَلِينَ ; وَالْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ.

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