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Amputation is one of the punishments (or حدود) proscribed by the Qur'an and the Sunnah, in particular for the crime of theft. The insistence of the tradition on this punishment was likely a continuation of the Roman law from the Byzantine Empire. At the time of the compilation of the Qur'an this punishment had recently been rescinded by the code of Justinian, though this might not have been known by the author(s) of the Qur'an .
Mischief-makers hands and feet cut off from opposite sides
The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;
As to the thief, cut off his or her hands
As to the thief, Male or female, cut off his or her hands: a punishment by way of example, from Allah, for their crime: and Allah is Exalted in power.
While the majority of Muslim translators have remained true to the Arabic text, many apologists have attempted to obscure the plain meaning of Quran 5:38. However, the hadith prove its meaning is entirely literal. Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad and the early generations of Muslims had no qualms with it being so.
How to qualify for the punishment
Narrated 'Aisha: The Prophet said, "The hand should be cut off for stealing something that is worth a quarter of a Dinar or more."
Narrated 'Aisha: The hand of a thief was not cut off during the lifetime of the Prophet except for stealing something equal to a shield in value.
Narrated Ibn 'Umar: Allah's Apostle cut off the hand of a thief for stealing a shield that was worth three Dirhams.
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah 's Apostle said, "Allah curses the thief who steals an egg (or a helmet) for which his hand is to be cut off, or steals a rope, for which his hand is to be cut off."
Exceptions to the law
Plundering is not considered to be thievery.
Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Cutting of hand is not to be inflicted on one who plunders, but he who plunders conspicuously does not belong to us.
Able-bodied men are needed during times of war, so hands are not to be cut off during an expedition.
Narrated Busr ibn Artat: Junadah ibn AbuUmayyah said: We were with Busr ibn Artat on the sea (on an expedition). A thief called Misdar who had stolen a bukhti she-camel was brought. He said: I heard the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) say: Hands are not to be cut off during a warlike expedition. Had it not been so, I would have cut it off.
Amputation not needed for thieves who steal fruit.
Narrated Rafi' ibn Khadij: Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn Hibban said: A slave stole a plant of a palm-tree from the orchard of a man and planted it in the orchard of his master. The owner of the plant went out in search of the plant and he found it. He solicited help against the slave from Marwan ibn al-Hakam who was the Governor of Medina at that time. Marwan confined the slave and intended to cut off his hand. The slave's master went to Rafi' ibn Khadij and asked him about it.
He told him that he had heard the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) say: The hand is not to be cut off for taking fruit or the pith of the palm-tree.
The man then said: Marwan has seized my slave and wants to cut off his hand. I wish you to go with me to him and tell him that which you have heard from the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him). So Rafi' ibn Khadij went with him and came to Marwan ibn al-Hakam.
Rafi' said to him: I heard the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) say: The hand is not to be cut off for taking fruit or the pith of the palm-tree. So Marwan gave orders to release the slave and then he was released.
Thieves who repent must still be punished
Narrated 'Aisha: The Quraish people became very worried about the Makhzumiya lady who had committed theft. They said, "Nobody can speak (in favor of the lady) to Allah's Apostle and nobody dares do that except Usama who is the favorite of Allah's Apostle. " When Usama spoke to Allah's Apostle about that matter, Allah's Apostle said, "Do you intercede (with me) to violate one of the legal punishment of Allah?" Then he got up and addressed the people, saying, "O people! The nations before you went astray because if a noble person committed theft, they used to leave him, but if a weak person among them committed theft, they used to inflict the legal punishment on him. By Allah, if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad committed theft, Muhammad will cut off her hand!"
Story continued in Sahih Muslim 17:4188 and Sahih Bukhari 8:81:779...
He (the Holy Prophet) then commanded about that woman who had committed theft, and her hand was cut off. 'A'isha (further) said: Hers was a good respentance, and she later on married and used to come to me after that, and I conveyed her needs (and problems) to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him).
The story is confirmed by many narrators and collections:
Jaibir reported that a woman from the tribe of Makhzum committed theft. She was brought to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) and she sought refuge (intercession) from Umm Salama, the wife of Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him). Thereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: By Allah, even if she were Fatima, I would have her hand cut off. And thus her hand was cut off.
Yahya related to me from Malik that Abu'z-Zinad informed him that a governor of Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz took some people in battle and had not killed any of them. He wanted to cut off their hands or kill them, so he wrote to Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz about that Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz wrote to him, "Better to take less than that."
Yahya said that he heard Malik say, "What is done among us about a person who steals the goods of people which are placed under guard in the markets, and their owners put them in their containers and store them together is that if anyone steals any of that from where it is kept, and its value reaches that for which cutting off the hand is obliged, his hand must be cut off, whether or not the owner of the goods is with his goods and whether it is night or day."
Malik said about some one who stole something for which cutting off the hand was obliged and then what he stole was found with him and he returned it to its owner, "His hand is cut off."
Malik said, "If someon says, 'How can his hand be cut off when the goods have been taken from him and returned to their owner?', it is because he is in the same position as the wine drinker when the smell of the wine is found on his breath and he is not drunk. He is flogged with the hadd.
"The hadd is imposed for drinking wine even if it does not make the man intoxicated. That is because he drank it to become intoxicated. It is the same as that with cutting off the hand of the thief for theft when it is taken from him, even if he has not profited from it and it was returned to its owner. When he stole it, he stole it to take it away."
It was narrated from 'Aishah :
that Quraish became concerned about the case of the Makhzumi woman who had stolen, and they said: “Who will speak to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) concerning her?” They said: “Who would dare to do that other than Usamah bin Zaid, the beloved of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ)?” So Usamah spoke to him, and the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Are you interceding concerning one of the legal punishments of Allah (SWT)?“ Then he stood up and addressed (the people) and said: “O people! Those who came before you were only destroyed because when one of their nobles stole, they let him off, but when one of the weak people among them stole, they would carry out the punishment on him. By Allah, if Fatimah the daughter of Muhammad were to steal, I would cut off her hand.” (Sahih)(One of the narrators) Muhammad bin Rumh said: “I heard Laith bin Sa'd say: 'Allah(SWT) protected her (Fatimah) from stealing, and every Muslim should say this.'”
The habitual thief
Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah: A thief was brought to the Prophet (peace be upon him). He said: Kill him. The people said: He has committed theft, Apostle of Allah! Then he said: Cut off his hand. So his (right) hand was cut off. He was brought a second time and he said: Kill him. The people said: He has committed theft, Apostle of Allah! Then he said: Cut off his foot.
So his (left) foot was cut off.
He was brought a third time and he said: Kill him.
The people said: He has committed theft, Apostle of Allah!
So he said: Cut off his hand. (So his (left) hand was cut off.)
He was brought a fourth time and he said: Kill him.
The people said: He has committed theft, Apostle of Allah!
So he said: Cut off his foot. So his (right) foot was cut off.
He was brought a fifth time and he said: Kill him.
So we took him away and killed him. We then dragged him and cast him into a well and threw stones over him.
The thieving slave and Aisha
Yahya related to me from Malik from Abdullah ibn Abi Bakr ibn Hazim that Amra bint Abd ar-Rahman said, "A'isha, the wife of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, went out to Makka and she had two girl mawlas of hers and a slave belonging to the sons of Abdullah ibn Abi Bakr as-Siddiq . She sent a figured cloak with the two mawlas which was sewn up in a piece of green cloth."
Amra continued, "The slave took it and unstitched it and took out the cloak. In its place, he put some felt or skin and sewed it up again. When the mawla girls came to Madina, they gave it to his people. When they opened it, they found felt in it and did not find the cloak. They spoke to the two women and they spoke to A'isha, the wife of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, or they wrote to her and suspected the slave. The slave was asked about it and confessed. A'isha, the wife of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, gave the order and his hand was cut off. A'isha said, 'A thief's hand is cut off for a quarter of a dinar and upwards.'"
Malik said, "The limit I prefer above which cutting off the hand is obliged is three dirhams, whether the exchange is high or low. That is because the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, cut off the hand of a thief for a shield whose value was three dirhams, and Uthman ibn Affan cut off the hand of a thief for a citron which was estimated at three dirhams. This is what I prefer of what I have heard on the matter."
Narrated Fadalah ibn Ubayd: A thief was brought to the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) and his hand was cut off. Thereafter he commanded for it, and it was hung on his neck.
Narrated AbuUmayyah al-Makhzumi: A thief who had accepted (having committed theft) was brought to the Prophet (peace be upon him), but no good were found with him. The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him), said to him: I do not think you have stolen. He said: Yes, I have. He repeated it twice or thrice. So he gave orders. His hand was cut off and he was then brought to him. He said: Ask Allah's pardon and turn to Him in repentance. He said: I ask Allah's pardon and turn to Him in repentance. He (the Prophet) then said: O Allah, accept his repentance.
Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar: The Prophet (peace be upon him) had a man's hand cut off who had stolen from the place reserved for women a shield whose price was three dirhams.
Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-'As: The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) was asked about fruit which was bung up and said: If a needy person takes some with his mouth and does not take a supply away in his garment, there is nothing on him, but he who carries any of it is to be fined twice the value and punished, and he who steals any of it after it has been put in the place where dates are dried to have his hand cut off if their value reaches the value of a shield. If he steals a thing less in value than it, he is to be find twice the value and punished.
Yahya related to me from Malik from Abdullah ibn Abd ar-Rahman abu Husayn al-Makki that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "The hand is not cut off for fruit hanging on the tree and for sheep kept in the mountains. So when they are taken from the fold or the place where the fruit is dried, a hand is cut off for whatever reaches the price of a shield."
Yahya related to me from Malik from Abdullah ibn Abi Bakr from his father from Amra bint Abd ar-Rahman that a thief stole a citron in the time of Uthman Uthman ibn Affan ordered its value to be estimated and it was estimated at three dirhams at the rate of exchange of twelve dirhams for the dinar, so Uthman cut off his hand.
"...when a thief steals goods, only their price on the day he stole them is looked at. If cutting off the hand is necessary because of it, that is done. If the cutting off is delayed, either because the thief is imprisoned until his situation is examined or he flees and then is caught, the delay of the cutting off of the hand does not make the hadd, which was obliged for him on the day he stole, fall from him even if those goods become cheap after that. Nor does delay oblige cutting off the hand if it was not obliged on the day he took those goods, even if they become expensive after that."
Yahya related to me from Malik from Nafi that a slave of Abdullah ibn Umar stole while he was a runaway. Abdullah ibn Umar sent him to Said ibn al-As, who was the amir of Madina, to cut off his hand. Said refused to cut off his hand. He said, "The hand of a runaway slave is not cut off when he steals." Abdullah ibn Umar said to him, "In what Book of Allah did you find this?" Then Abdullah ibn Umar gave the order, and his hand was cut off.
Yahya related to me from Malik that Zurayq ibn Hakim informed him that he had a runaway slave who had stolen. He said, "The situation was obscure for me, so I wrote to Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz to ask him about it. He was the governor at that time. I informed him that I had heard that if a runaway slave stole while he was a fugitive, his hand was not cut off. 'Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz wrote to contradict my letter, 'You wrote to me that you have heard that when the runaway slave steals, his hand is not cut off. Allah, the Blessed, the Exalted, says in His Book, 'The thief, male and female, cut off the hands of both, as a recompense for what they have earned, and an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise.' (Sura 5 ayat 41) When his theft reaches a quarter of a dinar, and upwards, his hand is cut off.' "
Yahya related to me from Malik that he had heard that al-Qasim ibn Muhammad and Salim ibn Abdullah and Urwa ibn az-Zubayr said, "When a runaway slave steals something for which cutting off the hand is obliged, his hand is cut off."
Malik said, "The way of doing things amongst us about which there is no dispute is that when the runaway slave steals that for which cutting off the hand is obliged, his hand is cut off."
Yahya related to me from Malik from Ibn Shihab from Safwan ibn Abdullah ibn Safwan that it was said to Safwan ibn Umayya, "Whoever does not do hijra is ruined." So Safwan ibn Umayya went to Madina and slept in the mosque with his cloak as a pillow. A thief came and took his cloak and Safwan grabbed hold of the thief and brought him to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said to him, "Did you steal this cloak?" He said, "Yes." So the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, ordered that his hand be cut off. Safwan said to him, "I did not intend this. It is his as sadaqa." The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Why didn't you do it before bringing him to me?"
Yahya related to me from Malik from Abd ar-Rahman ibn al-Qasim from his father that a man from Yemen who had his hand and foot cut off came and went before Abu Bakr as-Siddiq and complained to him that the governor of the Yemen had wronged him, and the man used to pray part of the night. Abu Bakr said, "By your father, your night is not the night of a thief." Then they missed a necklace of Asma bint Umays, the wife of Abu Bakr as-Siddiq. The man came to go around with them looking for it. He said, "O Allah! You are responsible for the one who invaded the people of this good house by night!" They found the jewelry with a goldsmith. He claimed that the maimed man had brought it to him. The maimed man confessed or it was testified against him. Abu Bakr as-Siddiq ordered that his left hand be cut off. Abu Bakr said, "By Allah! His dua against himself is more serious, as far as I am concerned, than his theft."
Yahya said that Malik said, "What is done among us about the person who steals several times and is then called to reckoning, is that only his hand is cut off for all he stole when the hadd has not been applied againsthim. If the hadd has been applied against him before that, and he steals what obliges cutting off, then the next limb is cut off."
Origins of the punishment among the pagan Arabs
Allah commands and decrees that the hand of the thief, male or female be cut off. During the time of Jahiliyyah, this was also the punishment for the thief, and Islam upheld this punishment. In Islam, there are several conditions that must be met before this punishment is carried out, as we will come to know, Allah willing. There are other rulings that Islam upheld after modifying these rulings, such as that of blood money for example.
Is the repentance of a thief acceptable?
(But whosoever repents after his crime and does righteous good deeds, then verily, Allah will pardon him. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.) Therefore, whoever repents and goes back to Allah after he commits theft, then Allah will forgive him. Imam Ahmad recorded that `Abdullah bin `Amr said that a woman committed theft during the time of the Messenger of Allah and those from whom she stole brought her and said, "O Allah's Messenger! This woman stole from us. Her people said, "We ransom her." The Messenger of Allah said,
(Cut off her hand.) They said, "We ransom her with five hundred Dinars." The Prophet said,
(Cut off her hand.) Her right hand was cut off and the woman asked, "O Messenger of Allah! Is there a chance for me to repent" He said,
(Yes. This day, you are free from your sin just as the day your mother gave birth to you.) Allah sent down the verse in Surat Al-Ma'idah,
(But whosoever repents after his crime and does righteous good deeds (by obeying Allah), then verily, Allah will pardon him. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.) This woman was from the tribe of Makhzum. Her story was narrated in the Two Sahihs from Az-Zuhri from `Urwah from `A'ishah, The incident caused concern for the Quraysh after she committed the theft during the time of the battle of the Conquest [of Makkah]. They said, "Who can talk to Allah's Messenger about her matter" They then said, "Who dares speak to him about such matters other than Usamah bin Zayd, his loved one." When the woman was brought to the Messenger of Allah , Usamah bin Zayd talked to him about her and the face of the Messenger changed color (because of anger) and he said,
(Do you intercede in a punishment prescribed by Allah) Usamah said to him, "Ask Allah to forgive me, O Allah's Messenger!" During that night, the Messenger of Allah stood up and gave a speech and praised Allah as He deserves to be praised. He then said,
(Those who were before you were destroyed because when an honorable person among them would steal, they would leave him. But, when a weak man among them stole, they implemented the prescribed punishment against him. By Him in Whose Hand is my soul! If Fatimah the daughter of Muhammad stole, I will have her hand cut off.) The Prophet commanded that the hand of the woman who stole be cut off, and it was cut off.
Where should amputated limbs be buried?
Praise be to Allaah.
This matter is open, because amputated limbs do not come under the same ruling as the whole person. There is no reason why they should not be put with the garbage, but burying them in the ground out of respect towards them is preferable. But the matter is open, praise be to Allaah, as we said. They do not have to be washed (ghusl) and buried unless it is a foetus of more than four months’ gestation. But if it was merely flesh into which the soul had not yet been breathed, or it was an amputated finger or something similar, then the matter is open. But burying it in the ground is good and is preferable.
Kitaab Majmoo’ Fataawa wa Maqaalaat Mutanawwi’ah li Samaahat al-Shaykh al-‘Allaamah ibn Baaz , vol. 9, p. 436
Can a thief have his hand surgically reattached?
Praise be to Allaah.
The thief has no right to have the amputated hand reattached, because that means that the signs of the punishment for his crime disappear, and the effectiveness of the rebuke and lesson is lost. It is contrary to the idea of punishment and example as mentioned in the verse in which Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“And (as for) the male thief and the female thief, cut off (from the wrist joint) their (right) hands as a recompense for that which they committed, a punishment by way of example from Allaah. And Allaah is All‑Powerful, All‑Wise”
Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah, 22/220.
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