Justice: The Penalty For Theft

This is another article in the chapter Justice from the classical manual on Sharia called Reliance of the Traveller. The articles are posted one by one in the order they are given in the book.


014.1 A person’s right hand is amputated, whether he is a Muslim, non-Muslim subject of the Islamic state, or someone who has left Islam, when he:

(a) has reached puberty;

(b) is sane;

(c) is acting voluntarily;

(d) and steals at least a quarter of a dinar (n: 1.058 grams of gold) or goods worth that much (A: at the market prices current) at the time of the theft;

(e) from a place meeting the security requirements normal (A: in that locality and time) for safeguarding similar articles (def: 014.3);

(f) provided there is no possible confusion (dis: 014.2(3)) as to whether he took it by way of theft or for some other reason.

If a person steals a second time, his left foot is amputated; if a third time, then his left hand; and if he steals again, then his right foot. If he steals a fifth time, he is disciplined (def: 017). If he does not have a right hand (N: at the first offense), then his left foot is amputated. If he has a right hand but loses it after the theft (0: by an act of God) but before he has been punished for it, then nothing is amputated. After amputation, the limb is eauterized with hot oil (A: which in previous times was the means to stop the bleeding and save the criminal’s life).

014.2 A person’s hand is not amputated when:

(1) (non-(d) above) he steals less than the equivalent of .058 grams of gold;

(2) (non-(e)) he steals the article from a place the does not meet normal requirements for safeguarding similar articles (dis: below);

(3) or (non-(f)) when there is a possible confusion as to why he took it, as when it was taken from the Muslim common fund (bayt ai-mal) (0: provided the person is Muslim, since he might have intended to use it to build mosques, bridges, or hospices), or when it belongs to his son or father.

014.3 A place that meets normal security requirements for safeguarding similar articles means a place appropriate for keeping the thing, this varying with the type of article, the different countries, and with the justness of the ruler or lack of it, as well as the ruler’s relative strength or weakness. A suitable place for safeguarding fine clothes, money, jewels, and jewelry, for example, is a locked box; the place for trade goods, a locked warehouse with guards; the place for livestock, a stable; the place for pallets and bedding, a shelf in the house; and the place for a shroud, the grave.

014.4 If two persons jointly steal the equivalent of 1.058 grams of gold, then neither’s hand is amputated.

014.5 A freeman’s hand may not be amputated by anyone besides the caliph or his representative (def: 025).

014.6 There is no amputation for forcible seizure (0: meaning someone relying on force (N: to take people’s money, who has a gang nearby to abet him in this)), snatching (0: meaning someone who depends on running away and is unarmed), or betraying a trust (0: of something entrusted to him, such as a deposit for safekeeping), or appropriating something by disavowal (A: i.e. denying that the victim loaned or entrusted him with such and such a thing), (0: because of the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and give him peace) saying,

“There is no amputation for someone who seizes by force, snatches and runs, or betrays a trust,” a hadith Tirmidhi classified as rigorously authenticated (sahih)). (A: But if one of the abovementioned persons is a repeated offender whom it is in the interests of society to kill, the caliph may kill him.)



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