Question: Were the hands of thieves cut off at the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)?
The verses on the punishment of theft are as follows:
.وَالسَّارِقُ وَالسَّارِقَةُ فَاقْطَعُوا أَيْدِيَهُمَا جَزَاءً بِمَا كَسَبَا نَكَالًا مِنَ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
فَمَنْ تَابَ مِنْ بَعْدِ ظُلْمِهِ وَأَصْلَحَ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يَتُوبُ عَلَيْهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
“Cut off the hands of both male thieves and female thieves as the requital of what they earned and as a deterrent ordained by God. God is superior and He judges correctly. But whoever turns around after his wrongdoing and reforms (himself), God will accept his turnaround: God is forgiving, the most beneficent.” (Al-Maidah 5:38)
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) always judged among the people according to God’s Books. It is narrated in the Hadith books that the hands of thieves were cut off or ordained to be cut off by the Messenger of God in compliance with this commandment. Two of those narrations are the following:
…عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، قَالَتْ كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقْطَعُ السَّارِقَ فِي رُبْعِ دِينَارٍ فَصَاعِدًا…
A’isha reported that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) cut off the hand of a thief for a quarter of a dinar or more.
لاَ تُقْطَعُ يَدُ السَّارِقِ إِلاَّ فِي رُبْعِ دِينَارٍ فَصَاعِدًا
The hand of a thief should not be cut off but for a quarter of a dinar and more. (Muslim, Hudud, 1 (1684), Bukhari, Hudud, 14, Abu Dawood, Hudud, 12, Tirmidhi, Hudud, 16)
It is God Who has created nature and human, and it is again He Who has sent down the divine Books. Therefore, the rulings in the Quran are in full compliance with the natural law and ethics. They are valid in all ages. God has created the earth, other creatures and the human, and He has set up a perfect balance on the earth. Then, He has sent down divine Books as guides to maintain this balance. He decrees on this matter:
“He has raised the heavens and set up the balance; that you should not transgress in the balance. So, maintain the equilibrium with justice, and do not ruin the balance.” (ar-Rahman 55:7-9)
If the humankind complies with all of the rulings in the Quran, the balance on the earth would be peacefully maintained. In a state where the rulers would abide by the Book of God, God’s laws (Shari’ah) would be justly established. Note that God emphasizes the importance of justice and equity in several verses and decrees:
“Allah commands justice and doing good and giving to the kith and kin. And He forbids the vice, and doing wrong and transgression. He warns you so that hopefully you will pay heed.” (an-Nahl 16:90)
In such a stable environment, punishments ordained by God, as well as all the other commands of God, serve to maintain the balance, peace and safety. We should notice that safety of property is essential for safety of life. In a land where you cannot protect your money or properties, you could even fall short of food, and your life would also be in danger. To avoid this danger, deterrent punishments have been essentially prescribed by God. Yet, there is too much of misinformation about the hand amputation punishment. Only under certain circumstances this punishment is implemented. These are listed on the following link together with their reasons and alternate punishments.
Below are some of them:
- This penalty can only be prescribed by a judge. Therefore, either the owner of the property or other eyewitnesses must apply to the authorities for the judgment first.
- To be able to mention this penalty, the stolen property must be somewhere preserved. If the stolen property was not in a preserved area, the crime is not qualified as theft and the punishment is not implemented.
- Nobody’s hand can be cut off if a person or his/her family for whom he/she is responsible to take care of was starving and therefore stole food. In other words, if their life was in danger, the hand amputation punishment is not implemented.
- None of God’s verses address the children. That clearly means: children are not liable towards God. Their parents or guardians are responsible to teach them what is good or bad, what is lawful or forbidden, until they reach puberty. Then, when they reach the puberty, they become responsible for complying with God’s commands and prohibitions. So, a child who has not reached the puberty cannot be judged by the criminal law for his misdeeds, let alone having his/her hand cut off.
- If the crime was committed in threat of life or under any other type of coercion, the punishment is not implemented.
- If there are no witnesses and the thief himself/herself admits the crime and repents before being caught, the penalty is not implemented.
Still, some ignorant people rush to judge the laws of Islamic Shari’ah, their penalties and sentences as harsh. They grieve for the hand that is cut, but forget, or want to forget, the crime that this hand committed, and the permanent negative effect on the public peace and the evil that the crime entails. They take pity on the criminal and not on the victim.
It should be noted that the Prophet was not a violent or cruel man. Our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a righteous man who strove intensely for justice, and everything he did was in accordance with the commandments of Allah. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a man of great qualities. People, even who hated him, saw in him exceptional qualities. He was, as the Qur’an eloquently states, a man of exalted character:
“You are of a great nature and morals.” (al-Qalam 68: 4)
In all of the cases where hand amputation punishment is not implemented, the rights of the victim must also be protected. Then, the thief has to pay for a compensation fee and another fee as punishment. This is called “muqabalah bi’l mithl = equivalent retaliation”. Please see the following link about this:
For further information, please also see:
 It is obligatory to believe in all divine Books according to verses Al-e Imran 3:84-85 in the Quran. The fundamentals of divine books are the same. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) used to learn and judge by the rulings in the Torah when he was asked about a matter, until a new verse on that matter was sent down to him by God.