Islam and the Quran

Does not GOD clarify the meaning of “cutting hands” as injuring/marking in chapter Joseph?

Question: Your site suggests that according to 5:38, hands of thieves should be amputated (cut off). Does not GOD clarify meaning of "Cutting hands" in 12:31, where we see the women who admired Joseph so much, they “cut” their hands? Obviously, they did not sever/cut off their hands; no one can do that. The chapter and verse numbers add up to 12+31=43, the same total as in 5:38 (5+38=43). This gives mathematical confirmation that the Quranic law calls for “marking” the hand of the thief, not severing it.

It is correct that the explanations of the Quran verses are in other Quran verses, as it is put forward within the Quran.[1] However, regarding these kind of assumptions by basing on the chapter and verse numbers, we cannot say that it is considerable. As it is known that there are controversial opinions about the numbers of verses in the chapters, about the break points of verses, about either counting basmala a verse or not, and even about the chapter Tawba (Repentance) if it is a part of the chapter Anfal (Spoils of War) or a distinct chapter.[2] Therefore, we cannot judge by looking to the mathematical relations of the numbers of chapters and verses. Besides, the same expression “وَقَطَّعْنَ اَيْدِيَهُنَّ” which is mentioned in Joseph 31st, is also mentioned in the 50th verse of the same chapter. Assuming the sum of chapter and verse numbers are really equal, this again does not require that the expression “فَاقْطَعُوا اَيْدِيَهُمَا” (cut off their hands) in Maida 38th, as “cut their hands (to make bleed)”. Because the same word can very well be used to refer to both of those meanings in English, in Turkish, and in most of other languages.

As a result, it is not possible to interpret the punishment of qualified theft as a symbolic expression without considering the main principles of criminal law in the Quran, and the integrity between the book and the practices of our Prophet. If we examine the case through this point of view, we can understand that the expression “فَاقْطَعُوا اَيْدِيَهُمَا” means “Cut off their hands” does actually mean “cutting off/severing the thief’s hand” in real.

There are remarkable efforts on Muslim scholars after the age of enlightenment centered on the criminal rights through the seeking of alternative punishments instead of the ones in Quran. In this sense, we observe about the aforementioned punishment, different ideas like “cutting for the purpose of marking/exposing” or “blocking/disrupting/restraining” which bases on a metaphorical understanding of the verse. We state that we do not agree with these approaches.

Suat Erdoğan

Translator’s note: The verbs in Maida 38th and Joseph 31st (also Joseph 50th) are not actually the same. In 5:38, the verb comes in first infinitive form while it comes with second infinitive (تقتيع) in chapter Joseph. For them to be exactly the same; either 5:38 should have been “فَقَطِّعُوا اَيْدِيَهُمَا” or 12:31 and 12:50 should have been “وَقَطَعْنَ اَيْدِيَهُنَّ” (notice the absence of shadda). Different infinitive forms usually have different meanings in Arabic.


[1] “Alif, Lam, Ra. This is a book of which its verses are made decisive, and then expounded by the One Wise and All-Aware; for that you shall not serve any but Allah; surely I am a warner for you from Him and a bringer of good news.” (Hud 11:1-2)

[2] Zarkashi, al-Burhan, (by Muhammad abu’l-Fadl Ibrahim), Vol.I, 249, Daru’t-turas, Qahira; Suyuti, al-Itqan, Vol.I, 68, Matbat-u hijazi, Qahira.

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