Chapter XI - Theft And Robbery
Crime of theft and Highway Robbery.
According to the following text of the Koran, the magistrate may inflict any moderate or severe kind of punishment. It is left to his discretion and depends upon his interpretation of the text and his judgment:
“The punishment for those fight against God and his apostle and cause disaster in the land (by highway robbery) is : (1) to be slain; (2) crucified; (3) have their hands and feet cut off crossways; (4) or to be banished from the land – unless he or they repent and reform before falling into the hands of the court.”
“And as for the man or woman who steal, cut off their hands as a punishment from God.”
The judge, according to Muslim jurists, may pass the following sentence:
- If the crime consists in making public highways unsafe for travellers and trade caravans, the punishment is deportation from the country.
- If anything has been robbed, the guilty parties may be punished by cutting off right hands and on return the left foot.
- If, besides interrupting caravans, public highways are made unsafe and those who are guilty are also held to have killed any man or woman, those adjudged guilty may be put to death or crucified, such a sentence being considered a deterrent one. But if those guilty repent before being brought before the officers of the law, they may be forgiven, provided that they restore the stolen property; and if they have killed any one, they pay the diyya (in Arabic), that is the amount of money judged by the magistrate having made sure of its being imperative as compensation to be given to the heirs of the murdered.
The Islamic Law defines theft in the sense of stealing a thing considered as the property of another man kept in his shop, etc., or in any other safe place such as a house, or left in the guard of some guardian. Many things are not considered property, such as:
- Things which may decay or be wasted as milk, fruits, grain, (not reaped) grass, fish, garden stuff, etc..
- Intoxicants which a thief may excuse himself by saying he wanted to split it.
- Trifling things, such as fowls, etc.
- Books including copies of the Koran.
- The public treasure, or bait-el-mal (in Arabic) being a property common to all Muslims, the idea being that an individual Muslim cannot be punished by amputation for an offence of this kind, because, a Muslim, he is entitled when in distress to some share in it.
A creditor may take up to the limit of his claim from a bad debtor without transgression.
In case of theft is proved and the magistrate passes the judgment of cutting off the hand of the thief, it is cut at the joint of the wrist.
This punishment is exacted nowadays in Saudia Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan of the Muslim countries. Only a very few hands were cut for the charge of robbery or theft during the past twenty years. The punishment is so severe that it proved stringent against such transgressions.
In Hijaz no case of theft or robbery whatever had been recorded or judged for the last ten years (1957).
Intoxicants, gambling, etc., are forbidden by the Koran and the punishment to be inflicted is whipping, as many stripes as may be ordered by the trying magistrate.
The testimony of a gambler or a drunkard is not to be accepted by the court: the Koran’s text is rendered thus:
“Intoxicants and games of chance (gambling) and sacrificing to idols and divining by arrows – so runs the interpretation of the Koran text – are only an abomination, and the devil’s work, shun it therefore that ye may prosper.”
“It is the devil who requires to cause enmity and hatred to spring in your midst by means of intoxicants and games of chance, and to keep you off from the remembrance of God and from saying your prayers, therefore abstain from them” (V – 91),
The punishment for drinking wine or any intoxicating liquor is whipping, which may consist of as many as eighty stripes. ()
Such, in brief, is the Penal Law of Islam, which has been modified to some extent, in modern Muslim States all over the world. No Muslim Government in these days (with the exception of Arabia and Afghanistan) orders the cutting off the hands of a thief; nor does it allow the ransoming of a murderer. Even as early as the Ummayad rule, Khalifa Hisham modified the punishment for theft by limiting it to ordinary imprisonment extending to two years. With regard to other crimes, the punishment is today left to the discrimination of the judge after the nature of the crime be alleged and proved.
) ) It is pertinent to note here that temperance is one of the fundamental principles in the Muslim law. Wine of any kind – is strictly forbidden, no distinction is made in the punishment of a wine drinker and a drunkard; by wine is meant any intoxicating liquor. If a Muslim drink wine and two witnesses testify to his having done so or if his breath smell of wine, or if he shall himself confess to having taken wine, or if he found in state of intoxication he shall be beaten with eighty stripes.
On every page of the great volume of the past the student may find traces of the evils arising from the use of intoxicating liquors and the beneficial influence and power resultant upon the practice of total abstinence from intoxicants and have reaped a rich and blessed harvest.
We have full experience coming down through the ages that intoxicants are not only harmful but degrading and destructive and that total abstinence is self-protective, beneficial, and elevating.
According to the proceedings of the 19th International Congress against Alcoholism held in 1928 in Belgium and attended by the writer on behalf of Egypt, the evils of the traffic in drink are of three kinds: a) moral evils including a probable average of two thirds of the criminal offences throughout those countries of the world where intoxicating drinks are generally used, and the less of hundreds of thousands of lives each year; b) economic evils aggregating a wastage of almost incalculable millions in money each year; c) political evils, having a vital bearing on the most important civic problems of the day.
Moreover the great congress considered the questionable pleasure and profits conferred upon the few by the traffic are in striking disproportion to the evils it inflicts upon the many.
The above argument evidently asserts the wisdom of the Islamic law in totally forbidding the use the sale or barter, the manufacture, the possession of, and the traffic in any intoxicating liquor or drug. While the principle of temperance was greatly extended in Europe only of late during the 19th century, the principle in the Muslim world took its birth as early as one thousand year before the discovery of America.