Islamofascists seem to have a great fetish for limb amputation. This punishment for theft in Traditional Islam is thought by some magical process to transform Muslim societies into ones filled with justice. Funnily, this has never happened in practice. Proponents of this punishment (known as sariqah in Sharia terminology) cite the Quran Chapter 5 Verse 38 to make their case. However, I believe that this is nothing more than a deliberately literal reading in order to repeat injunctions made in the Bible. The Bible is a great influence in Sharia law. Its influence disguises itself as Hadith literature, thus acquiring legitimisation from Nabi Muhammad. Punishments for apostasy, adultery, blasphemy and normative religious practices like the hijab, the beard, saying ‘amen’ in prayers all come from the Bible. Ironically, while Christians themelves have left these practices for the most part, Traditional Muslims cling to them passionately.
From my analysis of the Quran, I believe the punishment for theft is metaphorical. A literal reading simply contradicts the letter and spirit of the Quran. Can this metaphorical reading be justified? The Quran itself tells us in no less than four places (17/89, 18/54, 30/58 and 39/27) that it contains ‘from every mathal’. What is a ‘mathal’. A mathal is something which mimics something else. Doubters in the Quran are asked to bring a sura ‘mithluhu’ (mimicking it or like it as translations say). Allah himself imparts ‘mathalan’, metaphors which mimic reality. Metaphor, examples which mimic reality therefore is no stranger to the Quran. It uses it to enlighten us about reality.
What about the word ‘hand’ (‘yad’ in Arabic)? Surely it must be literal? On the contrary, we do not even need to look so far. Even Arabic dictionaries tell us it can mean power, capacity, agency. It is not so different in English when we say ‘my hands are tied’ or in Malay when we say ‘tak menang tangan’. Arabs say ‘li fulan ‘alayya yadd’ (I owe so and so a favour). Language after all, is an instinct. There is something intuitive that make actual, literal hands inextricably linked to our powers and capacities. The question now is whether the Quran itself uses it in that way.
In fact, this word ‘yad’ (‘yada’ in dual form and ‘ayd’ in plural) is rarely or never used literally in the Quran. It all depends on context. Textual coherence must be our priority in determining if a word should be taken literally or metaphorically.
The most obvious example is in Ch 5 Vs 64 which mentions ‘yad Allah’, ‘hand of Allah’. Muslim scholars have debated for centuries if this is literal. The Wahabis who believe it is literal had to adopt the doctrine of ‘bila kayf’ (not asking how) so they believe Allah does have a hand but refuse to ask how. This would show that even they realise that literalism is nonsense. Of course this refers to the capacity of Allah , in this context to give provisions for creation.
In this very same verse , we have the word ‘yadaahu’ (his two hands) referring to the two hands of Allah. So 5/64 starts with (one) hand and then says two hands. Even literalists would have a problem with this one! There are multiple interpretations for this. Some say this shows his openness to give provisions, others say it’s a dual capacity to elevate or destroy.
To make it even more complicated, Ch 36 Vs 71 tells us of the hands (3 or more) of Allah with the word ‘aydina’. So Allah has one, two and three or more hands. Reading this literally would not make sense at all. It would contradict the nature of Allah Himself.
The above example is for Allah and since there is nothing like unto Him (112/4), proponents of a literal reading may ask, ‘What about a human example?’ Lets have a look at the Quranic personality Ya’qoob who in Ch 38 Vs 45 is said to be ‘possessor of hands’ (ulil ayd). So if we read it literally, Ya’qoob would possess more than two hands (since no children are mentioned)! It is the same case Dawood, another Quranic personality. He said to have many hands ‘dhal ayd’ in Ch 38 Vs 17. Finally we have Isa whom was said in Ch 2 Vs 87 to be ‘ayyadnahu’ (literally hands made for him) with the so-called Holy Spirit. Clearly even hands in the case of human beings this word is metaphorical.
Finally we look at the example of Ch 10 Vs 37 and Ch 12 Vs 111 which uses the phrase ‘confirming what is between his two hands’ (tasdiqan alladhi min bayna yadayhi). Traditionalists say this refers to the Prophet. However, the Prophet isn’t mentioned at all nor what is between his two hands. Moreover Ch 41 Vs 41-42 shows us that ‘min bayna yadayhi’ refers to the Quran itelf. It is between the Quran’s two ‘hands’, not the Prophets. This shows another metaphorical reading.
Coming back to the verse in question, Ch 5 Vs 38, it is therefore clear that for the thieves, it is their capacities or powers which must be cut off. Furthermore, in the verse itself, we can see the phrase ‘bimaa kasaba nakalan’ (based on what they both earned as a punishment warning). How can the thief who steals RM5 and those who steal RM 5 million earn the same punishment. How can a warning be so final as cutting off the hand? Reading the next verse (5/39) tells us even more. The thieves are to make amends for their misdeeds. How do handless thieves do this? There is no way the literal punishment is correct.
Lastly we look at the story of Yusuf, another Quranic personality. He tricks his brothers by placing something of value in their pouch then accusing them of theft. The punishment threatened for them is to give themselves as recompense (fahuwa jazaahu). There is no cutting off the hands mentioned at all. This is in the Quran Ch 12 Vs 62-75.
From these arguments, we can see that the Quran simply does not support a literal amputation of the hands at all. The Islamofascists are simply echoing the literal readings of their ancient scholars and refuse to even discuss the validity of the law. We need to absolutely reject this if we are to create a just and democratic society.