May it be determined solely from the Arabic in the Qur’an whether it is one hand of a career thief to be cut off for his crime or both hands? English translations don’t really make it clear, “As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands.” I know what the practice is, but does the Qur’an make it clear how many hands to cut off or is it up to a judge based on the severity of the crime?
Also can the cutting of hands really be taken as a metaphor for simply removing the thief from an opportunity to steal, as some scholars have suggested.
A careful study of the directive considering the linguistic style and usage of the Arabic language reveals the following point:
The word ‘hands’ should not make one think that both the hands of each criminal should be cut. Since two objects are taken therefore the word ‘hands’ (plural form) has been used. This is the same usage as we say: ‘All Muslim should respect their mothers’ or as the Qur’an has said at another place: ‘God has set a seal upon their hearts…’. It is obvious that the plural nouns (‘mothers’ and ‘hearts’) in both these sentences is used with reference to the subjects, even though each person has only one mother and a single heart
The words used in the Qur’an and the practice initiated by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and perpetuated among the Muslim community over the centuries does not allow us to take any other interpretation of the words ‘cut their hands’ than what is literally implied. In no way can we interpret the word according to an interpretation which strips it off its true sense in the language. The decisive factors in this regard are the context in which the word occurs and the usage of the Arabic language. Nothing in the context indicates that the words have been used figuratively.
I hope this helps
Tariq Mahmood Hashmi
March 28, 2003