Ownership, theft and the cutting of hands

(Read 2:284, 16:49, 4:131 and many others of similar nature. Then read 5:35-40 and if you want also read 2:85, 2:175, 3:177, 16:95 and 9:111)

Two considerations that make sense to me:

One, revelation from the maker of this universe should speak to my humanity. Material things are not, in themselves, valued by me as a human being, as a soul. What I really value, as a human being and not just a biological entity with bodily needs, are the immaterial meanings that things carry. I expect my maker to speak to my humanity. I expect him to speak about the possible loss of things most valued by me, about things that I value for their own sake and hence things that I cannot replace with things of like nature.

Second, and I will repeat it again at the end, any conception of theft or stealing needs a prior conception of rightful ownership. Theft is understood in relation to ownership. One cannot truthfully steal from someone who is not the real owner of that thing and revelation is concerned with the truth of the matter, not with its appearance. Relatedly, the conception of ownership most relevant for talking about theft is the one that comes from the same source that explains ownership and does not leave the matter unaddressed at all. Instead, it is emphasized as the the core of revelation’s message.

I’ll tell you what happens to me when I steal and what I find truly compassionate about the Quran’s guidance that the hands of those who steal should be cut. Stealing is not accepted and in the act of stealing (also referred to, in other verses as “trading” or “buying” misguidance for guidance) has been placed grievous punishment, a premonition and sign of much more to come should one persist and not abandon course. What is better for me, as for instance 16:95 claims, is that which is with God. Of course this claim needs to be witnessed and confirmed while I am here. Is it true that if my bond with God (and what is this bond?) is broken for a trifling gain, it is really harmful for me and is it it true that whatever I see preserved with God is better?

I think you already get my drift. Let me share three short examples from my life.

I regularly steal pleasure from my maker. I regularly feel it is mine and consume it as if it was my property. Then when I do not get enough of it, I feel miserable. When I do get it, its actual as well as anticipated cessation brings misery. I work hard to attain it, work hard to convince myself it is not worth running after (but can’t really help myself), try hard to put up a brave face when there isn’t enough pleasure, sometimes work hard to run away from pleasure and stay away from it, run headlong into it at other times, find myself angry and disappointed with those who deny me (and others, especially those I love) pleasures I feel I (or they) am/are entitled to or deserve, feel indebted to and dependent upon those things and people from which I expect pleasure, so on and so on. I love pleasure but it does not listen to me. It comes and goes and my use of it as my property brings me much misery. I find that if I cut the hands with which I stole pleasure, pleasure would become, in my eyes, the property of the One who sends it to me as a messenger bearing news. What news does it bear? Well, for one, it lets me know that the one who has made me wants for me pleasure! Pleasure speaks, when I look at it in the name of the One who owns it eternally, creates it and sends some of it to me and makes me love it. It says to me, I am from your maker and with your maker. While the things that carry pleasure go, your maker does not perish and the pleasure that you see as a sample or sign of perfect and eternal pleasure is a much better pleasure than the one that need to be attained through toil and that perishes in a flash. And I say, yes! No mercy has he who tells me to steal it. No mercy has he who does not tell me to cut my hands. Real compassion would ask me to cut the hands with which I use such a precious sign as a stolen property and turn it into my enemy and a source of agony.

I also want to talk about Sadness, Love & Life. I steal those too. I’ll have to come back later.

It is not reasonable in my view to try and give a meaning to theft as it is mentioned in revelation without also asking that same revelation to reveal what real ownership is and then understand theft in light of that idea of ownership. This is what makes sense to me and this is what I understand.

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

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