Surah 5 (Al-Ma’idah/The Table Spread): 38

Cut off the hands of a male or female thief as a punishment for their deed and a lesson for them from God.

God is Majestic and All-wise

The Qur’an’s prescribed sanction for theft is expressed in straightforward terms, fixed by God, with no discretion for a human judge to disapply. Of course, judges must determine what act constitutes a theft (‘sariqa’) and in practice judges have from the earliest records set limits upon the limits set by God. Hadith state that Muhammad instructed that this rule should be applied strictly to anybody who stole an item worth as little as the value of an egg or a rope.


Despite the verse referring to ‘hands’ and making no mention of feet, all four sunni schools of jurisprudence follow the practice that a right hand should be amputated for a first offence and the left foot for a second. Thereafter, the schools differ. Abu Hanifa, from whom developed the most widely followed Islamic school of law which tends to permit the greatest scope for judicial discretion, ruled that no further limbs should be forfeit for third or subsequent offences, which further offending would inevitably become more difficult to carry out with two missing limbs, but the stricter Sha’afi and Hanbali schools, apply no such bar, considering that {5.38} requires that all four limbs may have to be chopped for four consecutive offences.