Earlier today on the Singapore news, a Malay man was sentenced to a year in prison for stealing SGD$32 from the Mosque donation box, you can read more here.
Now, whilst it is sinful to steal as a Muslim from anyone, more so from the house of god, I’d like to pose a question.
Which is better – The man who stole such a meagre amount of money out of desperation to feed his family or a man who spends his entire life begging to feed his family?
In Islam, for one to beg, that person must fulfill a certain set of criteria because Islam forbids its followers to beg.
Whilst I’m not certain of the full list of criteria, here are some Hadith on begging:
“The Prophet stated that it is permitted to ask for something for only three categories of people. They are as follows: the people who are indebted because of acting as a guarantor for a person or a community and cannot pay their debts; people all of whose property was destroyed in a disaster; and people who became destitute and whose poverty is acknowledged by people who know them. It is not regarded permissible for people other than those who have a day’s food and the strength to work for livelihood to beg.”
(Muslim, Zakat, 109)
“Some among you do not ever abandon begging. Finally, on the Day of Resurrection, that dishonorable person will meet Allah with no flesh left on his face.”
(Muslim, Zakat, 103)
“Whoever continues to beg people for their property in order to accumulate much property, surely asks for a piece of fire…”
(Muslim, Zakat, 105).
“It is better for one among you to bring a load of firewood on his back and give charity out of it (and satisfy his own need) and be independent of people, than that he should beg from people, whether they give him anything or refuse him
(Muslim, Zakat, 107)
Clearly from the Hadith above, it evidently shows that begging is not permitted in Islam and giving money to beggars is also something that I’ve never done because the beggars I see in Singapore can stand on two legs, are well-clothed and have strength to walk to the mosque to beg every Friday.
So, what then is Islam’s viewpoint on stealing?
Through what I’ve been taught as a child studying in the Madrasah’s, stealing is an activity which carries a heavy punishment; chopping off the hand that steals. Sounds very cruel indeed as it serves as a deterrence to others not to steal.
And the Quran clearly says it,
“Cut off (from the wrist joint) the (right) hand of the thief, male or female, as a recompense for that which they committed, a punishment by way of example from Allah. And Allah is All-Powerful, All-Wise. ” [5/38]
However, it doesn’t stop there, it goes on to say,
“But whosoever repents after his crime and does righteous good deeds (by obeying Allah), then verily, Allah will pardon him (accept his repentance). Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. “ [5/39]
Now, there is also something which I found in my simple research, “Islam prescribes that a thief’s hand should be cut, but such punishment is never inflicted when there is the slightest doubt that the thief was impelled to crime by hunger.It can only be applied if goods stolen are over a set value and consideration is given to whether this is a first offence or the person is a compulsive thief.” (Source: www.islamicnetwork.com)
In another site I visited, I found a little bit more answers on this:
“Because cutting off the hand is a serious matter, it should not be done for just any case of theft. A combination of conditions must be fulfilled before the hand of a thief is cut off. These conditions are as follows:
1- The thing should have been taken by stealth; if it was not taken by stealth, then the hand should not be cut off, such as when property has been seized by force in front of other people, because in this case the owner of the property could have asked for help to stop the thief.
2- The stolen property should be something of worth, because that which is of no worth has no sanctity, such as musical instruments, wine and pigs.
2- The value of the stolen property should be above a certain limit, which is three Islamic Dirhams or a quarter of an Islamic Dinar, or their equivalent in other currencies.
3- The stolen property should have been taken from a place where it had been put away, i.e., a place where people usually put their property, such as a cupboard, for example.
4- The theft itself has to be proven, either by the testimony of two qualified witnesses or by the confession of the thief twice.
5- The person from whom the property was stolen has to ask for it back; if he does not, then (the thief’s) hand does not have to be cut off.
If these conditions are fulfilled, then the hand must be cut off.”
Stealing and Begging is prohibited in Islam but in the case of the Malay man who stole $32 from the Mosque to feed his family and was imprisoned for a year?
I think that perhaps the Mosque management could have exercised more discretion and perhaps tried to find reasons as to why he resorted to stealing first, knowing it was a house of god and was forbidden. They could have then clarified the situation and offered assistance to him rather than punish him by handing him over to the authorities who have since sentenced him.
If indeed, this Malay man wasn’t lying when he said he stole to feed his family which consisted of a handicapped mother, then who will now look after his family?
NOTE: Do read the follow-up entry on this, click here.