7. Muhammad in his Quran commands that the hands of male or female thieves should be cut off.
5:38 Cut off the hands of thieves, whether they are male or female, as punishment for what they have done—a deterrent from God: God is almighty and wise. 39 But if anyone repents after his wrongdoing and makes amends, God will accept his repentance: God is most forgiving and merciful. (Haleem)
[MAS Abdel Haleem, The Quran, New York: Oxford UP, 2004]
Based on this passage from the Quran and a few anecdotes about Muhammad, Arlandson reached a conclusion about Islam and the Quran:
Thus, harsh and excessive punitive violence sits at the heart of early Islam--in Muhammad's life and in the Quran. Islam is therefore not the religion of peace.
In part IX of this series, I pointed out some important facts that provide some proper historical context for evaluation of Arlandson's conclusion. I reminded Arlandson that the history of Christianity, particularly the history of Europe from the 12th through the 19th centuries, includes a great deal of violence, killing, and torture. I reminded Arlandson of the torturers of the various Inquisitions, and the practice of burning people at the stake, and the use of hanging (which at that time was a cruel and inhumane punishement) to kill thousands of people, often for fairly minor crimes. I reminded Arlandson of the fact that tens of thousands of women were executed for the crime of witchcraft.
I concluded that Arlandson needs to acknowledge the vast quantity of violence, death, and cruelty that Christians in Europe produced for a number of centuries, and during a period in history that was about one thousand years after the time that Muhammad put forward the rule about cutting off a person's hand for the crime of stealing.
There is an obvious response that Arlandson and other Christians might make to my objection:
Christians don't claim to be perfect. We believe that all men are sinners, including Christians. We all fall short of the perfect goodness of God. Given that all are sinners, we also don't claim that Christian countries and societies are perfect or free from sin. Governments and societies can be no better than the people who make them up. Yes, Christians and Christian countries have been involved in violence, cruelty, torture, and unjust and excessive punishments. But the laws and practices of Christian countries do not necessarily reflect the Christian faith and the teachings of the Bible. Whereas, the cruel and violent practice of cutting off the hand of a thief comes straight from Muhammad and the Quran. The cruelty, violence, and injustice that some Christians and Christian countries have been involved in is contrary to the teachings of the Bible, but the cruelty, violence, and injustice of Muslims (at least in this instance) stems from faithfully following the teachings of the Quran.
Such a response attempts to place a wedge between the cruelty, violence, and injustice of Christians in Europe (12th through 19th centuries) and the teachings of the Bible. This response will not work as a defense of Christianity, for the Bible contains rules and teachings that are as bad as, and worse than, the rule in the passage that Arlandson quotes above.
If Allah and the Quran are to be condemned as morally flawed on the basis of the above passage, then Jehovah and the Bible must also be condemned as morally flawed. The cruelty, violence, and injustice of Christians in Europe does NOT contrast with the kindness, peacefulness, and justice of Jehovah, but rather is completely consistent with the cruelty, violence, and inustice of Jehovah in the Bible. Arlandson is simply operating with a double standard.
Not only was the nation of Israel founded on massive genocidal slaughter, but this massive genocidal slaughter was, according to the Bible, the result of the nation of Israel obeying the command of Jehovah to engage in such slaughter of thousands of men, women, teenagers, children, and babies:
But as for the towns of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes in them remain alive. You shall annihilate them--the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites--just as the LORD your God has commanded...
Joshua, the bloodthirsty general of the Israelites, made sure this horrific genocidal command was carried out (at least in some cases):
Joshua said to the people “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city [Jericho]. The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction. …”
So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall [around Jericho] fell down flat; so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it. Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.
They burned down the city, and everything in it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.
(Joshua 6: 16-17, 20-21, 24)
When Moses brought the tablets with the ten commandments down from mount Sinai he found some Israelites worshipping a golden calf, Moses became angry and demanded violence be used to punish the Israelites:
...then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, "Who is on the LORD's side" Come to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. He said to them, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor.'" The sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand of the people fell on that day. Moses said, "Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of a son or a brother, and so have brought a blessing on yourselves this day."
(Exodus 32:26-29, NRSV)
These are just a couple of examples of the violence, cruelty, and excessively harsh punishments promoted by Jehovah and the Bible.
Let's consider a passage from the Bible that appears to be rather similar to the passage that Arlandson quoted from the Quran:
Whoever strikes father or mother shall have the hand that was used to strike the parent cut off.
If a person steals something of significant value, then Muhammad tells us that Allah demands that one hand of the thief be cut off. If a person stikes one of his or her parents, then Moses tells us that Jehovah demands that one hand of the offending child be cut off.
Clearly Allah is cruel and harsh and unjust in demanding that a hand of the thief be cut off, and clearly Jehovah is kind, moderate, and just in demanding that a hand of the child who strikes a parent be cut off. Or so Arlandson would have us believe. But this is idiotic, a clearcut example of using a double standard. If Jehovah demands that the hand of a person be cut off for striking one of his or her parents, then Jehovah is as cruel, violent, and harsh as Allah.
Alternatively, we could cast the blame for these terrible ideas onto Muhammad and Moses, and say that they falsely represented God as commanding these cruel, violent, and harsh punishments. In any case, the objection to Muhammad and the Quran is equally applicable to Moses and the Bible.
Oops! Actually...I lied. The above quotation from Exodus is not accurate. The actual words from this verse are as follows:
Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.
(Exodus 21:15, NRSV)
Jehovah has no desire to have the hand of a child cut off for striking a parent. Rather, Jehovah wants such a child to be killed, to be executed, which in those days meant being stoned to death. That is much better, right? If your child was going to be punished for a crime, you would much rather have your child stoned to death as opposed to having one hand cut off, right? I don't think so.
Most people, if given a choice between these two punishments, would not hesitate to chose to have one hand cut off, rather than to be stoned to death. Thus, the punishment of being "put to death" is even more harsh, more excessive, more unjust than having one hand cut off. If we are to use this passage from the Bible and the above passage from the Quran as the primary information for evaluating the degree of cruelty and harshness of Allah and Jehovah, then Jehovah takes the cake as the MOST cruel and MOST harsh of these two deities.
In short, if we are to conclude that Allah is cruel and harsh on the basis of Surah 5:38, then logical consistency and moral integrity demand that we also conclude that Jehovah is cruel and harsh on the basis of Exodus 21:15.
There is no verse in the Bible that calls for the hand of a thief to be cut off. However, Arlandson fails to mention that there is in fact a Bible passage that does demand the punishment of cutting off a person's hand:
If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and squeezing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.
(Deuteronomy 25:11-12, NRSV)
The words "show no pity" are a good indication of the harshness and cruelty of this punishment, and of the harshness and cruelty of Jehovah.
Suppose that the wife believes that her husband was attacked for no good reason; that the attacker was being cruel, mean, or unfair. Suppose that her husband was being strangled by his attacker, and that her husband was near death from strangulation. She might grab the balls of the man who was choking the life out of her husband out of love for her husband, and out of anger for what she believed to be cruel and unjust violence against her husband. She might do this to save her husband's life, even though this would anger the attacker and put her own life at risk, since the man who attacked her husband might well then turn on her, and begin to choke her to death.
Such love and bravery of a woman who "intervenes to rescue her husband" deserves nothing less than the cruelty and violence of having her hand chopped off. Huh? When you cut off the hand of a thief, at least you are punishing an actual crime with a legitimate victim. For example, if the thief stole a shield from one of Mohammad's soldiers, that soldier might be seriously or even mortally wounded as a result of not having a shield available during battle.
But if you "show no pity" and chop off the hand of any woman who dares put her hand on a man's privates, even if she is doing so out of love and bravery and to save the life of her own husband, then you are not punishing a real crime, you are punishing a good woman for a brave and noble action. Jehovah is one sick bastard; he takes the prize for cruelty and injustice here, when we compare the quoted passage from the Quran with the above passage from the Bible.
Jehovah prescribed death as the punishment for striking a parent, but also as the punishment for cursing a parent:
Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death.
(Exodus 21:17, NRSV)
In the footnotes for this verse in my HarperCollins Study Bible, there is an interesting bit of historical information: "Various ancient Near Eastern laws punish rejection of parents with disinheritance or enslavement." So, apparently Jehovah was not satisfied with the harshness and excessiveness of other Near Eastern laws, and so increased the punishment to death.
Jehovah was rather fond of the death penalty, as we saw in Part VIII of this series, and assigned this as the punishment not only for murder but also for various other (lesser) crimes and misbehaviors:
If a man commits adultery with another man's wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
(Leviticus 20:10, New International Version)
If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.
(Deuteronomy 22:22, New International Version)
In reason number nine, Arlandson condemns the harshness of Allah for punishing adultery with whipping:
9. Muhammad commands in his Quran that adulterers and adulteresses should receive a hundred lashes.
Somehow Arlandson forgot to mention that Jehovah's punishment for adultery was DEATH. Once again, Jehovah takes the prize for being the MOST cruel and the MOST harsh.
The Bible assigns the death penalty for a number of offenses, some that are fairly minor:
- kidnapping (Exodus 21:16)
- working on a Saturday (Exodus 31:14-15 and Numbers 15:32-36)
- lying about being a virgin (Deuteronomy 22: 20-21)
- for blasphemy or cursing god (Leviticus 24:15-16)
- worshipping "any other god" (Deuteronomy 13:6-16 and 17:2-5)
- false prophecy (Deuteronomy 18:20 and 13:1-5)
- having sex with an animal (Exodus 22:19)
- striking your father or mother (Exodus 21:15)
- cursing your father or mother (Exodus 21:17)
- trying to communicate with the dead (Leviticus 20:17)
- a man having sex with another man (Leviticus 20:13)
- being a stubborn and rebelious son (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
Recall from the previous post (Part IX) that Christians in Europe killed tens of thousands of innocent women for the crime of witchcraft:
Over the entire duration of the phenomenon of some three centuries, an estimated total of 40,000 to 100,000 people were executed.
Those Christians were simply faithfully following the teachings of the Bible, and the commands of Jehovah:
You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live.
(Exodus 22:18, NRSV)
So, we can lay part of the blame for tens of thousands of murders of innocent women at the feet of Jehovah (and Moses). Many of the women who were condemned to die for the crime of witchcraft were killed in a horrific way. They were burned to death at the stake.
But as cruel and harsh as Jehovah may be, for demanding death as the punishment for many crimes and misbehaviors, surely we cannot blame Jehovah for this horrific form of torture and execution? Unfortunately, the moral depravity of Jehovah has no bounds, and we can also place at least part of the blame for this horrific form of punishment on Jehovah and the Bible:
When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death.
(Leviticus 21:9, NRSV)
Prostitution is not the same as witchcraft, but both were viewed as "crimes" that women sometimes commit. Prostitution by the daughter of a priest was considered to be an especially bad thing to do, so Jehovah came up with this great idea for an especially harsh punishment. So, not only did Jehovah demand that the crime of witchcraft be punished with death, he also came up with the idea of punishing an especially unacceptable female crime by burning the condemned female to death.
There is another sexual taboo that Jehovah demanded be punished by burning to death the guilty persons:
If a man takes a wife and her mother also [in marriage], it is depravity; they shall be burned to death, both he and they, that there may be no depravity among you.
(Leviticus 20:14, NRSV)
Thus the fine Christian believers of Europe were simply following the commands and the example of Jehovah, when they killed tens of thousands of women for the crime of witchcraft, and executed many of these innocent women by burning them at the stake.
If Arlandson is correct to condemn Islam and the Quran on the basis of the fact that the Quran teaches that the punishment for stealing should be to cut off one hand of the thief, then we are also correct to condemn Christianity and the Bible on the basis of the many passages quoted and refenced in this post, passages that advocate genocide, that advocate the death penalty for striking a parent, the death penalty for cursing a parent, the death penalty for working on a Saturday, the death penalty for sleeping with another man's wife, the death penalty for two men having sex with each other, the death penalty for witchcraft, the death penalty for worshipping the wrong deity, that advocate cutting off the hand of a wife who tries to rescue her husband from an attacker by grabbing the attacker's genitals, and that advocate burning a woman to death for prostitution if she is the daughter of a priest.
To be logically consistent and to maintain our moral integrity, we must follow Arlandson's reasoning to its logical conclusion:
Harsh and excessive punitive violence sits at the heart of the Bible and Christianity.