Skip to main content

Stealing more is better? An economic analysis of Islamic law of theft

Abstract

This study is the first attempt (in the field of Law and Economics) to apply economic analysis to shari’a or Islamic criminal law, in particular, that aspect of the law pertaining to theft. Shari’a imposes two main punishments for theft; hadd, a fixed penalty of amputation of the offender’s right hand under certain conditions and ta’zir, a discretionary punishment, less severe than hadd. From the viewpoint of marginal deterrence and multiplier principles, lesser crimes with low social harm are punished more severely with hadd whereas crimes with high social harm are punished with ta’zir. Moreover, as the probability of detection and sanction is less in those crimes of high social harm, criminals would have more incentive to commit them. Consequently, if Islamic criminal law is to be applied in its current form, crimes of high social cost are likely to become more frequent.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. Peters (2006, pp. 174–181) extensively investigates the incompatibility of Islamic law with Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  2. For a comprehensive examination of the reasons for and consequences of the prevalence of Ash’arite theology, see Reilly (2011).

  3. Conceptualizing constitutionalism from an Islamic perspective, Iqbal (2000, p. 13) states, ‘‘The Islamic constitution has only two important organs, the executive and the judiciary. The third organ i.e., the legislature is not an important feature for the reason that all legislation has already been made by Allah in the qur’an.”

  4. Al-Maktaba Al-Waqfeya, one of the largest online sources of Islamic books, contains only five fiqh books that are not based on the four famous madhahib, see http://www.waqfeya.com/category.php?cid=67 (date of retrieval; 2 December 2014).

  5. Gold-US Dollars conversion was calculated on December 8, 2014 using the goldprice.org website, http://goldprice.org/Calculators/Gold-Price-Calculators.html.

  6. According to Ebert (2011, p. 204), since the time of early Muslims and until the nineteenth century, criminal law in the Islamic world was characterized by the coexistence of Islamic legal rules as interpreted by the different madhahib, on the one hand, and regionally valid norms with an urban, rural, or Bedouin background, on the other. Hadd punishments were legitimized and constantly practiced. Structured according to the Napoleonic code of 1810, the Ottoman criminal code of 1858, which was also applied in Egypt starting in 1863, put aside Islamic criminal punishments (Yilmaz 2005, p. 90).

  7. It should be noted that this study does not project any ethical predisposition or judgments on Islamic criminal law. We also do not intend to normatively compare between the “modern-humane” western legal institutions and the “archaic-brutal” Islamic laws.

  8. Both the assumptions and the behavioral predictions of Becker’s rational choice theory have sparked considerable criticism (see, for example, Green and Shapiro 1994; Parisi and Smith 2005). However, our analysis is based on the assumption of rationality of actors. Islamic penal code is applied only in the case of rationality and sanity of offenders, thus no hadd is applied where the offender is insane or suffering from mental disorders de jure. As Kleptomania, for example, is considered a type of impulse control disorder, a kleptomaniac should not be punished under Islamic criminal law. Nevertheless, according to the Roshdy (2013), such a disorder is not considered a breach of sanity under Islamic criminal law, de facto. Consequently, hadd is applied even in the case of irrationality.

  9. Although there are some Islamic legal views arguing that pick pocketing is a ta’zir crime, Majority of Islamic scholars consider pick pocketing a hadd crime. Some Muslim-majority countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, punish pick pocketing by hadd punishment.

  10. Islamweb.net is one of the most popular Islamic websites, with 70 million visitors in 2011. In 2007, the site was recognized by a World Summit Award, a prize recognizing the best in e-content from around the world, as issued by the United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society. In 2014, Islamweb.net library amounted to 140,970 fatwas, 37,143 consultations, and 203,352 Islamic audio files (Qatari Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs 2014).

  11. Although prohibition of slavery is currently an international norm to which most, if not all, states in the world are committed, slavery continues to be lawful under Islamic law. For more on this, see An-Na’im (1990).

  12. Apps (2011) states that the insurance sector worldwide began writing ‘Kidnap & Ransom’ policies in the late 1970s. Such insurance policies currently generate yearly premiums of nearly $500 million.

  13. The setup of Islamic criminal law resembles to a great extent that of Roman law. Consequently, this line of economic analysis is similar to that offered by Garoupa and Gomez (2008).

  14. Based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Islamic Fiqh Academy is an international body of Muslim experts on subjects of both religious and secular knowledge. It was created at the behest of the second summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 1974 and inaugurated in February 1981.

  15. II Samuel 12:13–18.

References

  • Abdul Hye, M. (1963). Chapter 11: Ash’arism. In M. M. Sharif (Ed.), A history of Muslim philosophy (pp. 220–243). Wiesbaden: Pakistan Philosophical Congress.

    Google Scholar 

  • Akers, R. L. (2000). Criminological theories: Introduction, evaluation, and application. USA: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Al-Bahoti, M. Y. (1997). Kashaaf al-kenaa’ an matn al-iknaa’ [Mask revealer of ‘Iknaa’ text]. Beirut: Dar Al-Fikr.

    Google Scholar 

  • Al-Darmi, A. (2000). Sunan al-darimi. (H. S. Al-Darani, Ed.) Cairo: Dar Al-Moghni lel Nashr wal Tawzee’.

  • Al-Gawaany, M. N., & Al-Issawy, N. A. (2009). Men mazaher al-rahma bel-jonah enda estyfaa al-hodod fe al-shareaa al-Islamiya (Aspects of mercy when applying Hudud in Islamic Shari’a). Majalat Jameaat Al-anbar lel olom al-Islamiya (Al-Anbar University Journal of Islamic Sciences), 1(1), 153–195.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ali, J. (2001). Al-Mufasal fe Tarikh Al-Arab Kabl Al-Islam [Detailed history of Pre-Islamic Arabic] (4th ed., Vol. II). Beirut: Dar Al-Saqi.

    Google Scholar 

  • Al-Masha’al, F. A. (2007). Nissab al-sariqa wa makaderoh al-moa’asera [Theft Nissab and its contemporary measurements]. Al-Adl, 36, 71–126.

    Google Scholar 

  • Al-Mursi, K.-A.-D. A. (1999). Al-hudud al-shariya fe al-deen al-islami [The legal hudud in Islam]. Alexandria: Dar Al-Ma’refa Al-Jameiya.

    Google Scholar 

  • An-Na’im, A. A. (1990). Towards an Islamic reformation: civil liberties, human rights, and international law. New York: Syracuse University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Apps, P. (2011, February 17). Kidnap and ransom: negotiating lives for cash. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from Reuters.com: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/17/us-crime-kidnap-ransom-idUSTRE71G3U520110217.

  • Becker, G. (1968). Crime and punishment: An economic approach. The Journal of Political Economy, 76(2), 169–217.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bhala, R. (2011). Understanding Islamic law. Danvers: MA, LexisNexis.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bukhari, M. I. (1996). Sahih al-Bukhari (Vol. VIII). (M. M. Khan, Trans.) Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers & Distributors.

  • Ebert, H.-G. (2011). Developments in Law. In U. Steinbach & W. Ende (Eds.), Islam in the world today: A handbook of politics, religion, culture, and society (pp. 193–220). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • El-Awa, M. S. (1983). Fe osol al-nezam al-gena’i al-islami [On the origins of the Islamic criminal system]. Cairo: Dar Al-Maa’ref.

    Google Scholar 

  • El-Awa, M. S. (1993). Punishment in Islamic law: a comparative study. Plainfield: American Trust Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • El-Bialy, N., & Gouda, M. (2011). Can shari’a be a deterrent for intellectual property piracy in Islamic countries? The Journal of World Intellectual Property, 14(6), 441–466.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fletcher, G. P. (2000). Rethinking criminal law. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Forte, D. F. (1985). Islamic law and the crime of theft. Cleveland State Law Review, 34(47), 47–67.

    Google Scholar 

  • Garoupa, N. (2012). An economic analysis of criminal law. In A. Hatzis (Ed.), Economic Analysis of Law: A European Perspective. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Garoupa, N., & Gomez, F. (2008). Paying the price for being caught: The economics of manifest and non-manifest theft in Roman Law. Review of Law & Economics, 4(1), 1–23.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Green, D. P., & Shapiro, I. (1994). Pathologies of rational choice theory: A critique of applications in political science. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hallaq, W. B. (1984). Was the gate of ijtihad closed? International Journal of Middle East Studies, 16(1), 3–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hefner, R. W. (2011). Introduction-Shari’a Politics: Law and society in the modern world. In R. W. Hefner (Ed.), Shari’a politics: Islamic law and society in the modern world (pp. 1–54). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hosny, M. N. (2006). Al-fiqh al-gena’e al-islami [The Islamic criminal fiqh]. Cairo, Unpublished Manuscript.

  • Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, M. A. (1968). I’laam ul muwaqqi’een ‘an rabb al-’aalameen [The Instruction of the signatories about God of worlds] (Vol. II). (T. A. Saad, Trans.) Cairo: Maktabek Al-Koleyat Al-Azhariya.

  • Ibn Qudama, A. (1984). Al-moghni ala mokhtasar Al-kherki [The sufficient on Al-kharki’s outline]. Beirut: Dar Al-Fikr.

    Google Scholar 

  • Iqbal, J. (2000). The concept of state in Islam: A reassessment. Pakistan: Iqbal Academy Pakistan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Islamic Fiqh Academy. (2000). Resolutions and recommendations of the Council of Islamic Fiqh Academy. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Islamic Research and Training Institute-Islamic Development Bank.

    Google Scholar 

  • Islamweb. (2003). Fatwa no. 36015-Islamic ruling regarding stealing ancient artifacts. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from Islamweb.net: http://fatwa.islamweb.net/fatwa/index.php?page=showfatwa&Option=FatwaId&Id=36015.

  • Kahan, D. (1996). What do alternative sanctions mean? Chicago Law Review, 63, 591–653.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kaplow, L., & Shavell, S. (1994). Optimal law enforcement with self-reporting behavior. Journal of Political Economy, 102(3), 583–606.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kuran, T. (2005). The absence of the corporation in islamic law: Origins and persistence. The American Journal of Comparative Law, 53(4), 785–834.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levmore, S. (1986). Rethinking comparative law: Variety and uniformity in ancient and modern tort law. Tulane Law Review, 61(2), 235–288.

    Google Scholar 

  • Malik, A. (1990). Avoidance, screening and optimum enforcement. Rand Journal of Economics, 21(1990), 341–353.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miller, G. P. (2010). Economics of ancient law. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Nisbett, R. E., & Cohen, D. (1996). Culture of honor. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Niv, M. B. (2014). Regulating theft-lesson from Biblical Law. Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, 16, 71–113.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nyazee, I. A. (1998). Islamic law of business organization corporations. Islamabad, Pakistan: Islamic Research Institute Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • One Law for All. (2010). Sharia law in Britain: A threat to one law for all and equal rights. London: One Law for All.

    Google Scholar 

  • Palmer, J. P., & Henderson, J. (1998). The economics of cruel and unusual punishment. European Journal of Law and Economics, 5, 235–245.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Parisi, F. (2001). The genesis of liability in ancient law. American Law and Economics Review, 3(1), 50–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Parisi, F., & Smith, V. (2005). The law and economics of irrational behavior. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Peters, R. (2006). Crime and punishment in Islamic law: Theory and practice from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Pew Research Center. (2010). Most embrace a role for Islam in politics-Muslim publics divided on Hamas and Hezbollah. Washington, D.C.: Global Attitudes Project, Pew Research Center.

    Google Scholar 

  • Polinsky, A. M., & Shavell, S. (2000). The economic theory of public enforcement of law. Journal of Economic Literature, 38(1), 45–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Posner, E. A. (2000). Law and social norms. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Qatari Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs. (2014, October 1). Islamweb reaches 68 million visitors (in Arabic). Retrieved December 12, 2014, from Qatari Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs: http://www.islam.gov.qa/Article.aspx?id=7468&cnt=2&lf=177.

  • Ramadan, H. M. (2006). Larceny offenses in Islamic law. Michigan State Law Review, 2006, 1609–1640.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rasmusen, E. (1996). Stigma and self-fulfilling expectations of criminality. Journal of Law and Economics, 39, 519–543.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reilly, R. R. (2011). The closing of the muslim mind: How intellectual suicide created the modern islamist crisis. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • Roshdy, Y. (2013). Questions in Hudud of Theft. Retrieved December 11, 2014, from YouTube Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FahNa1Yd6NU.

  • Rubin, J. (2011). Institutions, the rise of commerce and the persistence of laws: Interest restrictions in Islam and Christianity. Economic Journal, 121(557), 1310–1339.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sabek, E. (1971). Fiqh Alsunna [The jurisprudence of Sunna]. Beirut: Dar Al-Fikr for printing, publishing and distribution.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sedki, A.-R. (1987). Al-jarima wa al-o’koba fe al-shari’a al-islamiya [Crime and punishment in Islamic Shari’a]. Cairo: Maktabat Al-Nahda Al-Masriya.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shavell, S. (1992). A note on marginal deterrence. International Review of Law and Economics, 12, 345–355.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Steel, A. (2008). Taking possession: The defining element of theft? Melbourne University Law Review, 32, 1030–2064.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stigler, G. J. (1974). The optimum enforcement of laws. In G. S. Becker & W. M. Landes (Eds.), Essays in the economics of crime and punishment (pp. 55–67). New York: National Bureau of Economic Research.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stilt, K. (2012). Islamic law in action: Authority, discretion, and everyday experiences in Mamluk Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Tyler, T. R. (2006). Why people obey the law. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vogel, F. E. (2000). Islamic law and legal system: Studies of Saudi Arabia (Studies in Islamic Law and Society). Leiden: Brill.

    Google Scholar 

  • Walbridge, J. (2010). God and logic in Islam: The caliphate of reason. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Wehr, H. (1976). Dictionary of modern written Arabic. (J. M. Cowan, Ed.) Beirut: Librarie du Liban.

  • Yilmaz, I. (2005). Muslim laws, politics and society in modern nation states. Hants, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zidan, A. K. (1969). Al-madkhal le derasat al-sharia al-islamiya [Introduction to the study of Islamic Sharia]. Alexandria, Egypt: Dar Omar Bin Al-Khattab.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Jennifer Arlen, Nora El-Bialy, Matthias Dauner, Shubha Ghosh, Joseb Gudiashvili, Jerg Gutmann, Osman B. Gürzumar, Kareem Madkour, Alain Marciano, Cherie Metcalf, Giovanni Ramello, Shan Aman Rana, Jared Rubin, Ulrike Schillinger, Andrey E Shastitko, Henry E. Smith, and Stefan Voigt for their helpful comments and suggestions. Special thanks for Shima’a Hanafy, Anna Klabunde, Helmut Leipold, Volker Robeck, and Elisabeth Schulte for revising an earlier draft. My sincere gratitude goes to Hans-Bernd Schäfer for his great effort and suggestions. I also thank the participants at the 2012 European School of New Institutional Economics (ESNIE) in Corsica, the 16th Annual conference of the International Society for the New Institutional Economics (ISNIE) in Los Angeles, the 8th Italian Society of Law and Economics Annual conference in Rome, the 2013 Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture (ASREC) meeting in Washington for their helpful comments, as well as the 2014 International Law and Economics conference organized by Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. The author acknowledges financial support from the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Research Fund. The usual disclaimer applies. The author acknowledges financial support from the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Research Fund.

Conflict of interest

The author declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Human and Animal Rights statement

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Moamen Gouda.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Gouda, M. Stealing more is better? An economic analysis of Islamic law of theft. Eur J Law Econ 42, 103–128 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10657-015-9499-7

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10657-015-9499-7

Keywords

  • Islam
  • Criminal law
  • Economics of crime
  • Deterrence
  • Hadd
  • Ta’zir
  • Shari’a
  • Theft

JEL classification

  • K14
  • Z12
  • P40
  • K00