When, if ever, is stealing justified in your faith?

06/14/2014 12:00 AM

06/12/2014 9:33 AM

Stealing in all forms is morally harmful

Arvind Khetia, Hindu engineer with Interfaith Council: Like all negative impulses of the mind, the habit of stealing results from greed, selfishness and discontent. Stealing has a corrosive effect on one’s moral character and consequently makes one’s spiritual aspirations ineffective.

Stealing takes many forms, from small thefts with limited karmic consequences, to “stealing” Earth’s natural resources to satisfy our unlimited desires, producing far-reaching karmic consequences, such as climate change. Corporations not paying their workers a fair wage also is a form of stealing.

To restrain one’s unethical attitude and cultivate moral aspiration, sage Patanjali of ancient India in his “Yoga Sutras” defines the moral disciplines necessary for fostering inner restraint as Yama, and the disciplines necessary for cultivating good habits as Niyama.

Yamas include nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, control of physical desires and not-receiving of gifts (a bribe). Niyamas include purity of body and mind, contentment, austerities, reflecting on sacred teachings and devotion for God. Patanjali asserts that without following these disciplines there cannot be true spiritual progress.

Also, the Upanishads (spiritual texts of Hinduism) teach us that, “Whatever exists in this ever-changing universe should be viewed as pervaded by the Divine. So enjoy everything, but without any desire to possess another’s wealth.”

When we recognize the significance of this teaching, we will see the importance of “non-stealing” and “contentment” and abstain from stealing in all its forms.

There is an ethical precept in the Mahabharata, one of the epic poems of Hinduism, that states, “Doing good to others is conducive to merit, while harming others in any way is contributive to demerit.” Therefore, the morally harmful action of stealing, in all its forms, can never be justified.

Seek to solve the reasons for theft

Mohamed Kohia, Muslim Rockhurst University professor: Stealing is forbidden in Islam, according to the Qur’an, Sunnah (the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad) and Ijma (scholarly consensus).

God has condemned this action and decreed an appropriate punishment for it, which can be as severe as amputating the thief’s hand from the wrist down (5:38). Because this is a serious punishment, it is not done for just any case of theft. There are several stipulations, and a combination of conditions must be fulfilled.

Certain people are pardoned from punishment, such as a needy person (applicable to hunger in the case of edibles). In that case, he or she is not considered a thief. But if the person takes more than that (to eat later or to sell), that is considered stealing.

It should be understood that Islam emphasizes solving the problem of poverty before applying punishment for stealing. The system of Zakat (purification) is designed to solve the problems of the poor. A fixed percent of the wealth from the rich is to be taken and given directly to the poor.

The prophet of Islam teaches that this Zakat is not a mercy from the wealthy but is a right of the poor. Only after suggesting the solution for poverty does the Qur'an start talking about the punishment for stealing.

Also, three categories of people are exempt from the legal punishments: a confused person, an insane person and a child.

The reason for punishment in Islam is not to cause a lot of disabled people but to create an environment where the stealing itself will not happen. If the thief is left unpunished, his corruption will spread and infect the community.

One very important concept that Islam emphasizes is fairness and justice even during the application of punishment. The prophet called for the nobleman to be treated no different from the ordinary person, saying: “By Allah, if Fatima the daughter of Muhammad were to steal, Muhammad would cut off her hand.”

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