The Punishment for Adultery as Prescribed in Islam
By: Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi
The book “Burhan al-Qur’an” examines the punishment for adultery as prescribed in Islam keeping in mind the factors of human desires and sexual feeling, Islam has also enunciated the easiest ways of satisfying sexual desires and fulfilling sensual feelings. It has ordered its followers to marry at the beginning of puberty. It is the most recommended way.
The book also describes the punishment prescribed in Islam for adultery. It also discusses the way of life recommended by Islam which; if followed strictly; would minimise or even eradicate the practice of illicit relationships.
The Holy Prophet (S) says:
“Marriage is my practice. One who forsakes this practice of mine is not from me.”
The rules and regulations of marriage in Islam are simple so that there are no encumbrances in finalising a marriage. An Islamic government is bound to provide financial support to the unmarried people who are unable to marry because of poverty. In this way, youthful passions and desires are contained and illicit relationships are minimised. In order to eradicate this evil, Islam directs us to fulfill a social as well as a spiritual code of conduct. At the social level it is obligatory for those more fortunate amongst us to fulfill the needs of the less privileged.
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The wealthy amongst us are duty bound to take care of the financial needs of the poor. It is likewise obligatory to make a sustained and dedicated effort to educate the people for both social welfare and spiritual upliftment. Islam expects every individual to help the members of the community in whichever manner he can. The philosophy of Islam, if adhered to, can ensure the removal of poverty and ignorance which in turn ensures the removal of envies, perversion and illicit and illegal affairs associated with these. With an early marriage, the basic material needs of man are taken care of and an individual is well equipped to resist getting involved in degrading acts like adultery.
Self-control is further strenthened by practicing the laws of Islam which are encoded at the spiritual level. Islam has defined some acts of worship as obligatory. Our Holy Prophet (S) and our Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) have taught us and guided us to innumerable recommended acts of worship like mustahab fasts, Mustahab prayers and Etekaf. Every prayer essentially refines a person’s character and raises him to greater heights of nobility. By earnestly keeping up prayers and fasts, an individual can strengthen his inner resources and develop his spiritualism. Such an individual will have the power to exercise control over his passions and natural instincts and will not stoop to commit adultery which is declared as a Greater sin by his religion.
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Islam prescribes very strict and severe laws of punishment for the wrong doers. This is necessary. It is only the severity of a law that compels average individuals to abide by it. But, however severe the punishments prescribed in Islam may be, they are always tempered by Allah (S.w.T.)’s Mercy and Compassion. Hadd (punishment) for adultery can only be executed if there are four just witnesses who have seen the sin being committed with their own eyes. Obviously the worldly punishment can be given only to those who publicly and shamelessly behave like beasts. It is truly amazing that even for such loathsome behaviour, Islam orders leniency in punishment. For example, only a married person who commits adultery is to be stoned to death. The punishment for an unmarried person is a hundred lashes.
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The present day youth is caught in the mire of economic and moral decline. They are mentally disturbed and unstable. They believe it is advantageous to avoid the bonds and responsibilities of marriage and satisfy their natural needs with illicit relationships.
Undoubtedly, these problems have arisen because we do not implicitly practice the code of conduct as laid down by Shari’a and we do not fully implement the rules and regulations as defined in Islam. Had there been an Islamic government, it would have endeavored to eradicate this immorality from the society by providing the basic needs to the poor and facilities for an early marriage.
An Islamic government would strictly ban pornography, bars, night clubs etc., all of which arouse sexual desires in people and lure them to indecencies and indiscrimination. Islam prohibits all activities that excite passions and promote shameful and degrading behaviour.
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The strict laws of punishment in Islam should not lead us to think that Islam only wishes to punish the wrong doers. Its laws are designed to rid the society of all evil. In fact, Islam takes a very compassionate view of sinners. On the one hand, the stern orders of punishment are strictly regulated so no injustice is done in carrying them out. On the other hand, Islam outlines a code of social obligation that creates an atmosphere of joy and dignity for all. No one in an Islamic society would be compelled by helplessness and desperation into bad conduct. It is a pity and our misfortune that we fail to implement fully our social obligations.
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Islam has not ignored the punishment for the wrong-doers. Punishment is prescribed for sins in order that law and order are maintained in the society. Hadd (punishment) for adultery is prescribed only when a person performs this act shamelessly and openly, in the presence of four just witnesses. He defiles the chastity of some women and satisfies his beastly desires in the worst manner. Islam orders the punishment only when four just witnesses state that they have witnessed the actual act with their own eyes. Islam punishes the fornicator when he plays with the honour of the society. It is surprising that even in this case, Islam has been lenient with the wrong doers to a great extent. If the adulterer is unmarried a hundred lashes is his punishment. Stoning to death is only for that sinner who has a legal wife and indulges in this serious crime only to give vent to his lewdness.
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It is necessary to mention this remarkable fact. In today’s world, the youth is having such a state of mind that due to the economics and morals of the society they try to escape from the bonds of marriage and are attracted towards sexual perversions.
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It is true that our youth is involved in economic difficulties and moral problems. But what is the root of this problems? A simple answer to this is that Islamic rules and regulations are not being followed and are not being put into practice. If the Islamic laws are fully implemented we would remain safe from immorality. If there had been an Islamic government it would have endeavoured to eradicate the lewdness and immorality from society. It would have provided the means of an early marriage. It would have also endeavoured to provide the basic necessities to the common people. It would save its youth, who are its future, from falling into the abyss of destruction.
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If the Islamic government is in power, such things like shameful films, pornographic magazines, bars and night clubs would not have any existence because these things arouse the sexual desires. The Islamic law prohibits all such activities that promote sins and evils. In Islamic society, the youth is not compelled to remain celibate due to such created problems. Rather, such an atmosphere and society is created wherein all the people spend their life with chastity and dignity. Islam is not only for punishing the people. Its laws are designed to rid the society of all evils.
For this very reason, Islamic law first takes into consideration the condition and helplessness of the fornicator, and only then does it prescribe the punishment. The fornicators are divided into seven groups and different penalties are fixed for them.
1) Stoning to death.
2) Stoning and lashes - both.
3) A hundred lashes and exile from the city after shaving the head.
4) Fifty lashes.
5) Seventy five lashes.
6) “Zighas”- it means picking up the lash many times to hit once.
7) The penalty of Fornication and fine - both.
Here, we shall describe the legal rulings, according to jurisprudence and traditions, for the information of our respected readers.
1) In order to establish the crime of adultery, four just male witnesses are required or Three just male and two just female witnesses or two just male and four just female witnesses. If two just male witnesses and four just female witnesses state that they have witnessed the act, and if the sinner or the fornicator does not have a legal wife, or the fornicator woman does not have a legal husband, than they are not stoned to death. They are only given a hundred lashes each.
2) All the witnesses must testify that the crime had occurred at one and the same place.
3) All the witnesses must testify that the crime had occurred at the same time.
4) All the witnesses must testify in the same sitting.
5) If four just people quote the testimony of four just witnesses it is not sufficient.
6) If four just witnesses testify that a certain woman has committed fornication, their testimony shall not be accepted if they are not familiar with this woman since they do not know her and it could be that she is the legal wife of that man.
7) If three of the four witnesses testify and the fourth one refrains from testifying, or if his testimony differs from the previous Three witnesses, the three witnesses who have testified shall be punished for ‘qazaf’ (defaming a chaste man or woman of adultery).
8) If the fornicator confesses his crime thrice, but refrains from the fourth confession, he cannot be punished. For a penalty to be lawful, it is necessary to confess four times.
9) He must make four confessions in four different sittings. He cannot be penalised if he makes four confessions in one sitting.
10) It is not permitted for the Judge to goad the accused to confess. He must also not be prompted to complete sentences (that is, words must not be put into his mouth). The Judge must try to maintain purity, chastity and dignity among the common people and must try his utmost that the crime of adultery is not proved. The Judge must try to give such suggestions to the accused that he may be able to save himself from the penalty by falling into doubts and uncertainties. It is also the duty of the Judge to encourage the accused to plead innocence.
11) When a married man confesses of adultery four times but later pleads innocence, the penalty of stoning will not be imposed upon him. His punishment shall be reduced.
12) A new convert to Islam who is unaware of the punishment shall not be punished.
13) If the adulterer is unmarried and he is suffering from some illness, the jurist is authorised to beat him with a broom of twigs or a branch of the date palm. He should consider these as lashes. He could also beat him with a branch or broom and consider each of its twig equivalent to one lash.
14) The lashing should be so controlled that the flesh of the body is not affected. The accused can only be punished when he has committed the crime willingly. (If someone is forced to commit fornication, penalty cannot be imposed upon them ).
15) If a man mistakes a woman to be his legal wife and has sexual intercourse with her, then he cannot not be punished.
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This is thus the detailed analysis of the laws prescribed by the all Beneficent and the all Merciful Allah (S.w.T.), who knows His creatures very well. He has prescribed such regulated punishments for a serious sin like fornication. Now we shall quote a tradition that proves the extent to which the saints of Allah (S.w.T.) strived to protect the dignity of the people. How much precaution they took in passing a decree of fornication.
In the time of the rule of Umar a woman came to him and confessed of adultery. She also said, “Please impose the penalty of fornication upon me.”
When Umar heard this, he ordered that the penalty of fornication be executed upon this woman. ‘Ali (a.s.) happened to be there and was surprised at this. He said, “Umar, inquire from this woman the conditions when she had committed fornication.”
The woman explained, “I was extremely thirsty in the desert. When I went far in search of water, I sighted a black tent which belonged to an Arab. I approached him and asked for water. But he refused to give me any water without my having adultery with him. I did not agree to his devilish desires and ran away into the desert. My eyes became sunken and I felt as if each of my bones were breaking. I returned to this man and in exchange of a drink of water I gave my body to him.”
‘Ali (a.s.) said,
“It is this compulsion which is mentioned in the ayat,
‘...But whoever is compelled by hunger, in inclining willfully to sin, then surely Allah is Forgiving Merciful,’
(Surah al-Mā’ida 5:3).
This woman is not at all guilty of the crime.”
Then Imam (a.s.) ordered for her release and she was released.
Adultery is the root of degradation of society in the world and eternal punishment in the hereafter. Islam has therefore prescribed some obligatory rules for our protection. Allah (S.w.T.), in His unsurpassed wisdom made these rules incumbent upon us. If these rules are obeyed, the Muslims can protect themselves from such a serious sin.
1. The Order for Hijab in the Qur’an
The Holy Qur’an has ordered women to cover themselves in some situations.
“And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appear thereof. And let them wear their head coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments...”
(Surah an-Nūr 24:31)
It is also mentioned in Surah al-Ahzāb,
“O Prophet! Say to your wives and daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their over garments, this will be more proper, that they may be known and thus they will not give trouble. And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”
(Surah al-Ahzāb 49:59)
In the same chapter, Allah (S.w.T.) says:
“O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other of the women, if you will be on your guard, then be not soft in (your) speech, lest he whose heart has a disease yearn and speak a good word.”
(Surah al-Ahzāb 49:32)
Another verse states,
“And when you ask them (the wives of the Prophet) any goods, ask of them from behind a curtain, this is purer for your hearts and (for) their hearts.”
(Surah al-Ahzāb 49:53)
In the above verses, the Muslim woman is ordered to veil herself. She must not come before non-mahram without Hijab. She should dress in such a manner that strange men do not get an opportunity to glance at those parts of her body which arouse passion; and thus make her an object of desire. It is the responsibility of a woman to assume such poise and behaviour that she does not excite a man’s passions. Even a glance of lust can infatuate a man and a seemingly harmless encounter eventually lead to mischief and corruption in society, destroying entire families.
In Iran, during the rule of the Shah when the law of Hijab had been revoked, the cases of fornication increased sharply. Every day many cases related to sexual crimes were heard in the courts of law. Every month many married mothers used to forsake their homes to enter into a perverse life of illicit sex. Five thousand such parents established a new township outside the city of Tehran. The condition steadily deteriorated and came to a stage that every day approximately seven infants were found abandoned in the streets of Tehran, as reported by the commissioner.
It is obvious that illicit children born as a result of fornication, whose parentage is not established, cannot create a position for themselves and are a burden to society. Due to the absence of Hijab, adultery and fornication became common and thousands of chaste women become immoral. One of the highly effective ways of protecting the society from the sin of adultery is that women wear hijab and ward off the evil glances of sensuous men.
2. Looking at the Non-mahram
The women are also ordered not to look at non-mahram men, and the men are similarly warned.
It is ordered in Surah an-Nūr,
“Say to the believing men that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts; that is purer for them; surely Allah is aware of what they do.”
(Surah an-Nūr 24:30)
The Poisonous Arrow of Satan
It is narrated from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.):
“An evil glance is one of the poisonous arrows of Satan. Many of such glances becomes a cause of prolonged jealousy.”