The Islamic Ruling Concerning the Criminal Act of Zina
[Adultery & Fornication]
by Bilal Dannoun
All praise is due to Allah, the One who said: “ And do not come near to the unlawful sexual intercourse…”(1) And peace and blessings of Allah be upon His slave and Messenger Muhammad, who said: “When a person commits zina, Imaan (faith) leaves him, until it is like a cloud over his head…”(2) Undoubtedly, all Muslims have some knowledge of the prohibition of Adultery and fornication, however we are living in a western society whereby this crime has become widespread and commonly accepted. This acceptable crime has even crept into some of the Muslim homes, to the extent we find those who are proud to see their son entering the house with a girl accompanying them. This article will define what is considered as adultery and fornication in Islam, its punishment, marriage to one who commits it, repentance, and how to protect yourself from it.
In today’s English, the word used for a married person who engages in unlawful sexual intercourse is adultery; the single person who engages in sexual intercourse is fornication. Unlike English, Arabic has only one word for both cases – zina. Throughout the history of the religions, zina has been prohibited, however its prohibition is more emphatic and forceful, and is regarded as one of the gravest sins of all the major sins in Islam. Over fourteen hundred years ago, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) prophesied that from amongst the signs of the Day of Judgement is the prevalence of illegal sexual intercourse.(3) Imaam Adh-Dhahabi in his book ‘The Major Sins’, placed zina as the tenth major sin out of the seventy mentioned by him. However, we see in the following hadiths that zina is more likely ranked as the second major sin in Islam. The Prophet (s.a.w) said: “There is no sin after shirk (polytheism) greater in the eyes of Allah than a drop of semen which a man places in the womb which is not lawful for him.”(4) Thus we find that zina was mentioned after the two grave sins of shirkand murder. A person has committed zina if they voluntarily and deliberately perform sexual intercourse with other than one’s spouse. The act of zina has taken place when the full insertion of a male’s sexual organ has been inserted inside a female’s vagina, regardless of the number of times or whether contraception was used, such as a condom or separator between the couples organs.
A person is convicted of zina by any one or more of the following ways: The first one is that the zaani (fornicator or adulterer) makes a confession, without going back on their word until they are awarded the punishment. If at some stage they retract their confession, they must not be subjected to any penal punishment. The second way a person can be convicted of zina is by four reliable and pious men testifying that they witnessed the sexual act. Each man must testify that he actually saw the male sexual organ inserted into the female’s vagina. This stringent condition is to protect innocent Muslims and to block the road for those who want evil to spread amongst the Muslim society. As for the third way a person may be convicted of adultery, this is when a woman who has neither husband nor master is found pregnant.
Punishment for zina in this life
There are definite penal punishments known as hadd or hudood (plural) which have been mentioned in the Qur’an and the Sunnah concerning those who engage in the criminal act. The following conditions must be fulfilled before the hadd is applied: 1. The offender must be sane; 2. They must be Muslim; 3. They have reached the age of puberty; 4. They must be free and not a slave. The Qur’anic injunctions with regards to those commit zina were revealed gradually, that is, bit by bit. The wisdom behind this was to make these injunctions easily acceptable to the new converts of Islam who were deeply engaged in zina during the days of Jaahiliyah (ignorance). The first revelation concerning the punishment of zina was that a woman guilty of zina was to be confined to their home until she died(5). The second revelation covered both men and women and was a little specific regarding punishment(6). Allah (s.w.t) then revealed: “The woman and the man guilty of illegal sexual intercourse, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day…”(7) The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) clarified this injunction by saying: “Take from me; Allah has made a decree for them. A virgin (committing zina) with a virgin: one hundred lashes (for each) and exiling for year (for the man). And a married (committing zina) with a married: one hundred lashes and stoning.”(8)
Difference of opinion exists among Muslim jurists concerning the combining of both stoning and lashing. The correct opinion (and Allah knows best) is that which the majority of the scholars have agreed to, and that is, the one who is to be punished by stoning should not be lashed. This is what has been mentioned by the two caliphs ‘Umar and ‘Uthman; Ibn Mas ‘ud also holds the same view. Hence an unmarried person guilty of fornication is to be lashed one hundred times according to the above verse in addition to banishment for one year in the case of a man. There are also different opinions regarding the exiling of women. Those who hold the opinion that a woman should not be exiled argue that a woman is weaker than a man, and that she needs protection that may not be available for her if she is banished. Those who favor banishment base their opinion on the Prophet’s general wording of the hadith, which does not exclude women from being exiled.
The penal punishment of a married adulterer under Islamic jurisdiction is by stoning to death, as per the preceding hadith and other hadiths. Ibn Mus ‘ud (r.a) reported that Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w) said: “The blood of a Muslim, who testifies that there is no (true) god except Allah and that I am Allah’s Messenger, does not become permissible except for one of three acts: a married person who commitszina, one soul for another (killed) soul, and a man who abandons his deen (religion) and departs from the Jamaa ‘ah (of Muslims).”(9) The Prophet (s.a.w) applied stoning to a number of people during his time. Maa ‘iz bin Maalik is one of them as per the hadith collected by Bukhari, Muslim and others; another person stoned to death was the woman from the Ghamid tribe who came to the Prophet (s.a.w) demanding him to purify her from her sin.(10)
Know that punishment for the crime of zina acts an atonement of this sin. The Prophet (s.a.w) said regarding the woman from Ghamid who was stoned to death: “She has repented such a repentance that, were it to be divided among seventy of Madina’s residents it would cover them. Have you seen a better repentance than her giving away herself for Allah.”(11) The idea behind the harsh and severe punishment does not contradict with the spirit of Islam, actually it serves as a deterrent to the society. It protects a person’s family, lineage, and spread of moral decadence and diseases in society. When people realise the graveness of the sin, and that its punishment is most humiliating and painful, very few of them would dare to approach it.
Punishment of zina in the hereafter
The punishment of those who die without repenting from zina begins in their grave. In a long hadith, Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w) related a dream in which he saw two men accompanying him (Jibreel and Maalik), showing him how a number of sinners were being punished in al-Barzakh (life between death and Judgement day). The Prophet (s.a.w) said: “…We proceeded until we came across a hole in the ground that resembled a baking pit, narrow at the top and wide at the bottom. Babbling and voices were issuing from it. We looked in and saw naked men and women. Underneath the pit was a raging fire; whenever it flared up, the men and women screamed and rose with it until they almost fell out of the pit. As it subsided, they returned (to the bottom). I said: ‘Who are these?’ They said: ‘…As for the naked men and women who were in the pit, they are men and women who indulge in zina…”(12) In a similar narration Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w) said: “We moved on until I saw people who were awfully swollen, and had the most foul stench, their stench was like that of the sewers. I asked: ‘Who are these?’ They replied: ‘Those are the male and female adulterers.’”(13) As for punishment in the hereafter, Allah Most High says: “And they (i.e. the servants of Allah) do not commit zina - And whoever does this shall meet a full penalty. The torment will be doubled to him on the Day of Resurrection, and he will abide therein in disgrace.”(14)
Marriage to a person guilty of zina
As for marriage between two who are guilty of zina, then this is permissible as per what Allah (s.w.t) has said: “The adulterer marries not but an adulteress or a Mushrikah, and the adulteress, none marries her except an adulterer or a Mushrik.”(15) There is difference of opinion amongst the scholars with regards to a chaste man marrying an adulteress who has not repented or vice versa. Some of them said that is not lawful; this is the opinion of Ali, Al-Baraa’, ‘Aisha, and ibn Mas ‘ud, (may Allah (s.w.t) be pleased with them all). The majority of the scholars including Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ibn ‘Abbaas, (may Allah (s.w.t) be pleased with them all) on the other hand permitted the marriage, adding however, that marriage to a chaste and pure person was more virtuous.
One might think that the only way a person guilty of zina can be forgiven is by being awarded the penal punishment (hadd). The scholars have said that a person who commits a sin should repent between himself and Allah (s.w.t). The repentance should be sincere, and the guilty person should perform lots of acts of worship and righteous actions. Furthermore, the person should feel remorse, and have no intention of ever committing the sin again. The repentance will not be accepted if it is done during the pangs of death, as Allah Most High says: “And of no effect is the repentance of those who continue to do evil deeds until death faces one of them and says: ‘Now I repent’….”(16) The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) informed us in the hadith collected by Muslim: “Whoever repents, before the sun rises from it’s setting (i.e. the west), Allah will forgive him.” This means the repentance of the one who repentance after this, will be of no avail.
Protection against zina
There are many ways a Muslim can protect them self from zina. From amongst the most important of means is remembering Allah. Know that the one who is away from the remembrance of Allah will be weak and is susceptible to the attacks of Satan. The one who does not speak from his own desire (s.a.w) said: “And I command you to remember Allah. The parable of this is like a man whose enemies were running after him and about to catch him. He then entered a well-fortified fortress and saved himself from them. This is the like of a servant (of Allah), he cannot save himself from Satan except by remembering Allah.”(17)
There are many actions a Muslim can do to protect themselves from zina. Salaat, both obligatory and supererogatory is one of the strongest fortresses against zina. Allah (s.w.t) said: “…and establish prayer, indeed prayer prevents from depravity and wrongdoing….”(18) Regular fasting is another way of suppressing the sexual desire, as Allah’s Apostle (s.a.w) prescribed it for the young people who cannot afford marriage. Another way to keep away from zina is by reminding yourself of how you would abhor and dislike it for your mother, daughter, sister, and aunt; this was how the Prophet (s.a.w) put it to a man who came seeking permission for zina. Remember that Satan watches and waits for you to be distanced from your Muslim brethren, then he makes his attack. And so from amongst the things that will deter you from zina, is to always be in the company of the righteous, those people that will remind you of Allah (s.w.t). The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) said in the hadith collected by Abu Dawud in his Sunan, “…indeed the wolf devours the lone sheep.” Also, remember that when a believer refrains from committing a sin, his reward increases in proportion with the temptation that he faces. Remember that saying “No” to someone who invites you to commit zina will secure you a place of shelter under the shade of Allah’s throne on the Day when their will be no shelter except His.(19) Abu Hurayrah (r.a) reported that Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w) said: “Whoever Allah protects from the evil of what is between his jaws (i.e. his tongue) and the evil of what is between his legs (i.e. his private parts), he will enter Jannah ( Paradise ).(20
We ask Allah Most High to protect us from the evil of zina, accept our righteous actions, and shower us from His bounties in this life and in the Hereafter.
And Allah knows best.
1- Al-Israa, 17: 32
2- Abu Dawud – authentic according to Albaani
3- see hadith Anas in Saheeh Bukhari
4- Saheeh Bukhari
5- An-Nisaa, 4: 15
6- An-Nisaa, 4: 16
7- An-Noor, 24: 2
8- Saheeh Bukhari
9- Saheeh Bukhari & Saheeh Muslim
10- Saheeh Muslim, Abu Dawud & others
11- See Sahih Muslim & Abu Dawud
12- Saheeh Bukhari
13- Ibn Khuzaymah & Ibn Hibbaan – authentic according to Albaani
14- Al-Furqaan, 25: 68-69
15- An-Noor, 24: 3
16- An-Nisaa, 4: 18
17- Tirmidhi & An-Nasai – authentic according to Albaani
18- Al-‘Ankaboot, 29: 45
19- see Bukhari & Muslim
20- Tirmidhi – authentic according to Albaani