What does Islam say about Zina
What is the definition of zina?
Zina is illicit sexual intercourse – having sex with someone you are not married to.
We have been warned about zina in many narrations in the hadith and in the Quran Allah Almighty did not just say ‘Don’t commit zina’ but ‘Don’t come near zina’ (la taqrabu zina). This means that the area of prohibition is wider than is wider than the act of zina itself.
Zina is prohibited and anything which leads to zina is also prohibited. The eye can commit zina by looking and admiring and liking the haram. The hand can commit zina by touching the haram. And the private parts can commit zina which is the actual zina – sexual penetration.
Zina is punishable and the hudud (specified punishment) for that depends on whether the person is married or not. If the conditions are fulfilled – that the act was witnessed by four people, the punishment is 100 lashes for a single person or stoning to death if the person was married and committed adultery.
Those who fornicate – whether female or male – flog each one of them with a hundred lashes. And let not tenderness for them deter you from what pertains to Allah’s religion, if you do truly believe in Allah and the Last Day; and let a party of believers witness their punishment. (24:2)
Let the fornicator not marry any except a fornicatress or idolatress and let the fornicatress not marry any except a fornicator or an idolater. That is forbidden to the believers. (24:3)
Those who accuse honourable women (of unchastity) but do not produce four witnesses, flog them with eighty lashes, and do not admit their testimony ever after. They are indeed transgressors. (24:4)
The Qur’an tackles uncomfortable and taboo subjects, including illicit relations. Such scenarios pose a real challenge to society, so how do we deal with them? Again, the Qur’an grasps the nettle by the hand and faces the problem. Where there is injustice, we have to address it and not sweep it under the carpet.
The punishment during the time of the Prophet (peace be on him)
The punishment of stoning to death for adultery is not actually mentioned in the Qur’an. It is however mentioned in the sunnah. Stoning is also mentioned in the Torah, though it is not practiced by the Jewish faith now.
During the time of the Prophet (peace be on him) we have the incident in which a Jewish couple who had committed adultery tried to evade the punishment by concealing the verse of punishment in the Torah. However Abdullah bin Salam, who had been a Jewish priest before he converted to Islam informed the Prophet (peace be on him) that the punishment according to their own Book was stoning:
A Jew and a Jewess were brought to Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) on a charge of committing an illegal sexual intercourse. The Prophet (peace be on him) asked them. “What is the legal punishment (for this sin) in your Book (Torah)?” They replied, “Our priests have innovated the punishment of blackening the faces with charcoal and Tajbiya.” Abdullah bin Salam said, “O Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him), tell them to bring the Torah.” The Torah was brought, and then one of the Jews put his hand over the Divine Verse of the Rajam (stoning to death) and started reading what preceded and what followed it. On that, Ibn Salam said to the Jew, “Lift up your hand.” Behold! The Divine Verse of the Rajam was under his hand. So Allah’s Apostle ordered that the two (sinners) be stoned to death, and so they were stoned. Ibn `Umar added: So both of them were stoned at the Balat and I saw the man sheltering the woman. (Bukhari)
During the life of the Prophet (peace be on him) the punishment was only implemented a few occasions. A painful, lingering death, the severity of stoning is meant to deter others. The occasions it was applied are:
In the instance of a man called Ma’iz. We can see from the questions that the Prophet (peace be on him) asked that he was avoiding meting out the punishment, while the man appeared determined to receive it, and ultimately the Prophet (peace be on him) was forced to pose an explicit question to ascertain whether the act had taken place. Even then, reluctant to sentence him to death, the Prophet (peace be on him) double checked the man’s mental state with the tribesmen and only when all doubt had been removed was the punishment pronounced. Deep down we can see the Prophet’s (peace be on him) mercy and the application of hudud (law) only when all doubt had been removed. Had the man said he had stopped short of intercourse, the punishment would not have been given.
A man from the tribe of Aslam came to the Prophet (peace be on him) and confessed that he had committed an illegal sexual intercourse. The Prophet (peace be on him) turned his face away from him till the man bore witness against himself four times. The Prophet (peace be on him) said to him, “Are you mad?” He said “No.” He said, “Are you married?” He said, “Yes.” Then the Prophet (peace be on him) ordered that he be stoned to death, and he was stoned to death at the Musalla. When the stones troubled him, he fled, but he was caught and was stoned till he died. The Prophet (peace be on him) spoke well of him and offered his funeral prayer. (Bukhari)
When Ma’iz bin Malik came to the Prophet (in order to confess), the Prophet (peace be on him) said to him, “Probably you have only kissed (the lady), or winked, or looked at her?” He said, “No, O Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him)!” The Prophet said, using no euphemism, “Did you have sexual intercourse with her?” The narrator added: At that, (i.e. after his confession) the Prophet (peace be on him) ordered that he be stoned (to death). (Bukhari)
The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) asked Ma’iz b. Malik : Is what I have heard about you is true? He said: What have you heard about me? He said: I have heard that you have had intercourse with a girl belonging to the family of so and so. He said: Yes. He then testified four times. He (The prophet) then gave order regarding him and he was stoned to death. (Sunan Abu Daud)
Ultimately, the punishment is a deterrent in order to protect the honour, reputation and safety of the community and the peace of the community. The only way it was applied was by confession. It was never occasioned by witnesses.
The woman who insisted on being punished
In another hadith we have the story of an unnamed woman who committed adultery and again seemed determined to have her punishment even though the Prophet (peace be on him) did not want to:
Then a woman of Ghamid, a branch of Azd, came to him and said: Messenger of Allah, purify me, whereupon he said: Woe be upon you; go back and beg forgiveness from Allah and turn to Him in repentance. She said: I find that you intend to send me back as you sent back Ma’iz. b. Malik. He (the Holy, Prophet) said: What has happened to you? She said that she had become pregnant as a result of fornication. He (the Holy Prophet) said: Is it you (who has done that)? She said: Yes. He (the Holy Prophet) said to her: (You will not be punished) until you deliver what is there in your womb. One of the Ansar became responsible for her until she was delivered (of the child). He (that Ansari) came to Allah’s Apostle (peace be on him) and said the woman of Ghamid has given birth to a child. He (the Holy Prophet) said: In that case we shall not stone her and so leave her infant with none to suckle him. One of the Ansar got up and said: Allah’s Apostle, let the responsibility of his suckling be upon me. She was then stoned to death. (Muslim)
A woman from Juhainah confessed before the Prophet (peace be on him) that she had committed adultery, and she said: ‘I am pregnant.’ So the Prophet (ﷺ) called for her guardian and said: ‘Be good to her and if she gives birth to her child then tell me.’ So he did so, and then he (peace be on him) gave the order that her clothes be bound tightly around her. Then he ordered her to be stoned and she was stoned. Then he performed (funeral) Salat for her. So ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab said to him: ‘O Messenger of Allah! You stoned her then you prayed for her?!’ He said: ‘She has repented a repentance that, if distributed among seventy of the people of Al-Madinah, it would have sufficed them. Have you ever seen something more virtuous than her sacrificing herself for the sake of Allah?’ (Muslim)
This female companion insisted she wanted to be purified. Had she only repented to Allah, He would have accepted her repentance. Some people commit mistakes, but they are willing to sacrifice their life for Allah’s sake. The Prophet (peace be on him) refused to hear the lady abused by the ones who were casting stones. He observed that her repentance was notable and that if her repentance was distributed in Madinah it would have forgiven everyone. It is a sad story but has a good end. Her repentance was so sincere. Even without the punishment she could have been forgiven by sincere repentance. Shariah punishment clears the sin off one’s books. The woman in this incident was married, otherwise she would have received lashes.
Imprisonment til death
The punishment of imprisonment in their house till the death was never carried out at the time of the Prophet (peace be on him). It was not applied: The ruling was there but it never happened. The punishment of exile was also not carried out by the khulafah.
And the two who commit it among you, dishonour them both. But if they repent and correct themselves, leave them alone. Indeed, Allah is ever Accepting of repentance and Merciful. (4:16)
Here if two people who are not married to each other have an intimate relationship they are to be reprimanded. It is left unclear whether the couple here are heterosexual or homosexual. The word aladhani ‘those two’ is a phrase which, grammatically, is taghleem e.g. in the Qur’an, when Allah refers to two moons (kamaran) He does not literally means two moons, but the sun and the moon. Here, aladhani could be any two people – male female, two males or two females.
Why is the penalty severe?
This punishment reflects the inviolability of honour and lineage and trust. One must never go outside the limits. What leads to crime is overstepping the limits which take us into the red zone. Then anything can happen. Drinking and free mixing are not allowed for a reason. It is naïve to allow a non-mahram man close contact with one’s wife based on the assumption that he is like a brother to her. Allah Almighty put limits in place for a reason. He knows better. In Islam, even one’s brother may not enter one’s home without permission.
Repentance and forgiveness
The repentance accepted by Allah is only for those who do wrong in ignorance [or carelessness] and then repent soon after. It is those to whom Allah will turn in forgiveness, and Allah is ever Knowing and Wise. (4:17)
If a couple sin but repent, Allah forgiveness is so enormous, He forgives even the biggest of sins. Don’t delay repentance as you never know when death will come to you. Those who lived and repented throughout their life and those who only repented at end are not the same. Repenting once the angel of death has appeared is too late.
Here the Qur’an suggests that the couple did not sin deliberately but out of carelessness, as a motivational statement. Allah is saying that they would not have jumped into sin knowingly as one might tell a child that they must have done something wrong by mistake, as we know they are better than that.
Do not disclose your sin
Whether they did it knowingly or unknowingly, if the couple repent and return to righteousness then Allah will accept their repentance. They should keep the sin to themselves. Ask for forgiveness and then put it behind them. Some people feel they have to tell others of their sin. They need to alleviate their guilt, however it is better to close this chapter than broadcast it. Telling a partner of infidelity creates emotional instability and upset. The damage is long-lasting. If there have been love-interests before marriage, the details of those relationships should not be carried forward into the marriage.
In fact, the Muslim community is not an angelic community it is a human community and therefore it has weaknesses and strengths. The Qur’an and sunnah are not saying we are sinless. We are full of sins. But we are not to to spread evil or publicise our sins. Though sins are not acceptable in private, Islam wants to minimise damage. We cannot rid society of all evils. But what can be done is Islamic control mechanism of evil. Keep it between you and Allah rather than telling everyone and Allah will accept your repentance. We should not normalise sin, as it is part of the system of fighting immorality that we do not bring it into the public sphere.
Do not publicise sin
Sins should not be exposed and have their flames fanned through gossip. Those who love evil and fahisha (lewdness) to be spread are worse than those who sin in private.
Those who love to see immorality spread among the believers—for them is a painful punishment, in this life and in the Hereafter. God knows, and you do not know. (24:19)
The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said, on the authority of Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him):
‘Every one of my Ummah, every person, every Muslim will be safe on the day of Judgement except one category, those who publicly proclaim their sins.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)
Imam ul Hakim narrates in his Mustadrak, on the authority of Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
‘Stay away from these filthy sins that Almighty Allah has prohibited and whoever falls prey and commits any sin, let him veil himself with the veil of Allah.’
Imam Malik in Al Muwatta narrated:
‘Whoever shows us his sins, We will apply punishment on him.’
The difference between veiling and condoning sin
Veiling the sin is not the same as condoning it. Wisdom and kindness should lead the way in tackling sin – kindness does not mean being weak and wisdom does not mean being harsh. If it is a family member who is sinning, then use tact and wisdom to identify the key to help them change their behaviour. How can you deliver a good message to them? Even if their sin is approved by the family, be the one to pull them out of the sin. Try your best with the right intention.
Having a laissez-faire attitude towards sin, does not do the sinner any favours. Turning a blind eye legitimises the sin; the damage spreads like a virus. That is irresponsible. If you want to stop the sin spreading and contaminating the whole community, putting the sinner in quarantine sacrifices one freedom to protect the rest of society. Similarly, boundaries pertaining to crime are meant to isolate the evil in the community.
It is key for the protection of the community that we keep chastity in the community and at the very least a veil of decency. If one does not respect the limits set out by Allah Almighty, then we destroy the community. This is why the punishment of breaching chastity is severe.
The mercy of punishment
Interestingly, the punishment may be severe but there is mercy embedded in punishment. As the consequences of sin are detrimental for the sinner and those around the sinner, the merciful act is to stop the sin and minimise damage than let it continue.
Marriages today are more likely to break down as we have lost some of the wisdom, tolerance and forgiveness that couples showed each other in the past, who held their marriages together despite the challenges they faced. Perhaps it was a lack of economic freedom that kept women in difficult marriages, but it meant that they weathered the storms which modern women are not prepared to face. Where women are less tolerant now, those who maintained their dignity through their marital storms may have more wisdom, forgiving heart and experience. Men also had more patience and tolerance towards their wives.
What is the balance between muddling through a tempestuous relationship and drawling a line? Clearly, if a spouse is abusive, or causing harm to the other spouse and family it is damaging to stay in such a relationship. If physical abuse is taking place, the matter should be reported to the police. Or if a spouse is alcoholic or addicted to substances they are risking their family and their reputation. Simply accepting abusive behaviour is wrong. This conduct needs to be addressed to protect family.
Developing feelings for someone
If someone develops feelings for someone else in the course of a marriage, telling the spouse will only cause upset, jealousy and lack of trust. Telling others is likely to escalate the sin. If you hear of such episodes in the community, do not listen to them. And if you come to know of them make du’a for the people involved.
‘Indeed, those who like that immorality should be spread [or publicized] among those who have believed will have a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah knows and you do not know.’ (24:19)
Are you obliged to stop someone from committing a sin?
It depends if you hold a position of authority and whether they would listen to you. If you are not in a position of authority, you can only remind them. They may or they may not listen. Your obligation is to try to remind them as wisely as possible.
Accusing a spouse of adultery
Allah Almighty mentioned in the Quran how to deal with accusations when a man came to the Prophet (peace be on him) saying that his wife was cheating on him. He had seen his wife committing adultery with his own eyes. The Quran revealed that he needed four witnesses to prove this. Or a spouse can go to go to court and swear four times that their spouse has committed adultery. In addition they accept that the curse of Allah will fall on them if they are lying. This is called li’an. It is not divorce, but the nullification of the marriage contract.
If the spouse denies they committed adultery even though they committed it, the curse of Allah will fall on them.
Why are four witnesses required in cases of prove zina?
This is a protection mechanism to safeguard people’s honour. Otherwise anyone could accuse anyone else and they would lose their reputation, as happened with Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), the wife of the Prophet (peace be on him) though she was innocent. Moreover, it is a serious matter as the accused would be punished by lashes or death if they are found guilty, so this protects carriages of injustice by preventing unfair prosecutions.
The concept is to protect the community but not at the expense of the individual and their dignity and honour. The Quran holds false accusation about zina a punishable offense. The Quran makes a distinction between the qazif (the slanderer) and the shahid (one who appears in a court as an eyewitness). An eyewitness cannot be branded as a slanderer merely because the court did not hold his evidence as a sufficient proof of the crime.
Does the shariah view rape and sexual assault? Does prosecution for rape require 4 witnesses?
According to shariah, four witnesses are required to prove that zina (sexual penetration) took place. No other sin requires four witnesses.
In Islam a sexual act is either halal or haram. In our time, outside marriage, it is always haram. Consequently rape is classified as zina, because it is not a halal sexual act.
In the past, the reason for requiring four witnesses was to ensure that an allegation could be proved beyond doubt, and that it was not imagined.
Now, we have new forms of evidence which can prove that zina (penetration) took place. We can prove the incident by taking medical reports and DNA tests which can show that zina took place. Unfortunately not all courts accept this because they are still living in the past. Video evidence which has not be edited and tampered with, can also be taken as evidence.
If penetration did not take place, but a woman was attacked, that does not negate the fact that she has been sexually assaulted.
Whether it was zina or not, if a woman is attacked sexually, it is punishable. A judge needs to sift the evidence from the accused and the victim.
It is a important not to increase the pain of women who have suffered rape by making them feel to blame or calling them liars. They have already been through an ordeal. Instead of helping the victim, it helps the predators if you allow them to get away with this. This is not in line with fairness and justice and the shariah.
There is no excuse for rape
There have been high profile comments blaming women who are raped for bringing this upon themselves due to the way they dressed.
There is no excuse for rape. It is a criminal act. Men are not animals who have no control over their desires. We cannot blame the victim.
We cannot allow criminal activity on the basis that the male brain functions differently and while Islam commands women to dress modestly, the sin of dressing provocatively is no justification for rape. Rapists should be punished.
Can zina be forgiven?
Repentance is a means of returning to Allah.
Though someone’s sin might take him off the track, Allah is throwing him a life line by giving him the opportunity to repent and come back. This chance is available until the angel of death appears, after which the door to repentance is sealed shut.
The opportunity for forgiveness means that one should not be consumed by their sin, or their sense of guilt. However, once you commit a sin, you have parked in the area located for shaytan. Take the next exit, as you would on the motorway, and go back to the straight path. There is always a signpost to direct you, follow the sign and then you will get back on the main road.
What repentance entails
Whenever Allah Almighty mentions a problem in the Qur’an, He always follows it by mentioning the solution. When He mentions sins, He mentions forgiveness. Once a sin is committed, what is the way out? Repentance has the following components. Stopping the sin, feeling regret for committing the sin, intending not to repeat that sin, and seeking forgiveness for the sin both from Allah and the person who was wronged. Allah Almighty accepts the repentance of those who repent soon after their mistake.
A simple way from the sunnah of erasing a bad deed is to follow it up with a good deed.
On the authority of Abu Dharr Jundub ibn Junada and Abu Abdul Rahmaan Muaadh ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with both of them) from the Messenger of Allah (peace on him) who said, ‘Fear Allah wherever you are. And follow up a bad deed with a good deed and it will wipe it out. And behave towards the people with a good behaviour.’ (Tirmidhi)
How repentance draws us closer to Allah
‘Verily, Allah loves those who repent and those who purify themselves.’ (2:222)
Allah Almighty gives us encouragement to repent: His forgiveness is immediate for those whose repentance is near (qareeb) – in other words those whose hearts are attuned to Him, whose sin dawns on them as soon as they commit it, like waking up from the stupor of their sin, and quickly returning to their sanity and repenting. As we keep committing sins, the tawabeen are those who are continuously seeking forgiveness. Without repentance, we become distanced from Allah.
Allah not only accepts repentance, but He loves it. Qareeb is used for space and also time. In terms of time, it refers to repenting soon and in terms of space, this is metaphorical as repentance pulls you closer to Allah. Allah therefore tells us that loves those who keep repenting and keep purifying themselves.
When you go back to Him with a broken heart, not an attitude of arrogance, when you beg Him and you cry with sincerity, your heart is soft and His love is overflowing. The un-repenting heart is hard and far from Allah. When we recognise that we are weak and we show this weakness when we turn to Him, we earn His love. When we show that we are not insisting on sinning, but trying to stay away from sin we draw closer to Him than the one who is continuously sinning.
The extent of forgiveness
Though we continue to sin, if we repent Allah Almighty continues to forgive. In fact, Allah Almighty’s mercy is vast and extends to any sin at all that the sinner repents from. We have the Hadith Qudsi, on the authority of Anas (may Allah be pleased with him), who said:
I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) say: Allah the Almighty said: ‘O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.’ (Tirmidhi, Ahmad ibn Hanbal).
Not postponing repentance
There will of course be obstacles between us and repentance. But we have to face them and overcome them, so that we do not delay our repentance. If the heart if full of taqwa (obedience) then the stain of the sin is washed off immediately. The longer we leave stain, just like any garment, the stain becomes stubborn and harder to remove. Left unwashed it can ruin the garment altogether.
How long does the angel give you to repent before the sin is written in our record? The left and right angle negotiate and eventually the sin is written down, which means we have a window to make amends.
Abu Umamah narrated that the Messenger of Allah said:
‘The angel on the left will lift the pen for six hours from writing down the sin of the Muslim servant. If he regretted it and sought forgiveness for it he will throw it away, otherwise it will be written as one sin.’ (Narrated by Tabarani in a good chain.)
Another mistake is to postpone repentance. Just as Firaun repented once death was upon him it is too late. Allah says in the Quran:
‘And We took the Children of Israel across the sea, and Pharaoh and his soldiers pursued them in tyranny and enmity until, when drowning overtook him, he said, “I believe that there is no deity except that in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am of the Muslims.”
Now? And you had disobeyed [Him] before and were of the corrupters?’ (10: 90-91)
Similarly, it is dangerous to delay going for hajj thinking that by leaving it till later one will have accumulated more sins, and therefore have more sins forgiven. We should perform hajj when we are fit and able, particularly we have no guarantee how long we have and might never have that chance.
If we do not repent immediately, we are likely to forget the mistakes we have committed. The dua for forgiveness specifies all our mistakes, including the ones we forgot, as well as those we remembered:
O Allah, I seek forgiveness for every sin, I committed, about which, of course, You know inside and out, from the beginning to the end of my life, whether committed deliberately or unintentionally, few or many, abstruse or manifest, old or new, secretly carried out or openly done; and for whatever wrong I have done I turn repentant unto You and beseech You to bless Muhammad and the children of Muhammad and forgive all my unjust acts I did to wrong the people (because they have rights which I have to recognize and fulfill) but You have full authority to forgive those wrongdoings whenever and howsoever You wish, O the most merciful.
It is essential not to postpone repentance. Once the unseen has become apparent, repentance is too late. In Surah Qaf, Allah says:
‘Man does not utter any word except that with him is an observer prepared [to record].
And the intoxication of death will bring the truth; that is what you were trying to avoid.
And the Horn will be blown. That is the Day of [carrying out] the threat.
[It will be said], ‘You were certainly in unmindfulness of this, and We have removed from you your cover, so your sight, this Day, is sharp.
And his companion, [the angel], will say, ‘This [record] is what is with me, prepared.’ (50:18-23)
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Culture vs Islam (Western Culture) 2020
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