Adultery and Rape: Islamic Guidance and Jurisprudence

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By Dr. Lutf ur Rehman, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Family is the basic unit of any society. Maintaining the integrity of this basic unit is an extremely important task of any social setup. If the family disintegrates the whole society suffers. The social science has too much evidence to show the negative effects of a broken family. It, therefore, makes sense for any social setup to give great importance for maintaining a strong family structure which is focused on the well being of both the husband and the wife and provides them a safe and effective environment to raise the next generation, their children, so the cycle of life can continue. A single most important thing which can break up a marriage is adultery. In fact, this comes up as the single most important cause of marital breakdown in many surveys. A recently published article in the peer reviewed journal, Couple Family Psychology, mentions the following, “The most commonly reported major contributors to divorce were lack of commitment, infidelity, and conflict/arguing. The most common ‘final straw’ reasons were infidelity, domestic violence, and substance use.” (Reasons for Divorce … Published in final edited form as: Couple Family Psychol. 2013 Jun; 2(2): 131–145.)

Sexual relations before marriage or having children before marriage and then entering into marriage were all negatives compared to those who never had sex before marriage and those who did not have children before entering marriage. “Among couples who entered marriage with a shared biological child (premarital parents), satisfaction levels were lower and communication was less effective, less positive, and more negative than couples entering marriage without children. Rates of change in marital functioning did not differ between groups, but the rate of marital dissolution was twice as high among premarital parents (19.1%) relative to couples who were not parents at the start of marriage (9.5%). These between-groups differences remained robust after controlling for several demographic differences (race, age, education, household income, work status, relationship length, premarital cohabitation), and initial differences in communication did not account for between-groups differences in marital satisfaction or dissolution.” (J Fam Psychol. 2020 Apr;34(3):279-290. doi: 10.1037/fam0000596. Epub 2019 Oct 14. Premarital parenthood and newlywed’s marital trajectories)

Adultery (Arabic = Zināʾ bil Raza) is defined as sex outside of marriage. It is considered illicit sex in all major religions of the world. This has also been the case in almost all the societies of the world throughout human history, present era being an exception especially in the Western World. Even in this day and age of promiscuity in the West, the data shows that the marriages breakdown if one or both parties are engaged in extramarital affairs.

Religion of Islam provides detailed guidance and even prescribes punishments for those who engage in this destructive behavior to protect the basic family unit particularly and the social integrity in general. Today I will discuss the measures Islam suggests to protect the individuals from adultery and also punishments prescribed in this matter. I would also address the issue of rape or non-consensual sexual violence perpetrated mostly against women.

Islam encourages its followers to lead a moral life, free of sins and crimes. Allah the exalted says in the Holy Qur’an, “O ye who believe do not entertain the Satanic thoughts. If you follow the Satanic thoughts then know that he (Satan) prescribes obscenity and indecency.” (24:21) At another place the Holy Qur’an says, “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest.  That is purer for them.  Lo!  God is Aware of what they do.  And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their chests, and not to reveal their adornment.” (24:31) It warns the believers, “And come not near unto adultery; surely it is a foul thing and an evil way.” (17:32). Since sexual desires can be morally fulfilled within a marriage, Islam encourages and prescribes marriage for every person of marriageable age. Holy Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) said that marriage is my way. Those who do not follow my way are not of me. (Bokhari & Muslim) Allah the exalted says in the Holy Qur’an, “Those among you who are widows, get them married too.” (24:32) Islam also prescribes the purpose of marriage. “They (women) are a protection for you and you (Men) are a protection for them.” (2:187) So, Islam understands that sexual relations are a biological requirement of an individual and provides legal and moral means to fulfil these desires.

Holy Prophet (peace be on him) said, “Whoever guarantees me that he will guard his chastity, I will guarantee him paradise. (Bokhari) No one commits adultery while still remaining a believer, for Faith is more precious to Allah than such an evil act. (Bokhari)

Since adultery is destructive for the family unit and the society as a whole, Islam declares it a crime and prescribes punishment for it. Allah the exalted says in the Holy Qur’an, “The adulteress and the adulterer, flog each one of them with a hundred stripes.  And let not the pity for the twain take hold of you in executing the judgement.” (24:2) Before a person can be punished for adultery the charge has to be proven in a court of law. The requirement for the proof is four witnesses in addition to the accuser. This strict requirement of the proof discourages people to make such allegations lightly. But if such proof is available, the parties become liable for the Hadd punishment of one hundred lashes. If such high degree of proof is not available, the crime of adultery can still be prosecuted under the law of Ta’zir, which requires a lower level of proof and the punishment will also be lighter. (Muhammad Taqi Usmani – The Islamization of Laws in Pakistan 2012-10-21)

It should be remembered that rape (Arabic = Zināʾ bil Jabr) is a separate category of crime and requirements of proof are also different. In some Muslim countries laws were enacted which required four eye witnesses to prove adultery in addition to the accuser. This requirement is obviously near impossible to fulfil. Unfortunately, this requirement was also enacted in cases of rape. The result was that the accuser of rape, a woman, was required to produce four eye witnesses of the crime. Thousands of women were convicted of false accusation on this basis and it became impossible to prosecute the crime of rape. Of course, Islam does not have any such requirements. This was due to the wrong understanding of the teachings of Islam and the Holy Qur’an. This resulted in great misery for thousands of women and became a human rights issue. Fortunately, these laws have been revised in favor of women.

Read further in the Microsoft Word file below:

Additional suggested reading by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Collection of Videos and Articles about Rape and Islamic Sharia

Book Review: Islam and Human Rights by Sir Zafrulla Khan

6 replies

  1. YES, please click on the ‘read further’ ‘adultery and rape’ button. It is essential to read the full article for proper understanding of the subject….

  2. Assalaamu ‘alaikum w w.

    The article, along with the word document, is balanced and reasonable on the whole.

    However, it does not point out that the classical islamic jurisprudence is a mess in this regard, as it is on some other issues as well.

    Please share your thought on this article which discusses other aspects of the issue:

    Sexual Assault

  3. Thanks for agreeing, Dr Zia Shah Sahib. Please share any concerns of questions you have with any of the articles’ contents, and I will amend as necessary.

    I am an Ahmadi Muslim, ‘by birth’, and have begun my 6th decade in life. Most of my working life has been in IT (though I started a medical career which I didn’t complete).

    I remain a committed Ahmadi Muslim despite having had concerns about non-mar’oof attitudes, decisions, and actions by the caliphs iv and v for over 3 decades.

    How about yourself?

  4. Many thanks for the information. I was somewhat familiar with your admirable work, and have read your articles in the past, but will take a closer look at it from now on, especially your commentary of the Holy Qur’an.

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