An-Nisa · Juz 4 · Qur'an Tafseer

Punishment for Adultery

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayaat 15-16

In the previous ayaat, the objective was to correct the malpractices of the days of ignorance committed in the matter of orphans and inheritance. The following ayaat prescribe punishment for men and women who commit adultery or fornication. If this comes from women, then the presence of four male witnesses is required to prove it. Mere blame or suspicion is not enough.

Since the guilt of zina is of extremely grave nature, which not only violates honor and modesty but also brings a bad name to the family, Islam has taken very strict attitude while setting the standard of evidence to prove this guilt. First is the condition that witnesses have to be men, the evidence of women was not considered valid. Second, the number of the required witnesses is raised to four – a condition not easy to meet.

This strict approach was taken so that the husband of the woman, his mother or any other person do not level undue accusations against her out of personal spite.

Testimony to zina by less than four individuals renders their evidence invalid in which case the complainant and the witnesses may all be charged as liars and the Hadd of Qadhf (punishment for false accusation) becomes operative against them for having falsely accused a Muslim. In Surah an-Nur it appears those who cannot produce four witnesses are liars.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

At the beginning of Islam, the ruling was that if a woman commits adultery as stipulated by sufficient proof, she was confined to her home, without leave, until she died.

Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu commented, “The early ruling was confinement until Allah sent down Surah An-Nur (Chapter 24), which abrogated that ruling with the ruling of flogging (for fornication) or stoning to death (for adultery).”

Imam Ahmad recorded that ‘Ubadah bin As-Samit said, “When the revelation descended upon the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, it would affect him and his face would show signs of strain. One day, Allah sent down a revelation to him, and when the Messenger was relieved of its strain, he said,

خُذُوا عَنِّي، قَدْ جَعَلَ اللهُ لَهُنَّ سَبِيلًا، الثَّيِّبُ بِالثَّيِّبِ، وَالْبِكْرُ بِالْبِكْرِ، الثَّــيِّبُ جَلْدُ مِائَةٍ، وَرَجْمٌ بِالْحِجَارَةِ، وَالْبِكْرُ جَلْدُ مِائَةٍ ثُمَّ نَفْيُ سَنَة

‘Take from me: Allah has made some other way for them. The married with the married, the unmarried with the unmarried. The married gets a hundred lashes and stoning to death, while the unmarried gets a hundred lashes then banishment for a year.’”

Muslim and the collectors of the Sunan recorded that `Ubadah bin As-Samit said that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,

خُذُوا عَنِّي خُذُوا عَنِّي، قَدْ جَعَلَ اللهُ لَهُنَّ سَبِيلًا، الْبِكْرُ بِالْبِكْرِ جَلْدُ مِائَةٍ وَتَغْرِيبُ عَامٍ، وَالثَّيِّبُ بِالثَّيِّبِ جَلْدُ مِائَةٍ وَالرَّجْم

“Take from me, take from me. Allah has made some other way for them: the (unmarried) gets a hundred lashes and banishment for one year, while the (married) gets a hundred lashes and stoning to death.” At-Tirmidhi said Hasan Sahih.

The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had pronounced the Hadd punishment of zina in the case of a companion and a woman from the tribe of Azd. Since both of them were married, they were stoned to death. Another couple from among the Jews of Madinah was also stoned to death because of zina and this judgment against them was pronounced on the authority of a command in Torah.

In Surah An-Nur it appears,

الزَّانِيَةُ وَالزَّانِي فَاجْلِدُوا كُلَّ وَاحِدٍ مِّنْهُمَا مِائَةَ جَلْدَةٍ ۖ

“The [unmarried] woman or [unmarried] man found guilty of sexual intercourse – lash each one of them with a hundred lashes…” (24: 2)

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said,

وَاللَّذَانِ يَأْتِيَانِهَا مِنكُمْ فَآذُوهُمَا ۖ

“And the two who commit it among you, dishonor them both…”

Ibn ‘Abbas and Sa’eed bin Jubayr radhiAllahu ‘anhum said that this punishment includes cursing, shaming them and beating them with sandals. This was the ruling until Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala abrogated it with flogging or stoning.


The above discussion was based on the assumption that both ayaat relate to the fornication or adultery committed between men and women. However, some commentators of the Qur’an are of the view that the ayah refers to the homosexual act committed between two males.

The Arabic word in ayah 16 used for, “…and the two who commit it among you…” is a masculine pronoun which presumes males on both sides. On this basis, the commentators have opined that this ayah relates to two males committing the unnatural shameful act of homosexuality. The expression also includes two women involved in this act.   

Mujahid said, “It was revealed about the case of two men who do it.” As if he was referring to the actions of the people of Lut, and Allah knows best. The collectors of Sunan recorded that Ibn ‘Abbas said that the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,

مَنْ رَأَيْتُمُوهُ يَعْمَلُ عَمَلَ قَوْمِ لُوطٍ، فَاقْتُلُوا الْفَاعِلَ وَالْمَفْعُولَ بِه

“Whoever you catch committing the act of the people of Lut (homosexuality), then kill both parties to the act.”

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said, “But if they repent and correct themselves…” by refraining from that evil act, and thereafter their actions become righteous, “…leave them alone…” do not verbally abuse them after that since he who truly repents is just like he who has no sin. “Indeed, Allah is ever Accepting of repentance and Merciful.”

[People’s Responsibility towards the Repentant]

The following is recorded in the Two Saheehs:

إِذَا زَنَتْ أَمَةُ أَحَدِكُمْ، فَلْيَجْلِدْهَا الْحَدَّ، وَلَا يُثَرِّبْ عَلَيْهَا

“When the slave-girl of one of you commits illegal sexual intercourse, let him flog her and not chastise her afterwards,” because the lashes she receives erase the sin that she has committed.

  • We learn that adultery, fornication and homosexuality are some of the major sins that involve severe punishments. We should not support anyone involved in these sins as this is disobedience of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and affects the family system.

  • We learn that we need to be very careful about what we say about others. We cannot accuse someone of a crime that they have not committed. If we believe someone has done something wrong then we must provide evidence and bring witnesses or else abstain from false testimony.

  • We learn Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala accepts the repentance of anyone who realizes his mistake and turns to Him immediately with regrets.

  • We learn that after someone has sought forgiveness from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala then we have no right to remind them of their wrongdoings or talk about them. The matter was between the person and Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and the person has repented before his Lord.

 Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayaat 15-16

رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيم  
“Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.”
[Al-Baqarah 2: 127]

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