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Why Islam prescribes a hefty penalty for adultery


ARTICLE SUMMARY: Islam is a complete code of living that is not based on punishment. Its basis is to provide all that promotes a clean and pure life. If some individuals then abandon this clean and easy life in order to deliberately submerge themselves in filth, they incur such heavy penalties.

ARTICLE BACKGROUND: Extracted from Vol. 12 of In the Shade of the Qur’an, this article is part of the author’s commentary on Chapter 24:2 of the Qur’an, which states, “As for the adulteress and the adulterer, flog each of them with a hundred stripes, and let not compassion for them keep you from [carrying out] this law of God, if you truly believe in God and the Last Day; and let a number of believers witness their punishment.”

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY: Sayyid Qutb is one of Islam’s greatest activists of the 20th Century. His Islamic advocacy cost him his life in 1966 at hands of the tyrannical Egyptian regime.

When enacting such severe punishments for this abominable offence, Islam does not overlook the natural desire behind it. Islam knows that human beings cannot and should not suppress such a natural desire. Nor does Islam wish that people should fight the physiological functions God has given them as part of their nature and part of the laws of life, ensuring the continuity of mankind. Islam only shuns an animal approach to this desire that treats one body the same as another, and which has no intention of building a home, life partnership or family.

Islam wants sexual relations between a man and a woman to be based on fine human feelings that involve their hearts and souls in their physical union, so as to make it a union between two human beings sharing their lives, pains, hopes, and futures. In this way, any children will be reared by both parents building a future together.

This is the reason why Islam ordains such a severe punishment for adultery, considering it a setback that reduces man to an animal. It destroys all these fine feelings and goals. Adultery turns human beings into animal-like creatures that treat all men as males and all women as females, trying to satisfy a physical desire in a casual way. Its momentary ecstasy has neither a constructive aim nor a fine, durable love behind it. It is the continuity aspect that distinguishes such a fine feeling from a momentary and casual charge which many people describe as passion when it is in fact a physical desire momentarily taking the guise of fine feeling.

Islam neither suppresses natural feelings nor considers them dirty. It only regulates, purifies and elevates them above the physical level so that they become central to many psychological and social values. By contrast, adultery, and prostitution in particular, removes from such natural desires all the exquisite feelings, attractions and values that have been refined over the long history of human life. It leaves such desires naked, dirty and coarser than in animals.

In many animal and bird species, couples live together in a regulated life. They do not have the sort of sexual chaos that adultery spreads in some human communities, particularly where prostitution is rife. In order to spare man this type of setback, Islam prescribes such punishment for adultery. Needless to say, this offence causes numerous social ills that people often mention when they speak about this crime.

These include false parenthood, undermining family life and causing hatred and grudges. Each one of these social ills justifies a very hard punishment for the offence causing it. But the primary reason for it is preserving the humanity of man, protecting the moral standards that have come to be associated with clean sex, furthering the aims of marital life that is intended to last. This is, in my view, the reason that serves all others.

Islam, then, prescribes a very heavy penalty for adultery, but it does not legislate such a penalty without first putting in place sufficient legislation to protect people from falling into such sin. It also ensures that the punishment is not enforced except in cases where there is certainty about the offence and its perpetrators. Islam is a complete code of living that is not based on punishment. Its basis is to provide all that promotes a clean and pure life. If some individuals then abandon this clean and easy life in order to deliberately submerge themselves in filth, they incur such heavy penalties.

When a crime takes place in spite of all these measures, Islam prevents the infliction of the penalty wherever possible. The Prophet says: “Spare Muslims the infliction of mandatory punishments wherever possible. If there is any way out for the accused, let him go unpunished. It is better that the ruler errs on the side of pardon, rather than punishment.” [Related by al-Tirmidhī]

In the case of adultery, Islam requires four witnesses to testify that they have seen the offence, or else, a clear and confirmed confession. It may be suggested, then, that the punishment is unreal and unenforceable, which renders it ineffective as a deterrent. As we have said, punishment is not the basis of the Islamic approach; its basis is prevention, education and cultivating people’s finer feelings and consciences so that they refrain from even contemplating an offence. It only punishes those who are intent on committing the crime, paying little regard to society, so as to be seen by four witnesses.

It also inflicts the punishment on those who wish to purify themselves of the effects of the offence after having committed it. In other words, the punishment is applied to those who confess to their offence. This is what happened to Mā`iz and his Ghāmidī consort when they went to the Prophet requesting him to inflict the punishment so as to purify them of their sin. Both were insistent, in spite of the Prophet turning away from them time after time.

In fact, they confessed four times each, which left the Prophet no option but to inflict the punishment, for at this point the confession was no longer suspect. The Prophet said: “Spare yourselves mandatory punishments; for when I have established that a sin carrying such a punishment has been committed, the punishment must be done.” [Related by Abū Dāwūd]

Thus, when certainty is established and the matter has been put to the ruler, or judge, the mandatory punishment must be applied, with no compassion shown to the offenders. Such compassion is misplaced, because it is in fact cruel to the community and human morality. God is much more compassionate to His creatures and He has chosen what He knows to serve their interests best. When God decides on a particular case, no believer, whether man or woman, can counter that choice.

Nor is it right that anyone should speak out against such punishment, describing it as hard or savage. It is indeed much more compassionate than what awaits a community that allows adultery to spread.


0 #1 abu musa Zanzibar 2013-10-05 11:33
We pray and hope that one day sharia will be used again to solve the problems we are having the world over.