By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah
25 August 2015
(Published Exclusively On New Age
Islam with Permission of the Authors and Publishers)
34. Divorce Procedures and Conditions
34.1. Qur’an Recognizes the Emotional Trauma
of a Divorce
The Qur’an recognizes the serious emotional
and financial implications of a divorce for either or both the spouses, as well
as the offspring of a broken marriage. It, therefore, discourages divorce by a
set of well-guarded stipulations, but allows it if the alternative was life
long unhappiness for the family. The Qur’an however does not consider divorced
women as a social burden. It rather protects their financial interest, and
those of the children born to them from their broken marriages, permits them to
remarry and treats them practically like any other unmarried women.
It is worth remembering that in pre-Islamic
Arabia, as elsewhere in the world, it was the prerogative of the menfolk to
divorce their wives and not the other way around. On a broader plane, the men
governed human society and made the laws and the women had little say in the
scheme of things – particularly, if it related to their own suppression by men.
It was for these obvious reasons that the Qur’anic directives aimed at various
social reforms were addressed mostly to menfolk, as the leaders of the community,
and this therefore must not be construed as a reflection of gender
discrimination. Lets now revert to our theme.
In the immediate context of the revelation,
the Qur’an abolishes the pre-Islamic custom that permitted a man to abandon his
wife indefinitely by an oath, but retain her in wedlock, thus preventing her
remarriage or freedom. It therefore declares (2:226):
“Those who vow (to abstain) from their
wives must wait for four months. Meanwhile if they go back, (remember,) God is
Most Forgiving and Merciful” (2:226).
concluding God’s attribute of Forgiveness and Mercy is suggestive of Qur’anic
encouragement for reconciliation between the spouses and restoration of an
effective marriage tie. However, if a man remains firm in his decision on
divorce, and abandons his wife for four consecutive months, he must terminate
the marriage at the end of this period and release his wife (2:227).
“However, if they decide on a divorce, (let
them remember that) God is All-Knowing and Aware” (2:227).
34.2. Principles Concerning A Divorce
Initiated By A Man
Having defined a time limit of four months
for the termination of a marriage by an oath (2:226 above), the Qur’an
prescribes a phased execution of a divorce:
“Divorce (is pronounced) over two occasions.
Thereafter live together (with your mates) honourably, or part with (Tasrihu)
them honourably. It is not lawful for you (men) to take anything from what you
have given them, except when both (the partners) fear that they would be unable
to keep within the limits set by God. And if you do indeed fear that they would
be unable to keep within the limits set by God, there is no blame on either of
them if she gives up (something to her husband) for her freedom. These are the
limits set by God; do not exceed them - for any who exceed the limits set by
God, it is they who are unjust” (2:229).
The Qur’an asks women under notice of
divorce by their husbands to stay by themselves for three months,
understandably to establishing pregnancy if any; and reminds the men of their
obligation to take them back if they are to be found pregnant (2:228).
“Divorced women shall wait by themselves
for three monthly periods, for it is not lawful for them, if they believe in
God and the Last Day, to conceal what God has created in their wombs. (During
this period,) their husbands will be obliged (Ahaqqu)1 to take them back if
they want reconciliation, while they (the women) have similar honourable
(obligations) as them (men); but men have (a higher) degree (of obligation) towards
them. (Remember,) God is Almighty, Wise” (2:228).
The foregoing consecutive verses (2:228,
2:229) indicate a timeframe of three monthly periods (Iddat) for a divorce to
take effect. Thus the Qur’an brought about a reduction in the pre-divorce
separation period from indefinite in pre-Islamic Arabia, to four months for a
divorce by an oath (2:227 above), and then to three months in its final
ordinance. The Qur’an further clarifies this in the verses 2:231 and 65:1,
which also instruct men to terminate the marriage, if they must, in a decent
“And if you divorce women, and they reach
(the end of) their term, then either live together honourably, or part with (Sarrihu)
them honourably, but do not keep them to injure them, (or) to exceed limits.
Anyone who does that merely wrongs his own soul. And do not take these messages
of God for a joke, and remember God’s favour to you, and what He has revealed
to you of the Book and Wisdom for your instruction. Therefore heed God and know
that God is Cognizant of everything” (2:231).
“And when they reach (the end of) their
term, then either live together honourably, or part with (Fariqu) them honourably,
calling to witness two just members from among yourselves and uphold the
evidence (as) before God. This is to instruct anyone who believes in God and
the Last Day. (Remember,) God will find a way out for anyone who heeds Him”
These verses clearly demonstrate that in
the event a man considers divorcing his wife, he must go through a three-month
timeframe, formally articulating his intention at least twice over the period.
However, at the end of this period, he must either retain his wife and live
together amicably or terminate his marriage in an amicable manner. He is
therefore prevented from taking back anything that he might have gifted to his
wife (2:229 above). Given that men divorcing their wives may detest their
divorced wives walking away with the gifts they gave them – especially if those
were valuable, the Qur’an declares:
“If you want to take one wife in place of
another wife, and you had given one of them a fortune - do not take anything
away from it. Would you take it by slander (committing) an open sin (4:20)? How
can you take it back when you have given yourselves to each other, and they
have taken a firm pledge from you” (4:21)?
However, to avoid any injustice to a man
who may have gifted much of his possessions to his wife, the Qur’an asks the
woman under divorce to release a part of what she might have received from her
husband if she felt that she was going beyond the limits set by God (2:229
34.3. A Woman Can Initiate a Divorce
The underlined injunction (she gives
something for her freedom) in 2:229 (above) gives a woman the privilege to take
a divorce unilaterally by paying due compensation to her husband, which may
include her dower (4:4/Ch. 33.4) as well as part of what she might have
received from him as gifts. Such a dissolution of marriage at a wife’s
insistence is called khul, and is fully supported by several traditions as
reviewed by Muhammad Asad.2
34.4. Remarriage between Spouses after
The Qur’an does not permit a man to marry
his erstwhile wife whom he divorced after the expiry of the three months
waiting period, unless she married another man, and the latter divorced her
“If he (the husband) divorces her (at the
end of the waiting period), she becomes unlawful to him afterwards until she
marries another man. If he (her new husband) then divorces her, there is no
blame on the (former) couple to reunite - provided they feel that they can keep
within the limits set by God. These are the limits set by God, and He clarifies
them to a people who have knowledge” (2:230).
There could be three reasons for this:
‘To set almost impossible conditions,’ and thus discourage men from
divorcing their wives, without giving very serious thought to the matter -
To ensure the right of a divorced woman to marry a different spouse,
otherwise her erstwhile spouse could force her to remarry him, even after the
expiry of the waiting period.
To prevent any scandalous manipulation by an unscrupulous couple who
could set up a mock divorce for the divorced wife to court wealthy admirers,
gain financial benefits, and return to her former husband.
To avoid any ambiguity on the matter, the
Qur’an further declares (2:232):
“And when you have divorced women (after)
they have reached their term, you must not obstruct them from marrying (there
would be) spouses (Azwaj) if they have mutually agreed in a fair manner. This
is instructed to anyone among you, who believes in God and the Last Day.
(Remember,) this is more appropriate for you and purer; and God knows, yet you
do not know” (2.232)
Many noted translators4 have put a
qualifying bracket ‘(the previous)’ before ‘spouses’ (underlined above)
implying that a divorced woman could remarry her former husband after expiry of
her three lunar months ‘waiting period’. Such an interpretation is untenable as
it is not consistent with:
the Qur’anic commandment to men divorcing their wives to part with them,
at the end of the ‘waiting period’ (2:229, 2:231 and 65:2/34.2 above).
the Qur'anic clause that a divorced woman could marry her former
husband, only after she ‘marries another spouse’, and ‘he divorces her’ (2:230,
The qualification in the present rendering
of 2:232 (shown in bold) is fully consistent with the stipulations of the noted
verses, and follows those of Abul Kalam Azad, and Muhammad Asad. Moreover, the
Qur’an has its own linguistic subtlety to rule out any misinterpretation
regarding the finality of the ‘separation’5 at the end of the waiting period.
34.5. Maintenance of Divorced Pregnant Wife,
And the Offspring
In a clearly stated verse (2:233) the
Qur’an spells out: i) the social and financial responsibilities of a man
divorcing a pregnant wife, ii) the moral responsibility of his divorced wife,
iii) the need for mutual consultation between them if they wished to put the
child under care of a foster-mother, and iv) the responsibility of the heir of
the father if a child was born posthumously (2:233).
“Mothers shall nurse their children for two
whole years if they wish to complete the nursing. The father (has to) provide
for them, and clothe them reasonably. No soul is to be burdened beyond its
capacity. A mother should not be made to suffer for her child, nor a father for
his child, while the heir (is liable) likewise. If they both wish to wean the
child by mutual consent and consultation - there is no blame on them; so if you
wish to give your children out to wet-nurses, there is no blame on you,
provided you pay what is reasonably expected from you.6 Heed God and know that God
is Observant of what you do” (2:233).
The Qur’an further elaborates its precepts
to the menfolk on supporting a divorced pregnant wife (65:6), and clarifies
that they should spend according to their means (65:7).
“Accommodate them (the women in Iddat) in
the manner you lodge, according to your circumstances, and do not harass them
to reduce them (to straits). If they are pregnant, meet their expenses until
they bring forth their burden; and if they suckle (the baby) for you, give them
their due, and consult together honourably. But if you find it difficult (for
her health reason, or she intends to remarry), let another woman nurse (it) on
behalf of him (the father) (65:6). (In all these matters) the rich should spend
(according to) his abundance, but the one whose means is limited should spend
of what God has given him. (Remember,) God does not burden anyone beyond what
He has given him. Surely God will grant relief after distress” (65:7).
34.6. Settlement of Dower If neither Marriage
Is Consummated nor Dower Fixed
The Qur'an directs men to give a reasonable
provision to their divorced wives, even if the marriage was not consummated
“There (will be) no blame on you to divorce
women before you have consummated (marriage) with them, or fixed their dower
(Faridah), but provide for them: the rich according to his means, and the poor
according to his means – a reasonable provision, a duty (Haqq), binding on the
“You who believe, when you marry believing
women and divorce them before you have consummated (marriage) with them, you do
not have to count (the waiting) period for them. So make provision for them,
and part with (Sarrihu) them in a handsome parting” (33:49)
The verse 2:236 uses the term Faridah
for marriage dower, as against Saduquat in the verse 4:4 (Ch. 33.4). The
former connotes with a binding obligation, while the latter, with a gift, or
charity. Thus, the Qur'an leaves no ambiguity about the legal position of
marriage dower: it is a binding obligation of a man towards his wife, and is
performed as a gesture of goodwill or charity (Saduquat).
34.7. Settlement of Dower If Marriage Is Not
Consummated, but Dower Is Fixed
The Qur’an states:
“If you divorce them before you have
consummated (marriage) with them, but you have fixed their dower (Faridah),
then (give them) half of what you have fixed, unless they (the women) forgo it,
or the one in whose (Alladhi) hands is the marriage tie forgoes it. To
forgo is nearer to heedfulness (Taqwa), and do not forget to be generous
between yourselves. (Remember,) God is Observant of what you do” (2:237)
The common gender pronoun Alladhi, rendered
above as whose, is traditionally identified with a husband, implying that only
the husband can terminate a marriage that is yet to be consummated. But this
purports to revoke a woman’s Qur’anic privilege to dissolve a marriage
unilaterally under compelling circumstances (2:229/34.2 above). Therefore the
pronoun Alladhi must be interpreted in its common gender form, implying
that either of the couple - husband or wife can lawfully dissolve an
unconsummated marriage. Based on this, the pronouncements of the verse may be
broken down into the following simple tenets:
If a man initiates a divorce, he has to pay half the dower to the woman,
unless she forgoes it.
If a woman breaks the marriage from her side, she has to forgo her claim
on half the dower that she would have received if the man divorced her.
A man, who gives a divorce, has the option to forgo the exempted ‘half'
part, and give full contracted dower as a gesture of generosity (fadl).
Both the partners of a divorce should be generous to each other, and
refrain from exploiting one another.
34.8. Maintenance for A Divorced Woman
“(There shall be) a reasonable maintenance
for divorced women - a duty (Haqq) binding on the heedful (Muttaqin) (2:241).
Thus does God clarify His messages to you, that you may use your reason”
The Qur’anic injunction is in broad terms:
it does not say whether a man is required to make a one off provision, or give
a maintenance allowance to his divorced wife until she remarries. The Qur'an
however asks the menfolk to use reason. Thus, if a man is required to make a
provision, commensurate to his income, to a woman with whom he has only
contracted marriage but not yet consummated it (2:236/34.6 above), he must be
fair and considerate to the woman he is divorcing after living together as a
husband and wife. He must therefore arrange spousal maintenance, commensurate
to his income, and to the financial need, age, health and circumstances of his
spouse. This obviously is a matter for the court to decide, depending upon the
merit of the case, the prevalent social conditions and securities, and the
relative financial positions of the partners in a divorce case.
34.9. Clarification on the Waiting Period
The Qur’an reminds that the waiting period
should be correctly observed (65:1), and clarifies that the latter remains
unchanged at three months even for women past their monthly courses, or
otherwise having no courses (65:4), and lasts until the delivery for pregnant
“O Prophet! (Tell your followers that) when
you (finally) divorce women, divorce them at (the end of) their waiting period
and (correctly) calculate this period, and heed God, your Lord. Do not drive
them out of their homes and neither shall they be made to leave, unless they
are found guilty of adultery (Fahishatim Mubaiyinah).7 These are the
limits set by God. Whoever exceeds the limits set by God, wrongs his own soul.
You do not know God may subsequently bring about a new situation” (65:1).
“As for those of your wives who are past
menstruation - the prescribed waiting period, if you have any doubts, should be
three months, and the same (will apply for) those who have no courses. As for
the pregnant (wives), their (prescribed) term will be until they deliver what
they are carrying. Thus, God makes matters easy for anyone who heeds Him
(65:4). This is God’s commandment, which He has revealed to you. Anyone who
heeds God, He will efface his evils from him, and will reward him greatly”
The Qur’an Forestalls Any Manipulative Interpretation of Its
The Qur’anic dictates on divorce as
discussed above date from two different periods of its revelation. The passage 2:226-242
dates from early Medinite period, while the passage 65:1-7 from mid Medinite
period. The passages, separated chronologically by at least three to four
years, complement each other with immaculate consistency and clarity in
spelling out a husband’s obligations during a divorce. This Qur'anic repetition
is understandably to help avoid (i) any misinterpretation by later generation
scholars and (ii) any ambiguity on the subject.
In sum, the Qur’an deals with the process
of divorce in a balanced and structured manner, so that this most agonizing
experience in a person’s life is faced in a balanced and harmonious manner, and
there is no bitterness and ill feelings between the erstwhile spouses.
Most commentators have connoted the Qur’anic word Haqq in 2:228 (Ch.
34.2) with ‘right’, implying that a man has the right to retain his wife under
divorce notice, if she is later found pregnant. The authors have, however,
connoted the word Haqq with ‘obligation’, (or duty), rather than ‘right,’ based
on the following Qur’anic illustrations:
Verse 2:233 (34.5 above) commands a man to bear the expenses of his
divorced wife and the child she bears him after the divorce through to the
entire nursing period of two years. Therefore, it should also be his
responsibility or obligation to provide the emotional support to the mother and
the child during the period, which he can best do by keeping the marriage.
As agreed by most scholars, the Qur’an uses the word haqq with the
connotation of duty in the verses 2:180 (Ch. 37) and 2:236/34.6; 2:241/34.8
The underlined concluding God's attributes of the verse clearly imply
that God in His Might and Wisdom makes it an obligation or duty on the part of
an estranged husband in such a situation to reconcile with his wife and take
Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar, 1980, Chap. 2, Note
Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, Lahore 1934, reprinted, Maryland
1983, note 260.
Thomas Irving (Talim Ali), Yusuf Ali, N.J.Dawood, and Marmaduke
To denote separation at the end of the waiting period, the Qur’an uses
the verb forms Sarrihu (2:231/34.2 above), Tasrihu (2:229/34.2, 33:49/34.6),
and Fariqu (65:2/34.2 above), which it employs elsewhere with the connotation
of total freedom of the separated members, each following its own course. Thus:
Tasrahu is used to denote the free grazing of cattle (16:6).
Faraqna is used for the total parting of river Nile (2:50), and Fatafarraqa,
for parting from God’s straight path (6:153).
Thus, there can be no question of a woman,
divorced by a husband at the end of her waiting period marrying her erstwhile
The underlined words represent the traditional interpretation of the
Arabic expression: Iza Sallamtum Ma Aataitum Bi Al-Ma‘Ruf. However the
use of the underlined word derived from SLM root (Ch. 7), adds a dimension of
well being and safety to the expression that Muhammad Asad renders as follows:
“provided you ensure in a fair manner, the safety of the child you are handing
The Qur’an uses the term Fahishah in a generic sense for all kinds of
abominable deeds (Note 4/Ch. 19), but when it qualifies this term with the word
Mubaiyinah, it specifically refers to adultery committed by women as
part of the pre-Islamic social norm (Note 7/Ch. 1).
35. Status of Widows
35.1. Widows Have Same Social Status As
The Qur'an asks women to wait concerning
themselves for four lunar months and ten days after the death of their husbands
(2:234), and thereafter treats them like any unmarried women, permitting them
to entertain marriage proposals from suitors and to restart a married life or
live independently (2:234, 2:235). Its vocabulary does not even admit of the
widowed status of a woman.
“Those of you who die and leave behind
wives - they (the widows) shall wait by themselves (without remarrying) for
four months and ten days. When they have reached their (prescribed) term, there
is no blame on you for what they do with themselves honourably. (Remember,) God
is informed of what you do” (2:234).
“And there is no blame on you in giving the
proposal (of marriage) to such women, or keep it to yourself, for God Knows
that you will mention (it) to them; but do not make any secret promises to
them, except in honest and sincere terms, nor resolve on the tie of marriage,
until the prescribed term matures. And know that God Knows well what is in your
mind. So beware of Him; and know that God is Most Forgiving and Gracious”
35.2. Financial Security of a Widow
As the death of a husband could mean loss
of income as well as home, the Qur’an entitles a widow, maintenance for a year
without having to leave her deceased husband’s home, but gives her the option
to leave earlier of her free will (2:240).
“Those of you who die and leave behind
wives, should bequeath to their wives the provision for a year, without having
(them) to leave (their deceased husband's home). However, if they leave
(voluntarily), there is no blame on you for what they do with themselves
honourably. (Remember,) God is Almighty, Wise” (2:240)
In pre-Islamic Arabia, the next of kin of a
deceased man could inherit his widow as well as all of his belongings. The
Qur’an therefore directs the next of kin of a deceased person leaving behind a
widow, to refrain from creating any difficulty for her, nor to disinherit her
of the objects and gifts she received from her late husband - unless she was
openly immoral (4:19). The Qur’an also entitles a widow of a fixed inheritance,
or to be a nominee of her late husband’s will as discussed later (Ch. 38).
“You who believe, it is not lawful for you
to inherit (anything from your) women (Nisa) forcefully, nor should you put
them under any pressure in order to take away some of what you have given them,
unless they are found guilty of adultery (Fahishatim Mubaiyinah).1 So,
live with them honourably. (Remember,) if you hate them, it may be that you
hate a thing in which God has placed profound goodness” (4:19).
The absence of any pronominal suffix prior
to the Arabic word Nisa in this verse renders it fully applicable both for (a)
the widow of a kinsman as some scholars have interpreted2 and (b) the wife of a
person. Thus the kinsmen of a deceased man are asked not to treat the widow of
their deceased kin or her wealth as their inheritance, while a husband is
barred from putting any pressure on his wife, whether he is living with her or
divorcing her, to make an inheritance in his favour (such as by asking or
retaining a part of dower, asking a share from her personal property or income,
etc. as is commonplace in day to day life.)
On the surface, the Qur’an does not empower
a woman to take care of the property of her deceased husband and leaves the
matter with the community, but we must bear in mind that a woman may be widowed
soon after her marriage and or without having any issue from the marriage. If
this young or childless widow is empowered to manage the properties of her
deceased husband she might become the sole beneficiary of his properties, while
the kinsmen of her deceased husband who possibly depended on his income, could
be deprived of their due share as prescribed in the Qur’anic inheritance laws for
such a situation (Ch. 38). On the other hand, if there are children and the
mother chooses to groom them without remarrying, she will obviously have the
right to stay in her deceased husband’s home: (i) on the basis of the Qur’anic
injunction of the verse 2:233 (Ch. 34.5), and (ii) in exercise of the Qur’anic
inheritance laws (Ch. 38), which gives a woman and a child collectively a
higher share than that of the deceased man’s other next of kin. )
It is also notable that by addressing the
verse to menfolk the Qur’an is not empowering the men to decide on behalf of
the women but ensuring that its directives are put into effect by those who
give decision on community matters: men in the context of the revelation and
until very recent times, and in many societies, to this day.
The Qur’anic timeframe of one year is
obviously applicable for women who have no issue from the marriage, and would
like to get remarried or live as an independent person. A time framing was an
historical necessity to avoid the next of kin of a deceased man to retain his
widow in their household indefinitely, against her will (4:19 above), and can
be relevant in appropriate cases even today.
7/Ch. 34 for the interpretation of the expression fahishatim mubaiyinah.
Abul Kalam Azad, Muhammad Shafi, Marmaduke Pikthall.
36. Against Unlawful Intimacy
36.1. Sexual Norms of Pre-Islamic Arabia
As noted earlier, it was normative for
women in pre-Islamic Arabia to cohabit with strangers when their husbands were
away on trading missions (Note 7/Ch. 1.1). Even otherwise, sexual norms were
relaxed, and a casual encounter between the strangers of opposite sexes could
readily culminate into intimate relationship, often openly promoted by women, leading
to their motherhood. This created controversy in establishing paternal lines,
which was decided by comparing the looks and features of a child with its
likely fathers, assembled for the purupose.1 The practice, established as a
social norm, absolved men-folk of all social and financial responsibilities
towards the women they espoused or cohabited with and their offspring, forced
women into commercial adultery, and left children born of such unions at the
mercy of the society. This was in stark contradiction to the Qur’anic family
laws that were designed to i) divest men of their sexual, financial and social
licenses, ii) abolish adultery, iii) empower women and iv) give financial
protection to women and children, as reviewed in the preceding chapters. The
Qur’an therefore had to stop this practice, for which it uses a specific term,
zina (25:68/Ch. 19.1; 17:32, 60:12).
As a first step, the Qur’an asks the
Prophet to take an oath of fealty from believing women who came to him, that
they will refrain from adultery, (60:12).
“Do not go near adultery (Zina), for this
is indeed an abominable deed (Fahishah) and an evil way” (17:32).
“O Prophet! When believing women come to
you to swear allegiance to you, (let them declare that :) they will not
associate anything with God, nor will they steal, nor commit adultery (la
Yaznina), nor kill their children, nor invent any slander deliberately*,
nor disobey you in anything fair. Then you accept their allegiance, and seek
forgiveness for them from God. Indeed God is Most Forgiving and Merciful”
(60:12). *[Lit., ‘between their hands and their feet’]
Traditionally, the word Zina connotes
extramarital sexual relation of a woman, whether married or unmarried. However,
the explicit reference of a husband as the prime witness in the absence of
other witnesses in a Zina charge (24:6/36.6 below) seemingly identifies this
word with adultery in the present day sense. The Qur’an however uses the
generic term Fahishah for all forms of abominable deeds including fornication and
adultery (Note 4/Ch. 19). We have therefore shown the Arabic transliteration in
our rendition to best ensure the integrity of the interpretation.
36.2. Qur’anic Punishment For Adultery
The Qur’an describes those who commit
adultery as perverts in faith (Mushrik, Mushrikah) (24:3). As an interim
measure, it retains the prevalent capital punishment for women who invited men
into adultery but changes the form from stoning to death to confinement at
homes until death overtakes, and imposes the stringent requirement of testimony
by four direct witnesses (4:15). In the succeeding verse (4:16), the Qur’an
extends the scope of punishment to both the partners of an adulterous act, but
does not spell out the mode of punishment. In its conclusive legislative phase
on adultery (Zina), the Qur’an prescribes flogging the man, and the woman found
guilty of adultery, each with a hundred lashes, and calls for the witnessing of
the punishment by a group of believers (24:2), obviously to ensure that the
guilty do not go unpunished (24:2). The Qur'an allows for repenting and
reforming after the prescribed punishment has been inflicted (4:16/17, 24:5).
“Should any of your women commit adultery (Fahishah),
collect evidence against them from four of you. If they (so) testify, confine
them to their houses until death claims them or God makes a way for them
(4:15). If two of you do it, punish them both. If they (subsequently) repent
and reform, then leave them alone for God is Most Relenting and Merciful (16).
Repentance with God is for those who do evil in ignorance, and then soon
repent. God will relent towards them, for God is All-Knowing and Wise” (4:17).
Scholars differ whether the opening words (Wal
Ladhane) rendered in the underline (4:16) apply both to man and woman, or homosexual
relations. Given that the verse 24:2 (below) on punishment for adultery (Zina)
prescribes equal punishment each to the guilty man and the guilty woman, it is
clear that the opening two of you in the verse (4:16) applies both to man and
“Flog the adulteress (Zaniyah) and the
adulterer (Zani) each with a hundred lashes, and don’t let compassion with them
keep you from (complying with) the law of God, if you believe in God and the
Last Day; and let a group of believers witness their punishment (24:2). An
adulterer (Zani) couples with (Yankih) none but an adulteress (Zaniyah), who is
(awe) perverted in faith (Mushrikah); and as to an adulteress (Zaniyah) – none
couples with (Yankih) her but an adulterer (Zani), who is (awe)
perverted in faith (Mushrik). That is forbidden to believers” (24:3)
Traditionally the Arabic words Yankih,
awe and Mushrik, Mushrikah are rendered according to their normal usage: Yankih for ‘to marry’; awe for ‘or’
and Mushrik, Mushrikah for one who associates others with God.
Accordingly, the traditional interpretation
suggests that a believing person – a man or a woman, who has committed
adultery, can only marry one of his/her type of the opposite sex, or one who
associates others with God. But this is not consistent with the stipulations of
the verses 4:16 (above) and 2:221/Ch. 32.1, taken together.
The verse 4:16 restores the spiritual
purity of a believing adulterer or adulteress, who has repented and reformed
after receiving the prescribed punishment. The verse 2:221 (Ch. 32.1) forbids
such a person to marry one who associates others with God (Mushrik,
Mushrikah) thus contradicting the traditional interpretation of 24:3.
Moreover, the Qur’an associates the word Zina (adultery) with married women
(60:12/36.1 above), and therefore, it cannot conceivably make any suggestion
about the marriage of such women as the traditional interpretation of 24:3
Our rendering is free from any such
contradictions, and is based on Qur’anic illustrations,2 and also advocated by Muhammad
36.3. Object of the Qur’anic Punishment for
The immediate object of the Qur’anic
ordinance on adultery (24:2), was to root out the prevalent heterosexual
practices (36.1 above). In the historical context, the ordinance prohibits any
extramarital sex between a man and a woman, regardless of the marital status of
either. To avoid any miscarriage of justice, the Qur’an imposes the stringent
requirement of four witnesses (4:15/36.2 above) to establish the offence.
Viewed against the present day laced sexual
morality and normative consensual licenses, the Qur’anic punishment for
adultery appears harsh and outlandish. However, the trauma and agony a wayward
spouse may cause in a stable and close-knit happy family may be immensely greater
than the extent of the punishment prescribed for adultery - the nature of which
is however obviously dictated by the prevalent practices (See 36.7 below).
36.4. Qur’anic Punishment for Slandering
The Qur’an imposes a punishment of eighty
lashes on those who accuse a woman of adultery, but fail to provide four
“And those who accuse chaste women, but
fail to bring four witnesses, flog them with eighty lashes, and never accept
their testimony, ever, for it is they who are perverse (24:4), except those who
repent after that (Ba’da Dhalika) and reform (themselves); for God is Most
Forgiving and Merciful” (24:5).
The underlined stipulation Ba‘da Dhalika
indicates that the guilty may be forgiven ‘after’ (Ba’da) the prescribed
punishment of ‘flogging’ has been inflicted upon them. Accordingly, we have
placed the qualifying word, ‘subsequently’, in bracket while rendering the
complimentary verse, 4:16 in the foregoing (36.2).
The case of the offspring of an unwedded mother
The Qur’an remains silent about any
offspring of an unwedded mother. It levels no stigma upon such a child. The
fact is, no matter the legitimacy of a relationship, all children are God’s
creation, and based on the Qur’an’s broader message, subject to the same set of
36.6. Establishing Sexual Offence against
One’s Wife, if there Is No Witness
The Qur’an prescribes an oath protocol to
establish a charge of adultery against a woman in the absence of any witnesses,
other than her husband. In such an event, the husband must take an oath four
times invoking God that he was truthful, and a fifth time, invoking God’s curse
upon himself if he was lying (24:6/7). However, the wife could avert the
punishment by reciprocal oaths (24:8/9).
“Those who accuse their own wives but have
no witnesses except themselves, the evidence of one of them should be to
testify four times keeping God as a witness that he is truthful (24:6), (swearing)
a fifth (time) that God’s curse be on him if he is a liar (7). However, it will
avert the punishment from her if she testifies four times keeping God as a
witness that he (her husband) is a liar (8), (swearing) a fifth time that God’s
curse be on her if he (her husband) is truthful” (24:9). [Literally the
underlined expressions should read: ‘among the truthful ones’, ‘among the
36.7. Broader Qur’anic Message Relating To
Qur’anic injunctions against adultery
(4:15, 24:2/36.2 above) must be comprehended in conjunction with the other
elements of its laws on man and woman relationship (Ch.33) to evolve the
Qur’an’s universal message on the subject, as attempted below.
In the event, a man suspects his wife of
adulterous behaviour, he is commanded to counsel her, temporarily shun her bed,
and finally assert on her, failing which he can involve the community and
proceed for a divorce (4:34/35, Ch. 33.6). If he, however, chooses to charge
his wife of adultery, he must bring four eyewitnesses (4:15/36.2 above). This
may however be impossible, as no woman would commit adultery openly and risk
the Qur’anic punishment. Setting up false witnesses, on the other hand, would
be constrained by the severity of punishment for false witnessing (24:4/5, 36.4
above). So the best a man could perhaps do is to divorce her, or to create a
situation for her to divorce him.
In the event, a woman suspects her husband
of adultery; she is urged to conciliate with him, failing which she can divorce
him unilaterally (4:128, 4:130/Ch. 33.6).
As for the Qur’anic specific punishment,
e.g. flogging, it drew on the prevalent code and aimed at bringing about a
quantum social change (36.1 above). Therefore, to take the punishment in
isolation or out of its historical context as harsh or draconian will be
misleading. The Qur’an was not sent down to punish humanity but to deliver
humanity – particularly the women and the oppressed classes, from the
sufferings society inflicted upon them - “to lift from them their burdens and
shackles that were upon them (before)” (7:157, Note 185/Ch. 3), and the
achievement of its noble objectives inevitably entailed some hard measures,
affecting albeit, a fractional minority of people.
36.8. Sexual Offences
The Qur’anic verses reviewed in this
chapter relate specifically to adultery (zina) in which consenting men and
women engaged themselves as part of the prevalent social norms (36.1 above).
The lax sexual mores of the times kept sex related crimes to low levels and accordingly
the Qur’an does not specifically refer to sex offences which are committed by
men or women by force, or by way of active seduction, or when their prey is in
a state of delusion or unconsciousness, such as under drug or during sleep. Muslim jurists have legislated capital
punishment for rape while punishment for other forms of sex-offences is
dictated by the severity and circumstances of the offence. However, it must be
admitted that the capital punishment for rape is not derived from the Qur’an, and
is based on the pre-Islamic custom of stoning to death for adultery, as
recorded in the traditions.
36.9. The Qur’an Condemns Homosexuality.
The Qur’an condemns homosexual behaviour
(7:80/81), and refers to it as a transgression beyond bounds (7:81). In a
number of its passages,4 it refers to the homosexual norms of the Prophet Lot’s
people, who were destroyed for their sins.
“Lot said to his people, ‘Would you commit
such an abomination (Fahishah) that none in the world has ever done before you
(7:80)? You approach men in your lust, instead of women. Indeed, you are a
transgressing people.” (7:81)
There is a growing debate in the West to
treat homosexuality as a moral norm. They argue that that homosexuality is a
natural disposition that comes with the fuller awakening of sexual impulses
during the adolescence; and therefore it should be treated as a completely
normal behaviour. The biological fact is, the awareness of sex sets in much
early in life. If homosexuality is regarded as perfectly acceptable behaviour,
it will, like any addiction, infest children even at primary school level, who
will then boldly carry their addiction through to adulthood creating serious
cultural and demographic issues and a breakdown of social order.
Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation by
Ismail Ragi, 8th edition, Karachi 1989, p. 319.
The Qur’anic illustrations supporting our rendition of the verse 24:3
are as follows:
The use of the verb form yankih in the verse 24:3 is immediately
preceded by a reference to the punishment for adultery or coupling without
marriage (zina, in 24:2 above). This lends the word yankih in24:3, a generic
meaning of ‘coupling’ without marriage, as advocated by Muhammad Asad.
b. The particle awe is interpreted in an
amplifying or explanatory sense as in 70:30 (Ch. 19.1).
The terms mushrik, mushrikah, which normally signify a person who
‘associates others with God’, is interpreted in a broader sense as one who is
‘perverted in faith’, as those who ‘associate others with God’ are indeed
perverted in their faiths.
Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Ch.24, note 5.
15:72-75, 26:165-73, 27:54-58, 29:31-35.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of
Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth
study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has
co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar
al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was
endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by
Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.