Adultery, Punishment of

The Punishment of Adultery in Islam 

Quran:024.002: “The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by God, if ye believe in God and the Last Day: and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment.” 

From the verse above, it is fairly clear that the punishment of adultery AND fornication is flogging and not stoning to death. Why is it that some Muslims continue to believe that according to the Sunnah (the sayings) of the Prophet, the punishment is stoning to death and, therefore, that’s what should be followed? The Hadith is fairly clear that the Prophet did order at least a couple people to be stoned to death for adultery. Is it the Hadith that is fabricated or is it that Prophet Muhammad made a “mistake” in obeying God’s law? The answer is neither. 

As we know, the Quran was revealed in stages. The Prophet Muhammad’s sayings, as reported in various compilations of Hadith, cover a long period of time and are not always in sync with God’s revelations. What is important is to judge what the Prophet’s instructions were AFTER the revelations of verses on those particular subjects. For example, if the Prophet instructed his followers in one way and God revealed different instructions later, then it is God’s instructions that should be followed as that has precedence over Hadith. 

Coming back to our subject, we need to first find out why the Prophet ordered ‘rajm’, and secondly if he did so AFTER the above quoted verses from the Quran. The first case in which the Prophet ordered stoning, it was a Jewish couple that had been charged with adultery and the Prophet used the Old Testament law in awarding that punishment. Subsequent to that, many Muslims were also stoned. However, it seems that those people were stoned BEFORE the revelation of Verse 24:002. There is a tradition in Bukhari in which a similar question was raised without a conclusive answer. Narrated Ash Shaibani , I asked ‘Abdullah bin Abi Aufa, ‘Did Allah’s Apostle carry out the Rajm penalty ( i.e., stoning to death)?’ He said, “Yes.” I said, “Before the revelation of Surat-ar-Nur or after it?” He replied, “I don’t Know.” 

Those Muslims who believe that stoning is part of the Sunnah and the practice must continue, quote other Hadiths attributed to the second Caliph Omar Razi’allah Anh in which he is said to  have claimed that Stoning was something that was sanctioned by the Prophet ‘after’ the revelation of Verse 24:002 and that the injunctions ‘were’ to be found in the Quran. However, most of these Ahadith seem to contradict each other. Lets look at each of these Ahadith one by one and analyze them: 

Hadith: 008.082.816 

“Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas 

‘Umar said, “I am afraid that after a long time has passed, people may say, “We do not find the Verses of the Rajam (stoning to death) in the Holy Book,” and consequently they may go astray by leaving an obligation that Allah has revealed. Lo! I confirm that the penalty of Rajam be inflicted on him who commits illegal sexual intercourse, if he is already married and the crime is proved by witnesses or pregnancy or confession.” Sufyan added, “I have memorized this narration in this way.” ‘Umar added, “Surely Allah’s Apostle carried out the penalty of Rajam, and so did we after him.” 

Commentary: 

In this Hadith, Caliph Umar acknowledges the fact that the punishment of stoning is not to be found in the Quran. Secondly, he says that people may “go astray” by not following an obligation that Allah has “revealed.” The question is, where is it revealed if it is not to be found in the Quran? 

The Second Hadith: Bukhari 008.082.817“In the meantime, ‘Umar sat on the pulpit and when the callmakers for the prayer had finished their call, ‘Umar stood up, and having glorified and praised Allah as He deserved, he said, “Now then, I am going to tell you something which (Allah) has written for me to say. I do not know; perhaps it portends my death, so whoever understands and remembers it, must narrate it to the others wherever his mount takes him, but if somebody is afraid that he does not understand it, then it is unlawful for him to tell lies about me. Allah sent Muhammad with the Truth and revealed the Holy Book to him, and among what Allah revealed, was the Verse of the Rajam (the stoning of married person (male & female) who commits illegal sexual intercourse, and we did recite this Verse and understood and memorized it. Allah’s Apostle did carry out the punishment of stoning and so did we after him.” 

Commentary: 

In this Hadith, ‘Umar is quoted to have said that the verse regarding Rajam ‘was’ in the Quran and that everybody recited that verse and understood it. Now, as every Muslim knows there are no verses that have been taken out from the Quran. Secondly, even if there were, that means that those verses were not applicable anymore and the instructions on Rajam should not have been followed. There are two possibilities that explain this apparent contradiction. 1). Hadith is wrong. 2). ‘Umar was misunderstood. The first possibility is unlikely because Bukhari was one of the most conservative compilers of Hadith and who chose Hadith in his compilation after carefully verifying the authenticity of all narrators. Secondly, there was no incentive for Bukhari to invent such a tall tale when there was no need to do so. The second possibility, therefore, seems more likely. These Hadiths, attributed to Caliph Umar, have all been narrated by only one of the Sahaaba (companion of the Prophet), Ibn Abbas, and report only one incidence where Umar is said to have made these claims in a Friday sermon. We also know that Ibn Abbas ran a theological seminary from his house, and most likely the Hadith on this issue was narrated through one of his students. Since the quoted Hadith is self contradictory, it is possible that somebody along that chain of narrators misunderstood and confused the facts. One explanation, which has been given by some scholars, is that Umar was referring to the Torah and not to the Quran when using the word “Kitaab Allah” (common terminology in the Quran for Torah. See Quran 2:213). However, that seems unlikely as the Hadith says that the practice continued “after” Prophet Muhammad. The other explanation, which is sometimes given, is that a verse was indeed revealed on Rajm but it was later abrogated. If that is the case, then the commandment itself should have been abrogated and the practice should not have continued. 

The other Hadith which is usually quoted is not from Bukhari but from Sahih Muslim, which also has only one narrator and one chain. This Hadith goes back not to Caliph Umar but to the Prophet Muhammad himself. This is stated as follows: 

Book 017, Number 4191: 

“’Ubada b. as-Samit reported: Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: 

Receive (teaching) from me, receive (teaching) from me. Allah has ordained a way for those (women). When an unmarried male commits adultery with an unmarried female (they should receive) one hundred lashes and banishment for one year. And in case of married male committing adultery with a married female, they shall receive one hundred lashes and be stoned to death.” 

The interesting thing is that this Hadith is not to be found in Bukhari’s compilation, which had been written earlier. Muslim was a student of Bukhari and probably had recourse to the same information. It seems that Bukhari rejected this Hadith as he considered it unreliable. It is also not clear whether this saying of the Prophet was before the revelation of Verse 24:002 or after. 

There is one more report regarding Ali (r.a.) flogging and then stoning somebody for adultery, saying that the flogging was according to the Quran and the stoning according to Sunnah. That sounds strange, because Sunnah cannot override God’s law. 

As some other authors have pointed out, Verse 4:25 of the Quran precludes any possibility of a death sentence. It talks about the punishment of a married slave adulterous woman to be “half” the punishment of a free married woman. In this case, how can one give somebody half a stoning? 

Conclusion: Due to the facts outlined above, it seems that the punishment of ‘rajam’ is at least controversial, if not wrong, from a purely theological point. It is obvious that early Islamic scholars themselves debated this issue and were not certain. To give benefit of the doubt to the criminals, in my humble opinion, ‘rajam’ should never be carried out. It is time that Muslim scholars, who usually rely on the opinions of their predecessors, should come out and boldly speak against this mode of punishment, which unfortunately is still being carried out in some Islamic countries. 

14 thoughts on “Adultery, Punishment of

  1. Alif March 13, 2013 at 10:28 am Reply

    If I look at the hadith of Sahih Bukhari #816 and #817 in a negative way, I think that these hadith clearly had only one message. It want the muslims to have doubt in the authenticity of the Quran. So I think the hadith is wrong. Although the hadith is in Sahih Bukhari, there is no guarantee that the contains is untouched. And Allah said in the Quran: ‘None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause it to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: knowest thou that God has power over all things?’ (2: 106). And in my opinion, what that was abrogate is actually the law in the earlier scripture i.e Torah and not in the Quran. The law in the Quran is the replacement for the abrogated law. Just like the replacement of the law of fasting and the qiblah direction. I believe there were not a single verse in the Quran that was abrogated. If I believe in that way, doesn’t it means I believe there is a flaw in divine revelation?? Nauzubillah

    • sincereadvisor March 15, 2013 at 5:03 am Reply

      That’s an astute comment. There is also a difference of opinion on the meaning of “abrogation” between early scholars and the latter ones. You may want to look up Shah Waliullah’s views on Abrogation. Also, I don’t think even Imam Bukhari was 100% sure that each and every Hadith he selected was “sahih.” He selected the ones which were more likely to be true. I personally like Imam Malik’s Muwatta better, as it was the first Hadith book written, and Imam Malik lived all his life in Medina and knew the people from which he received the narrations. I also tend to discount all Hadiths narrated through Abu Hurraira, because of their number and because of the fact that Umar (r.a.) had fired him for taking too many “gifts” while he was appointed governor of Bahrain.

  2. Abdur Rehman March 15, 2013 at 7:01 am Reply

    in fact fabricated hadiths has harmed the islam so badly that now non muslims base such hadiths to question the authenticity of holy Quran. for me as true muslim it is easy to discard all such hadiths which contradict holy Quran because Quran is the word of ALLAH and cannot be changed but haiths ,on other hand are human narrations and carry huge corruption.

  3. Alif March 15, 2013 at 9:08 am Reply

    Islam is based on naql (texts) and aql (intellect). But for some people, they just have the texts.. that’s why they can’t differentiate between fake and truth. Just look at the hadith which claimed to be narrated by Ubada Ibn As Samit: “…….And in case of married male committing adultery with a married female, they shall receive one hundred lashes and be stoned to death.”. In common sense, why you waste your energy to flog the person who going to be stoned to death?? And if Stoning is a sunnah, how can a punishment according to sunnah is far more heavier than according to Quran? Sunnah in crime punishment? that’s so rare to hear. Allahu a’lam.

  4. sam September 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm Reply

    a adulterurer can only marry a adulterurer….quran…..so if you get stoned to death how can you remarry?….iran and saudi competed against each other in who can have the tougher laws..which is not quranic based

  5. Herman March 17, 2014 at 7:08 pm Reply

    It’s important in this discussion to state what kinds of adultery and fornication are acceptable to Muslims, and what kinds are not.
    Certainly, Muhammad would not permit engaging in sexual intercourse with another Muslim’s wife, as this would lead to rancor among the Muslims, thereby making them less likely to cooperate with each other when they raided other tribes for booty. Consequently, there would be a significant punishment for engaging in this type of adultery.
    However, there is another type of adultery & fornication that Muhammad had no problem with, that is, committing adultery with one’s sex slave, even though one is married to someone else. (Of course, if the sex slave already has a nonMuslim husband, the Muslims would arrogantly tell her that her marriage has been nullified). In Koran 70: 29-30, we read: 70:29 “And those who preserve their chastity” 70:30 “Save with their wives and those whom their right hands possess [the sex slaves], for thus they are not blameworthy.”
    So even if one already has a wife, Muhammad allows you to fornicate & commit adultery with your sex slave. There would be no punishment here.
    Of additional interest is that once again in the Koran we find a passage directed to men only, as women would not be having wives (back in those days). Muhammad’s focus is on men, since women are thought of as inferior, and since men bring Muhammad the booty!

  6. sam March 18, 2014 at 12:25 am Reply

    mihammad in terms of wives was a lightweight…buybull says kings 11 1 ‘solomon had 300 wives and 400 concubines[sex slaves]’ ‘david had 99 wives’…’issac married rebecca when she was 3 yrs old’ [midrash]..oy vey

  7. Herman September 29, 2014 at 7:24 pm Reply

    sinceradvisor, you left off a relevant hadith. From Sahih Bukhari:

    “Two bedouins came to the Prophet (saws) and said, “O Allah’s Messenger (saws)! Judge between us according to Allah’s Laws.” His opponent got up and said, “He is right. Judge between us according to Allah’s Laws.” The bedouin said, “My son was a laborer working for this man, and he committed illegal sexual intercourse with his wife. The people told me that my son should be stoned to death; so, in lieu of that, I paid a ransom of one hundred sheep and a slave girl to save my son. Then I asked the learned scholars who said, ‘Your son has to be lashed one-hundred lashes and has to be exiled for one year.’ The Prophet (saws) said, “No doubt I will judge between you according to Allah’s Laws. The slave-girl and the sheep are to go back to you, and your son will get a hundred lashes and one year exile.” He then addressed somebody (Hadrat Unais (r.a.)): “O Unais! Go to the wife of this (man), and if she confesses to her crime (of adultery), STONE HER TO DEATH.” So, Hadrat Unais (r.a.) went and stoned her to death.”

    Having surrendered his brain to Muhammad, sincereadvisor can be expected to defend this sadistic barbarity.

    • Alif October 2, 2014 at 4:04 am Reply

      First rule of thumb, if any hadith shows a clear contradiction with the Quran, we must reject the hadith and stay with the Quran. Secondly, any verdict mentioned in the Quran is clear and conclusive. Therefore we need to study the background of the hadith (i.e history) you just quoted to understand as we found a contradiction with the Quran. So I have some questions for you (although I know you don’t know the answer). First, was the law of flogging (Surah An Nur verses 2) came down after this hadith or before?. Second, do you know the religion and the background of all the characters mentioned in this hadith: the two bedouins, the people who ordered stoning and the “learned scholars” who ordered one year exiled?

  8. sam September 29, 2014 at 7:31 pm Reply

    never take hadiths written 200 yrs after prophet over the quran god’s word…he did use the punishment of stoning as written in torah before the quranic verses came down…jesus in buybull was a peaceful man at first but as he got support he turned extreme and violent luke 19 27 ‘bring those who deny me before me and kill them’….isis before isis oy vey

    • Herman October 1, 2014 at 3:59 pm Reply

      Let us ask Allah, “Allah, is the quran your word?” NO ANSWER!!!!!
      You know what, Sam, I think Allah died about the exact same time Muhammad died. What do you think?

  9. sam October 2, 2014 at 1:12 am Reply

    god doesnt die no matter what not even on a cross ot says all who die on tree [cross] are cursed….here is a good rule of thumb to follow if you desire pure monotheism and want to follow jesus ‘worship only the one god with all your heart and mind’… never ever worship any entity that emits feces out its rectum be it a cow [hindus] or a man [jesus]….oy vey

  10. Herman47 October 19, 2014 at 5:05 pm Reply

    sinceradvisor writes; “From the verse above, it is fairly clear that the punishment of adultery AND fornication is flogging and not stoning to death” Actually, as far as women are concerned, the punishment is not so clear. In Koran 4:15, Muhammad decided that any woman guilty of lewdness should be imprisoned for life (if 4 witnesses were found). By the time Muhammad was coming up with Koran 24:2, he had forgotten what he said earlier, & so his Allah declared that the punishment would not be as severe (just 100 stripes).
    From what I read, most Islamic scholars agree that Koran 24:2 abrogates Koran 4:15.

  11. sam November 2, 2014 at 3:42 pm Reply

    nope keep them in their homes until god finds for them a solution are un married fornicators…100 stripes are for married adulterers…read it again…stoning only in o t…muhammad used it as a punishment before the verse came down for 100 stripes…in both cases for unmarried and unmarried fornicators there has to be a punishment….today in the u s there are 50 million people on food stamps [pop of france] all are headed by single moms…..actions have consequences.the Lord knew this .ps did jesus of buybull abrogate his peaceful verses when he called for war and murder in his later verses luke 19 27 ‘kill those who deny me’…’i come with sword not peace’ ..oy vey

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