Zinaa – Illicit Sexual Gratification and its Punishment (from ‘Morality in Islam’)

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Zinaa – Illicit Sexual Gratification and its Punishment (from ‘Morality in Islam’)



Perverted people of the modern era visualize illegal and deviated sexual gratification as natural acts and regard marriage as an unnecessary innovation of civilization. They seem to think that it is perfectly natural that whenever one feels the urge, or finds the opportunity, and two members of the same or opposite sex mutually agree, sexual intercourse should take place, even without the presence of a deeper spiritual bond. They do not consider such conduct to be demeaning to the nature of man. This is indeed a wrong perception of the character of human beings since man has. the capacity to form spiritual relationships that transcend beyond the mere physical. Thus the humanity of man is not two independent traits, but have to merge together to constitute his personality. Due to their inter-dependance, it is impossible to reject the demands of one in favour of the other.


It is not surprising that all the revealed religions have prohibited fornication and adultery and have fought against these crimes against society. Islam, the last of the divinely revealed religions is very strict in prohibiting Zina, for it leads to confusion of lineage, child abuse, the breaking-up of families, bitterness in relationships, the spread of veneral diseases, and a general laxity in morals; moreover, it opens the door to a flood of lust and self-gratification. Therefore, in Islam, whatever excites passions, opens ways for illicit sexual relations and promotes indecency and obscenity, is prohibited.

Fornication has been defined as the disappearance of the glans penis of a sober and sensible major (adult) person into the vagina of a woman, not his own legally married wife, and this act not being due to any mistake or compulsion.

The Arabic word, ‘Zinaa’ refers to sexual intercourse between a man and married to each other. It therefore implies both to adultery (which implies that one or both of the parties are married to a person or persons other than the ones concerned) and to fornication, which in its signification, implies that both parties, are unmarried. The English word adultery applies to a married man or woman indulging in illicit sexual intercourse with one who is not the legal wife or husband, while fornication implies that both parties are unmarried. Thus Zinaa, which is a major sin in Islam, refers to both adultery and fornication.

The following is mentioned in the Old Testamet:

“The Lord gave the following regulations. Do not have sexual intercourse with any of your relatives. Do not disgrace your father by having intercourse with any of his wives. Do not have intercourse with your sister or step-sister, whether or not she was brought up in the same house with you. Do not have intercourse with your granddaughter that will be disgrace to you. Do not have intercourse with your aunt, whether she is your father’s sister or your mother’s sister. Do not have intercourse with your uncle’s wife. She is, your aunt too. Do not have intercourse with your daughter-in-law or with your brother’s wife. Do not have intercourse with the daughter or grand-daughter of a woman with whom you had intercourse, they may be related to you, and that would be incest. Do not take your wife’s sister as one of your wives, as long as your wife is living. Do not have intercourse with a woman during her monthly period. Do not have intercourse with another man’s wife …’

Adultery is not only shameful in itself and inconsistent with any self-respect or respect for others, but it opens the road to many evils. It destroys the basis of the family; it works against the interest of children born or to be born; it may lead to murders and feuds and loss of reputation and should it be avoided as a sin, but any approach or temptation to it should be avoided. The Qur’aan mentions:

‘And approach not adultery, for it is a shameful deed and an evil, opening the road to other evils.’

Compare this austere attitude of Islam with the sordid morality of the modern-day West where sexual fidelity and discipline are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Zinaa is a very grievous crime. One should not even draw near it implies that one should not even commit those actions which are done by the preliminary impulses of lewdness as seeing a woman without legitimate authority of Shari’ah, kissing a woman, shaking hands with a woman, etc. as is customary in western society. This verse forbids even the preliminary motions of lewdness also.

Islam forbids looking at a member of the opposite sex with desire; for the eye is the key to the feelings, and the look is the messenger of desire, carrying the message of fornication or adultery. A poet of ancient times has said:

‘All affairs begin with the sight, the raging fire a spark can ignite’

while a contemporary poet declares:

‘A look, then a smile, then a nod of the head, then a talk, then a promise, then the warmth of the bed’

The prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) considered hungry and lustful looks at a person of the opposite sex as ‘the zina’ of the eyes, according to his saying, ‘The eyes also commit Zina, and their Zina is the lustful look. He termed, ‘the lustful look’ Zina because it gives sexual pleasure and gratification in an unlawful manner. This is also what Hadhrat Isa (Jesus) (Alayhis salaam) is reported to have said in the Gospel of Matthew:

‘You have heard that it was said, you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who so much as looks at woman with evil desire for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ (Matt.5.27-28)

Indeed such hungry and lustful looks are not merely a danger to sexual morality but they also result in agitation of the mind and disturbed thoughts.

The Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) declared that Zinaa is the greatest crime after Shirk (associating partners with Allah Ta’ala):

‘There is no sin after Shirk greater in the eyes of Allah than a drop of semen which a man places in the womb which is not lawful for him.’

Fornication creates disturbance in genealogy and is the cause of many dissensions and strife and in an evil way makes its head in society.

Once a man came to the holy Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) and asked him to permit him to engage in fornication. The Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) remained silent for a while, while the companions around him rebuked the man at his discourteous and insolent questions to the prophet. They said to him that he should control his tongue in the presence of the Messenger of Allah and should not utter such derogatory statements. The Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) called him near and asked him whether he approved of this act being committed to his mother, daughter, sister, paternal or maternal aunt. He said, ‘May Allah sacrifice my life on you, O Messenger of Allah, never!’ The Prophet replied, ‘Similar is the case with others. They will greatly abhor this action being committed to their mothers, daughters, sisters, paternal and maternal aunts.‘ Then the Messenger of Allah prayed to Allah on his behalf that his heart be purified and his shameful parts made secure. Abu Imaama mentioned that after this prayer his condition became such that he did not cast an eye on any strange woman.

Islam strictly abhors adultery and therefore commands the Muslims to refrain from all those satanic temptations that encourages a person to engage in such unlawful encounters. Even to glance at an unknown woman with a passionate, lustful intention is also considered a sin. Similarly, the adultery of the legs is walking towards an unlawful woman with evil temptations, and the adultery of the hands is touching, patting and caressing a strange woman who is prohibited to one.


The Qur’aan and Ahaadith have clearly defined the punishment to be meted out to those committing Zina. Because the Arabs were steeped in the vice of Zinaa is the days of ignorance, the Qur’aan transformed this unhealthy environment, accommodating the new converts in a gradual process over a length of time. The first injunction was directed towards the women restricting those guilty of Zinaa to their homes until death. Allah Ta’ala declares:

‘If any of your women are guilty of adultery, take the evidence of four (reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify, confine them to their houses until death do claim them, or Allah Ta’ala ordains for them some other way.’

Here it must be emphasized that the overwhelming majority of the commentators of the Qur’aan are of the opinion that the word ‘Faahishah’ refers to adultery or fornication.

Thereafter, divine revelation was directed towards both men and women regarding their punishment:

‘If two persons among you are guilty of adultery, punish them both. If they repent and amend, leave them alone, for Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful’.

The third injunction categorically and specifically defined the punishment to be meted out to the offenders:

‘The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each one of them with a hundred stripes; let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah Ta’ala and the Last Day and let a party of believers witness their punishment.’

If you believe firmly in Allah Ta’ala, you should not hesitate a little in the promulgation and execution of His Laws and Commandments. You should not diminish the punishment of the culprit feeling merciful upon him, nor should you withdraw the punishment, not should you devise a very light form of punishment which may mar its punitive aspect totally. You should understand very well that Allah Ta’ala is All-Wise and is Kinder to His servants than you. His order, whether lenient or severe, is not devoid of wisdom and mercy for the collective creatures of the universe.

The punishment should not be given in solitary confinement, should be administered before an assembly of Muslims because in that humiliation there is the perfection and publicity of the punishment, and a source of lesson for the on lookers.

Here a misconception may arise that as in the case of fornication, the punishment of adultery too, has also been restricted to a hundred lashes, since the Qur’aan remained silent on Rajm (stoning to death). This misunderstanding has been clarified by the following Hadith:

‘Take it from me, accept it from me, undoubtedly Allah has now shown a path for them (adulterers). For unmarried persons (guilty of fornication), the punishment is one hundred lashes and an exile for one year. For married adulterers, it is one hundred lashes and stoning to death.’

Hadhrat Umar (Radhiallaahu Anhu) also predicted anti-Rajm sentiments in future generations: Ibn Abbaas (Radhiallaahu Anhu) reported, ‘Umar said, ‘I am afraid that after a long time has passed, people may say, ‘We do not find the verses of rajm (stoning to death) in the Book of Allah’, and consequently they may go astray by leaving an obligation that Allah Ta’ala has revealed. Lo! I confirm that the penalty of rajm 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.’

Some scholars are of the opinion that an offender who is going to be stoned to death, need not be punished with a hundred lashes, citing the incidence where the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) stoned two Jewish adulterers and withheld lashing them. some jurists are of a contrary opinion maintaining that Khalif Ali (Radhiallaahu Anhu) punished a woman with lashes on a Thursday and stoned her on a Friday. His explanation was that she was lashed in accordance with Qur’aanic injunction and stoned in keeping with Prophetic compulsion.

Anyone who has been accused of Zinaa, has to be proven guilty by one of these four conditions:

a) Four eye witnesses

b) Self confession

c) Circumstancial evidence, e.g. an unmarried woman becomes pregnant

b) Li’aan, i.e. each of the spouses curses himself/herself in the even of his/her allegation of adultery is incorrect and curses the other if the allegation against him/her is fabricated.