All praise is due to Allah, the One Who says:
[And do not come near to the unlawful sexual intercourse.] (Al-Israa' 17:32)
And peace and blessings be upon His slave and Messenger Muhammad, who said, "When a man commits fornication, faith departs from him and there is something like a canvas roof over his head; and when he quits that action, faith returns to him" (Abu Dawud 40:4673).
Undoubtedly, all Muslims are aware of the prohibition of adultery and fornication. However, many of us live in a Western society where this crime has become widespread and commonly accepted. This crime has even crept into some Muslim homes to the extent that we find some who are proud to see their son entering the house with a girl accompanying him. This article will define adultery and fornication in Islam; it will discuss the punishment for them and the status of one's marriage to one who commits either of them; and it will advise how to repent and how to protect yourself from them.
In today's English, unlawful sexual intercourse by a married person is called adultery; sexual intercourse by an unmarried person is called fornication. Unlike English, Arabic has only one word for both cases — zina. Throughout the history of religions, zina always has been prohibited; however, its prohibition is more emphatic and forceful in Islam. Zina is regarded as one of the gravest of all the major sins. Over fourteen hundred years ago, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) prophesied that among the signs of the Day of Judgment is the prevalence of illegal sexual intercourse.
Anas ibn Malik reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying, "It is from the conditions of the Last Hour that knowledge would be taken away and ignorance would prevail (upon the world), liquor would be drunk, and adultery would become rampant" (Muslim 34:6451).
Prophet Muhammad viewed zina as a serious crime. It is reported that Allah's Messenger ordered that an unmarried man who committed illegal sexual intercourse be scourged one hundred lashes and sent into exile for one year (Al-Bukhari 3:48 817).
A person has committed zina if he or she voluntarily and deliberately performs sexual intercourse with other than his or her spouse. The act of zina has taken place when the man's sexual organ has been inserted inside a woman's vagina, regardless of the number of times or whether contraception was used, such as a condom or separator between the consenting adults' organs.
When a boy promises a girl marriage and she believes him without any further adieu, without involving her family, she is giving away her honor for the desire to be with that boy. When the wife/husband get involved in an extra-marital affair for whatever reason, they are reducing their level of commitment, their adulthood, their families to emotional instability and the rights of the animal which have less choice than that of humans. Blinded by emotions the foundations of the primary social institution is shaken.
A person is convicted of zina by one or more of the following ways:
If the zaani (fornicator or adulterer) makes a confession without going back on his or her word until he or she is subjected to any prescribed punishment. If at some stage the person retracts the confession, he or she must not be subjected to any prescribed punishment.
The testimony to the act of four reliable and pious men, each of whom must testify that he actually saw the man's sexual organ inserted into the woman's vagina. This stringent condition is to protect innocent Muslims and to block the road for those who want to spread evil among the Muslim society.
If a woman who is not married is found pregnant.
Punishment for Zina in This Life
There are definite prescribed punishments known as hadd (plural: hudud), which have been mentioned in the Qur'an and the Sunnah concerning those who engage in the criminal act. The following conditions must be fulfilled before the hadd is applied:
1. The offenders must be sane.
2. They must be Muslim.
3. They have reached the age of puberty.
4. They must be free and not slaves.
The Qur'anic injunctions with regards to those who commit zina were revealed in stages. The wisdom behind this was to make these injunctions acceptable to the new converts to Islam who often engaged in zina during the days of Jahiliyah (ignorance). The first revelation concerning the punishment of zina was that a woman guilty of zina was to be confined to her home until she died (An-Nisaa' 4:15). The second revelation covered both men and women and was not very specific regarding punishment:
[And as for the two who are guilty of indecency from among you, give them both a punishment; then if they repent and amend, turn aside from them; surely Allah is Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.] (An-Nisaa' 4:16)
Allah Almighty then revealed:
[(As for) the fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them, (giving) a hundred stripes, and let not pity for them detain you in the matter of obedience to Allah and the last day.] (An-Nur 24:2)
Know that punishment for this crime of zina acts as atonement for this sin. The idea behind the harsh and severe punishment does not contradict the spirit of Islam; it actually serves as a deterrent in society. It protects a person's family lineage and the spread of moral decadence and disease in society. When people realize the graveness of their sin, and that its punishment is most humiliating and painful, very few would dare to commit it.
Marriage to a Person Guilty of Zina
Marriage between two who are guilty of zina is permissible as per what Allah Almighty says:
[The fornicator shall not marry any but a fornicatress or idolatress, and (as for) the fornicatress, none shall marry her but a fornicator or an idolater; and it is forbidden to the believers."] (An-Nur 24:3)
There is a difference of opinion among the scholars with regards to a chaste man marrying an adulteress who has not repented or vice versa. Some of them said that it is not lawful. This is the opinion of `Ali, Al-Baraa', `A’ishah, and Mas`ud (may Allah be pleased with them all). The majority of scholars, including Abu Bakr, `Umar or `Uthman, and Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them all), on the other hand, permitted marriage with an adulterer, adding however, that marriage to a chaste and pure person was more virtuous.
One might think that the only way a person guilty of zina can be forgiven is by undergoing the prescribed punishment (hadd), but scholars have said that a person who commits a sin should repent to Allah Almighty. The repentance should be sincere, and the guilty person should perform lots of righteous acts and acts of worship. Furthermore, the person should feel remorse and have no intention of ever committing the sin again. The repentance will not be accepted if it is done during the throes of death, as Allah Most High says
[And repentance is not for those who go on doing evil deeds, until when death comes to one of them, he says: Surely now I repent; nor (for) those who die while they are unbelievers.] (An-Nisaa' 4:18)
Protection From Committing Zina
There are many ways that Muslims can protect themselves from zina. Salah (prayer), both obligatory and supererogatory, is one of the strongest defenses against zina. Allah Almighty says
[Recite that which has been revealed to you of the Book and keep up prayer; surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil, and certainly the remembrance of Allah is the greatest.] (Al-`Ankabut 29:45)
Regular fasting is another way of suppressing sexual desires, as Allah's Messenger prescribed it for young people who could not afford to get married. Another way to keep away from zina is by reminding yourself how you would abhor and dislike it for your mother, daughter, sister, brother, and aunt. This was how Prophet Muhammad explained it to a man who came seeking permission to commit zina. The Prophet told him to remember that Satan watches and waits for you to be distant from your Muslim brethren, then he makes his attack. And so among the things that will deter you from zina is to always be in the company of righteous people who will remind you of Allah Almighty.
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said in the hadith collection of Abu Dawud, "Indeed the wolf devours the lone sheep." Remember that saying "no" to someone who invites you to commit zina will secure you a place of shelter under the shade of Allah's throne on the day when their will be no shelter except His.
We ask Allah Most High to protect us from the evil of zina, to accept out righteous actions, and to shower us with His bounties in this life and in the hereafter.