Verses from Surah Al-Noor [ 3 – 9 ]

[3] A fornicator does not marry10 but a fornicatress or an idolater;11 and none marries a fornicatress but a fornicator or an idolatress. That indeed is forbidden to the believers. 


10. The word “nikah” as it appears in this context (which Asad renders as: “couples with”) affords two meanings and hence the verse has been understood differently by different scholars. Originally the word was coined to mean wedlock. But with usage it came to be used for sexual intercourse also.

11. Ibn Jarir writes: It is widely reported that there were a few prostitutes in Madinah, (some of them Jews or Christians while others Yethrabite slave-girls: Alusi), who were available on hire. They placed signs over their houses and anyone could enter freely. Now, there were many migrant Muslims (As-hab al-Suffah: Qurtubi) who were too poor to be able to marry. So they thought they could for the moment fill the void by marrying one of them.  Some of the owners thought they might even use them as a source of income. They consulted the Prophet (saws) who prohibited them saying that they were fit for fornicators and pagans alone. Subsequent to that this verse was revealed. (The reports are widely reported: Qurtubi. They are in Ahmad and Nasa’i: Ibn Kathir).

The report of Marthad b. Abi Marthad meeting his old lover `Inaq as he penetrated Makkah to smuggle out some Muslims is quite widely reported. After one such operation, during which he encountered her, he expressed his wish to marry her if the Prophet would allow and this verse was revealed.

Shawkani traces the report in Abu Da’ud, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, Ibn Jarir, Ibn al-Mundhir, Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Marduwayh, Bayhaqi and Hakim, the last of whom declared it trustworthy. And S. Ibrahim adds that Albani too thought it was trustworthy.

In any case, there is almost consensus of opinion that a fornicator or fornicatress could be taken in marriage if they sincerely repent (Ibn Kathir); although there is a hadith which says, “A fornicator who has been whipped will not marry but someone like him.” Albani declared this hadith of Abu Da’ud and Ahmad as Sahih (S. Ibrahim).

A group of scholars believe that this commandment stands abrogated by a verse which follows (no. 32), “And  marry off your orphans..” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir). For, one problem then would be that such men and women who committed sinful sexual acts, would be forced to marry either fornicators or pagans. Ibn al-`Arabiyy was also against such a meaning, and therefore, the correct meaning seems to be, as Ibn `Abbas has said, “Sex with an adulteress does not happen but from a fornicator or a pagan.” Ibn Khuwayzmandad had another point: “Probably the verse is applicable to a fornicator who commits the act so openly as to get caught and punished. He or she should not be taken in marriage by a believer” (Qurtubi).There have been many other interpretations, too numerous for presentation (Au.).

It is also reported that Ibn `Abbas understood that the Qur’anic statement expresses a fact, viz., none but a fornicator commits sex with a fornicator or with a pagan (Razi, Qurtubi). Thus he understood the word “nikah” in the sense of sexual intercourse. That is how Sa`id b. Jubayr, Mujahid, Dahhak and a few others understood. Ibn Jarir’s own preferred meaning is also the same. In other words, the allusion is to fornicators, adulterers, and pagans who have free sexual intercourse between themselves, which is prohibited to the Muslims.

[4] And those who cast (allegations against) chaste women12 but fail to produce four witnesses, lash them (with) eighty stripes and do not accept any testimony of theirs ever after.13 Those – they are the pervert (ones).14


12. Lit., muhsanat is “women who are fortified (against unchastity), i.e., by marriage and/or faith and self-respect” (Asad). The term “muhsanat” has been the choice perhaps because any slander against a woman can be far more destructive than against a man. But there could be a linguistic reason too. Perhaps it is the “anfus” (souls) that is meant, which is feminine in Arabic and hence “muhasanat.” When the allusion was to women alone the Qur’an used the following expression (4: 24): “the chaste ones of the women” (Qurtubi).

13. There has been difference in opinion over acceptance of someone’s testimony who falsely accused another of sexual misdemeanor. Is his testimony to be never accepted? According to Sha`bi, `Ata, Ta’us, Mujahid, Dahhak and others, if he repented and admitted that he was wrong in his accusation, his testimony could be accepted after he received his due punishment (Ibn Jarir). That was the opinion of Imam Malik also (Qurtubi). `Umar ibn `Abdul `Aziz accepted him only when another was there in his support.QadiShurayh however would not allow such a man’s testimony ever after that. He remarked, ‘We do not know if he has truly repented and amended or not.’ So said Hasan, Ibrahim and a few others (Ibn Jarir).

Imam Abu Haneefah was also of the same opinion. (His opinion was that the words: “Except those who repent thereafter and make amends,” are connected with their questioning in the Hereafter. If they repent, Allah (swt) might forgive them since, as stated in the next verse, “surely then Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Kind.” As for their ban against testimony in this world, it remains (Shafi`). However the other three Imams declared that if the man repented and amended, his testimony could be accepted (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

Quite a few have thought that the testimony of a person who was involved in a false case, will never be accepted again in his life, even if he repented, in matters over which he was whipped. And the differences in opinion have prevailed because of the difference over to whom the article “illa” of the fifth verse is applicable (Qurtubi).

Asad adds: “.. Since such a complete evidence (of four eye-witnesses) is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, in practice, it is obvious that the purpose of the above Qur’anic injunction is to preclude, in practice, all third-party accusations relating to illicit sexual intercourse – for, ‘man has been created weak’ (4: 28) – and to make a proof of adultery dependent on a voluntary, faith-inspired confession of the guilty parties themselves.”

14. The textual word for “the pervert” is fasiqun which leads us to believe that to slander a chaste person is one of the major sins in Islam (Razi). Thanwi adds: If the slanderer is lying, then he is obviously a fasiq, but if he is truthful, then too he is a fasiq for he accuses without four witnesses and unnecessarily embarrasses the accused.

[5] Except those who repent thereafter and make amends, surely then Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Kind.

[6] As for those who cast (allegations against) their spouses, and there are no witnesses for them except themselves, then the testimony of one of them shall be four oaths by Allah that he indeed is of the truthful.

[7] And the fifth (time) that the curse of Allah be on him if he should be of the liars.15


15. Ibn `Abbas reports that when the verse about the requirement of four witnesses was revealed Sa`ad b. `Ubadah remarked, “Is this how it was revealed, Messenger of Allah? By Allah, if I am to chance upon someone in the very act (with my wife) am I to go about looking for four witnesses? By Allah, I would not look for four witnesses and let the man finish his act (but rather, I would kill him then and there).” The Prophet (saws) complained to the Ansarabout their leader Sa`ad. They said, “Messenger of Allah, indulge him, for he is a man of great sense of honor. He never married but virgins, and when he divorced a woman we did not have the courage to marry her.” It should so happen that the very next day,Hilal b. Umayyah came to the Prophet to register his accusation against his wife but without four witnesses. (That was in the ninth year after Hijrah: Qurtubi).

The Prophet in truth did not like to hear him, but he would not withdraw. Finally, he resorted to Li`an(mutual invocation of curse) that is, made the two swear as in the above verse. When Hilal had sworn four times the Prophet told the people to restrain him from the fifth oath since it would draw Allah’s wrath. But Hilal swore unhesitatingly the fifth time too. Similarly when the woman’s turn came she too swore four times. The Prophet told his Companions to prevent her from swearing the fifth time, as it would draw Allah’s wrath. When warned, the woman hesitated for a moment and then saying, “I shall not disgrace my people” went on to swear the fifth time. When she had done that, the Prophet spared them both the punishment, separated them and remarked, “Watch her baby. If she brings someone of such and such qualities then it belongs to the father, but if she brings one of such and such qualities then it belongs to the alleged one.”

She indeed brought a well-built child, brownish, who later became a governor of Egypt. His parentage remained unknown. According to a few other reports it was Hilal b. Umayyah himself who had first entered the mosque and said to the people (commenting at the revelation of the verse about four witnesses, “(Isn’t it that) a man finds someone with his wife. Now if he killed him, you will kill him too. But if he brought her to the authorities (without the four witnesses), you will whip him?” The Prophet did not like to hear those words. And, it wasn’t even a week before he came complaining that he had seen his wife with a man (in bed), and Allah (swt) revealed the verse of mutual curse (Ibn Jarir, Razi).

The above report is to be found in many hadith works. A shorter version is in Bukhari according to whom when she gave birth to a child similar to Shurayk b. Sahma’ (the man involved), the Prophet (saws) remarked, “If not for the testimony she bore, I would have got her stoned to death” (Ibn Kathir).

Fiqh Rules

  • After the oath of condemnation (or, mutual invocation of curse:Li`an), the two, husband and wife, are to be separated by the court, with nothing due to either from the other.
  • Their separation will be considered talaqba’in, that is, they can never remarry each other (Thanwi).

[8] And it shall avert the chastisement from her that she should testify by Allah four times that he indeed is of the liars.

[9] And a fifth (time) that the wrath of Allah be on her if he should be of the truthful.16 


16. The difference may be noted. A lying man receives Allah’s curse while a lying woman receives His anger. This is because it is very unlikely that a man will accuse his wife falsely (as he has the power to divorce her: Au.); while it is more likely that a woman will deny out of shame and fear of the people, hence she is promised greater punishment (Ibn Kathir, reworded).

[10] And, if it were not for Allah’s grace and His mercy on you and (the fact) that Allah is Oft-relenting, full of Wisdom (you would have never found this guidance).17


17. The verse ends abruptly, Asad comments: “This sentence, which introduces the section dealing with the condemnation of all unfounded or unproved accusations of unchastity – as well as the similar sentence which closes it in verse 20 – is deliberately left incomplete, leaving it to man to imagine what would have happened to individual lives and society if God had not ordained all the above legal and moral safeguards against possible false accusations, or if He had made a proof of adultery dependent on mere circumstantial evidence. This idea is further elaborated in verse 14-15.”

(To be continued)