Punishment for Adultery in Islam

After doing research on infidelity I have found that the death penalty in Islam for adultery is completely ineffective and detrimental to a society. Instead of remedying the issue, it just ends up killing people unnecessarily without addressing the real root of the problem.

Religion should not dictate legal punishment for crimes. It doesn’t make sense and it makes the state rigid and unable to grow and learn.  By religion actually dictating specific punishments for crimes like chopping off hands for stealing or stoning for adultery its doing an injustice to the world. This is because as we get more educated and learn more about psychology we can find better ways to deal with and reform criminals.  An evidence based system to reform criminals is far superior to a black-and-white cut-and-dry rulebook set out centuries ago.

Girl being stoned to death in Afghanistan (CNN)
Girl being stoned to death in Afghanistan (CNN)

The death penalty for adultery does not reduce infidelity because it does not address the root cause of the problem.

Two points to consider:

  1. When someone commits adultery, why should they be executed?  A lot of these cases the marriage can actually become far better after the adultery because of unresolved issues that come to light.  In the case of a person having children, wouldn’t killing their father or mother deny them the right to a proper upbringing?
  2. The double standards of Islam: If a man goes and gets married behind his wife’s back, and has sex with his new wife, it would not be considered adultery in Islam.  But if his wife goes and does gets married behind his back, this would be considered an illegitimate marriage, and what would her punishment be?  Death.

Now on to the details,…

Fixing relationships

I’m reading a book on couples and how to cope with issues including adultery. What’s fascinating to me is how many couples actually resolve their issues and move on after such an event happened.

Coming from a Muslim background, where the punishment for adultery was stoning to death (pretty harsh, no?) I always thought this was the end of the world.

 After reading a book by Neil Strauss called “The Truth“, a man who had to dig wrenchingly into his childhood to discover the reason for his relationship issues.  He had to go through some incredibly painful soul searching to come to terms with the ugliness of his past.  He struggles and strives to resolve his desire to avoid intimacy, even though he doesn’t realize that he is even doing this.
And this other fantastic book written by a psychologist/therapist called “After The Affair”  I now realize that many cheaters actually have had troubled childhoods or dysfunctional pasts.
 They did not even realize that they were scared of becoming intimate because of their childhoods.. for example the way their mother smothered them, or the way that their father taught them not to discuss their problems..
Nobody else can take the blame when a person cheats, but through therapy and introspection people find and discover why they did this and work together so it doesn’t happen again.

Resolving the root issues

Dr Janis tells the story of many couples who have rehabilitated their marriage after finding out childhood issues that can lead to affairs in adulthood:

An affair can also serve to punish your partner and even the score. Having been betrayed earlier in life, you now betray the one you love to seek reparation for past wrongs. If you experienced an abuse of power as a child, you now seek power yourself to make yourself invulnerable. To share power is to put yourself at risk; to wield it is to maintain control. And so your relationship becomes a domestic battlefield in which you struggle for dominance.

She tells the story of Jane who had an absent father:

When Jane was ten, her mother packed her up and resettled a continent away from her alcoholic father. She never saw him again. “Jane’s a great kid,” she overheard her mother telling him on the phone one day. “She’s yours, too. Get to know her. She needs you.” Seventeen years and dozens of unanswered letters later, Jane married what she called an “emotional iceberg” who made her feel as unimportant and unloved as her father had. Throughout the marriage, she rarely confronted him with her loneliness, but retaliated through a series of one-night stands. Their marriage took on a competitive edge, the winner being the partner who needed the other less. “He thinks he’s so wise,” Jane confided in me, “but he has no inkling of my private life. If he can’t find time for me, I’ll make my own party.”

Janis also explains:

An affair for you can be an act of rebellion, a way of declaring independence from relationships that feel too intimate or engulfing. Having been reared in a home in which your boundaries were ignored and privacy didn’t exist, you learned to assert your sense of self through secrecy and subterfuge. Unable to be yourself in the presence of your partner, you feel a need to step outside the relationship to breathe.

She gives the example of David:

David grew up without a father. His mother, a Holocaust survivor, feared losing her only child (physically and emotionally), and refused to let him bring friends to the house. Each day she walked him home from school. He experienced his mother as suffocatingly invasive, and himself as dependent and weak. Loving, to him, meant merging with another person and losing oneself. “My relationship with my mother was like that of a moth to a flame,” he told me. “It was dangerous to get too close, but I couldn’t stay away.” David was attracted to Muriel because, like his mother, she was frightened and insecure, and needed him so much. In their marriage, he struggled to find a way to be connected to her, yet be separate and true to himself. He needed her love to feel whole and to quell his fear of being on his own; but when he catered to her needs, he felt cramped and resentful. “I shouldered two damaged women, my mother and my wife, and sacrificed myself to both of them,” he told me. It was only with prostitutes that he believed he could negotiate his needs.

Quotes from After The Affair, Janis A Spring.

Why kill the adulterer? Is this the way humanity should be?
Adultery is wrong, no doubt about it, but to me the death penalty, not to mention the method, is excessive and harmful to humanity. Many of these couples still have children together. Why take away one of their parents instead of resolving the issue?
No doubt there are some personalities that will continue to cheat over and over again (like narcissistic personalities), those relationships are bound to break, but still in that case I still can’t imagine capital punishment for such a person

Where did these ideas come from?

Prophet Muhammad admitted he was a very jealous person. A man told him if he caught his wife in bed with someone else he would kill the man without asking any questions, to which Prophet Muhammad said he was even more jealous, and Allah even more!
 Al-Mughira b. Shu’ba reported that Sa’d b. ‘Ubada said:

If I were to see a man with my wife, I would have struck him with the sword, and not with the flat part (side) of it. When Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) heard of that, he said: Are you surprised at Sa’d’s jealousy of his honour? By Allah, I am more jealous of my honour than he, and Allah is more jealous than I. Because of His jealousy Allah has prohibited abomination, both open and secret And no person is more jealous of his honour than Allah, and no persons, is more fond of accepting an excuse than Allah, on account of which He has sent messengers, announcers of glad tidings and warners; and no one is more fond of praise than Allah on account of which Allah has promised Paradise.

He did not allow anyone to marry his wives after his death, including his youngest wife Aisha who was only 20.

Aisha lived 43 years without a husband and was forbidden to marry.

The hadith describing the stoning:

It’s recorded in Sahih Muslim (Kitab al-Hudud, the Book of Punishments), that there came to RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) a woman from the tribe of Ghamid. The woman approached him and said, “O Allah’s Messenger, I have committed adultery, so purify me.” The Prophet’s eyes filled with grief and he turned away from her, dismissing her from the gathering.

The next day, al-Ghamidiyyah returned and once again publicly confessed her crime. “O Allah’s Messenger, why do you turn me away?” she beseeched. “Perhaps you turn me away as you turned away Ma’iz. By Allah, I have become pregnant!”

 RasulAllah answered, “If you insist upon it (the punishment), then leave and return only after you give birth.”
Months later, al-Ghamidiyyah returned to RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), with her baby wrapped in blankets. She presented the child, saying, “Here is the child whom I have given birth to.”
RasulAllah answered, “Leave, and suckle him until he is weaned.”
Approximately two years later, al-Ghamidiyyah returned with her child, who was holding a piece of bread in his hand.
“O Allah’s Messenger, here is my child, as I have weaned him and he can now eat (solid) food.”

Upon this, RasulAllah entrusted the child to one of his other Companions, and pronounced the punishment of zina upon al-Ghamidiyyah. She was placed in a ditch that came up to her chest, and he commanded the people to come forth and stone her.
Khalid ibn Waleed flung a stone at her head, at which blood spurted forth from her and splashed Khalid’s face. Furious, Khalid verbally abused her. RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) heard Khalid’s curses and rebuked him, saying “Khalid, be gentle! By Him in Whose Hand is my life, she has made such a repentance that even if a wrongful tax-collector were to repent, he would have been forgiven.”
After she died, RasulAllah prayed the funeral prayer over her body and al-Ghamidiyyah was buried.[1]
(Sahih Muslim)

My point is not that families should be broken or that spouses should “seek adventure” on the side, or have open polyamorous relationships..  Although I should mention no doubt polygny in Islam IS a type of one-sided polyamory that the man can enjoy but not the woman…

But rather my point is, why kill the unfaithful spouse? Why kill those people when you can help them resolve their personality flaws and address the issues that caused them to cheat?

Don’t you think this is more beneficial to creating strong families based on loyalty between spouses, as you put it?

Or do you think executing the mother of 2 kids is the right thing to do because she cheated on her husband who was emotionally cold to her and did not make himself available due to the way he was raised in an unloving way and was never taught how to be loving…?

Which is better?

Whether practically speaking it happens or not, the point is that it’s considered a right thing to do, to kill her.


Men marrying a second time is not adultery

 According to Islam, if a man got a second wife and had sex with her without telling his first wife, would he also be executed?

In this culture that would be considered cheating and adultery.

In Islam that would be considered perfectly acceptable right?

No evidence appears neither in the Qur’an nor sunnah requiring the permission of the first wife if her husband wishes to marry another wife, and therefore he is not required to ask her permission. (IslamQA)

Now if she did the same thing, behind his back got married again and had sex with another man, first of all, her second marriage would not be valid. Second of all, what would her punishment be?

In conclusion

Why kill the adulterer? Is this the way humanity should be?
  • Death penalty, not to mention the method, is excessive and harmful to humanity. Many of these couples still have children together. Why take away one of their parents instead of resolving the issue?
  • Or do you think executing the mother of 2 kids is the right thing to do
  • Men marrying twice is not adultery.
  • Evidence based legislation is best, not stuck in time but malaeable.

5 thoughts on “Punishment for Adultery in Islam

  1. Hi Sameer,

    Regarding your point on “I now realize that many cheaters actually have had troubled childhoods or dysfunctional pasts”: I would disagree because I don’t feel you have given sufficient evidence for that argument as you didnt quote any research. I have taken an excerpt from this article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/relationships/the-truth-about-infidelity-why-researchers-say-its-time-to-rethink-cheating/article28717694/

    Excerpt: “Brains gone haywire over pretty things: Research is finding that’s the somewhat basic cause of most affairs. Most people don’t cheat because of some dark defect in personality, O’Sullivan wrote in a study to be published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. They don’t even necessarily stray because they are unhappy in their relationships (as Perel has warned repeatedly, “Happy people cheat”). It’s situational and has to do with opportunity, O’Sullivan explains. Meaning that just about anyone is vulnerable to cheating, not just your sociopathic ex.”
    I am not aware if there is other research that contradicts this.

    Regarding your point on men marrying a second time: I understand that permission is not required to marry a second wife, however I find it a little illogical that someone would marry a second wife for the purposes of sex because from what i understand, he has to treat both wives equally. This would mean that he has to have equal sex with both wives. From my understanding, (i dont have evidence) adulterers usually do not have sex with their wives or dont have it as often, so i feel that what you describe is difficult to accomplish in a islamic manner. Additionally, it does seem quite difficult for someone to treat both wives equally if one wife does not know of the existence of the other wife.

    Also, I just wanted to clarify something you mentioned “A man told him if he caught his wife in bed with someone else he would kill her without asking any questions, to which Prophet Muhammad said he was even more jealous, and Allah even more!” However, from the hadith you gave below that, it says “I would have struck him with the sword”. So I was wondering if you made a typo as you said ‘her’ while the hadith said ‘him’?

    Thanks! Hope to hear from you.

    1. Good catch regarding “kill him” vs “kill her”. I have fixed my text to “him” now. I would recommend you check out the referenced books I quoted. The Globe And Mail article is very short compared to the content in those books I referenced. thanks for your thoughts regarding my points 🙂

  2. It is written above (as a title) “Men marrying a second time is not adultery.” What I daresay is even more bizarre is that a man having sex not with his wife but with his slave — this also is not adultery. We read in Quran 70:29-30: “And those who guard their private parts, Except from their wives OR THOSE THEIR RIGHT HANDS POSSESS, for indeed, they are not to be blamed”
    The married sultans and caliphs (including Ali) were known for having concubines in their harems.

  3. Let me address both the hadith above about the poor suicidal adulteress murdered on Muhammad’s orders, and the Islamic punishment for adultery. That Sahih Muslim hadith above is not the only time I have encountered Muhammad prescribing the death penalty for adultery. But he never did it in the Quran, only in hadiths. So let us turn to what in my mind should be decreed as the Islamic punishment for adultery. This is found in Quran 24:2:
    “The [unmarried] woman or [unmarried] man found guilty of sexual intercourse – lash each one of them with a hundred lashes, and do not be taken by pity for them in the religion of Allah”
    Let it be known that I believe that the words “unmarried” above were added by the translators at quran.com; they do not appear in the original Arabic (in my conjecture). So what argument can be made that they truly belong there; that Quran 24:2 refers only to situations in which unmarried individuals fornicate? Well, first, the powerful fact that Muhammad did demand death for the adulteress in the hadiths (by the way, we have no way of knowing whether she is married or not — tellingly Muhammad did not consult the husband, if there was one). Second, if the words about “unmarried” are removed, that would mean that the punishment for unmarried adulterers is the same as that for married adulterers, but some might say that the latter have committed a more serious offense. Finally, if the correct punishment for the murdered adulteress was truly being lashed 100 times, why then did Allah permit the poor, unfortunate adulteress to be murdered by his beloved prophet not following Allah’s rules (regardless of whether Allah had given Muhammad 24:2 by that time, Allah knows everything, including the future).
    However, I believe that the argument that the correct Islamic punishment for adultery is 100 lashes regardless of marital status, that is, the argument that this is the proper punishment is more compelling. The problems arising from assuming that the word “unmarried” was implied in Quran 24:2 are notable. Why would allah leave out the word “unmarried” in his “perfect” Quran 24:2, only to have to be added in by humans? Why would allah state in his quran the punishment for one type of adultery — indeed the less serious form, involving unmarried people — but leave out the punishment for the more serious form? A third argument against the death penalty is found on this website:
    “Yet another clear cut proof of the punishment of unlawful sex being 100 lashes irrespective of marital status of the sinner, comes from verse 4:25, which reads; “If any of you have not the means wherewith to wed free believing women they may wed believing girls from among those whom your right hands possess; and Allah hath full knowledge about your faith. Ye are one from another; wed them with the leave of their owners and give them their dowers according to what is reasonable; they should be chaste not lustful nor taking paramours; when they are taken in wedlock if they fall into shame their punishment is half that for free women…” (4:25)

    *There is no half punishment of stoning to death.*”

    The website cited above, http://islamicvoice.com/april.99/dialogue.htm, indicates that *at least some portion of Muslims” believe that the correct Islamic punishment for adultery is lashing, not death. And we note that outside of Saudi Arabia, and Iran, perhaps a few more countries, all the other Islamic countries do not have the death penalty for adultery.

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