Laws of Religion
Laws of Islam Concerning Women and Men
11. Forbidden Sexual Acts
From the Qur’an
The Qur’an (4:24) says that a woman who is married to someone else is forbidden to a man unless that woman is his slave.
The Qur’an (25:68) promises punishment for those who worship others along with Allah, those who kill a person without just cause and those who commit unlawful sexual intercourse (zina**). The Qur’an says that zina, which is an indecency and evil, is to be avoided. All indecent acts are forbidden, whether performed secretly or in the open. A man should not try to get part of his wife’s bridal payment (mahr*) back by treating her harshly unless she commits an act of flagrant indecency. If four witnesses testify that a woman is guilty of indecency, she is to be confined in a house until she dies or until Allah decrees a different way.
Both men and women guilty of unlawful sexual intercourse (zina) are to receive one hundred lashes, according to the Qur’an. The lashing for zina is to be conducted in the presence of a party of witnesses. A person who commits zina, male or female, is to marry only another who has committed zina or a polytheist. If a married slave woman commits indecent acts, her punishment is half that of a free woman.
From the hadith compilations of al-Bukhari and Muslim
Punishment for unlawful sexual intercourse (hadith). A verse of the Qur’an (25:68, cited above) promises punishment for those who worship others along with Allah, those who kill a person without just cause and those who commit unlawful sexual intercourse (zina**). The three sins mentioned in this verse of Qur’an (25:68) are also listed, in order, in some hadiths as those which Muhammad said were the three gravest sins, with unlawful sexual intercourse (zina) with another man’s wife said to be the third gravest sin. Some of these hadiths quote from the Qur’an verse (25:68) as the basis for stating that these are the three worst sins. However, other hadiths say that Muhammad did not list zina as among the three major sins.
Muhammad said that a person committing unlawful sexual intercourse (zina) is not a believer at that time. However, a person who dies believing that only Allah has the right to be worshiped will enter Paradise, even if that person is guilty of zina (or theft).
Muhammad said that an unmarried slave woman who commits unlawful sexual intercourse is to be flogged. If she repeats the act, she is to be flogged again. On the third or fourth repetition, she is to be flogged and then sold at any price, even if just for a hair rope.
When Muhammad heard that a man had had sexual intercourse with one of Muhammad’s female slaves, he ordered that the man be struck in the neck. However, the punishment was not inflicted because it was discovered that the accused man’s penis had been cut off.
Umar (the second successor to Muhammad as leader of the community of Muslims) expressed concern that people would say that the punishment of stoning to death for married adulterers is not found in the Qur’an. He said that this is the correct punishment when proof is established, a pregnancy results or a confession is made.
Muhammad imposed a sentence of stoning to death on a Jewish man and woman who had committed unlawful sexual intercourse. The Jews had told him that their religious leaders had developed a less severe punishment, including blackening of the faces, or flogging, but Muhammad said that the Torah requires stoning to death so that is the punishment that would be imposed.
Punishments imposed by Muhammad for unlawful sexual intercourse in some specific cases in which the transgressor confessed are discussed on the next page.
Rewards for refraining from unlawful sexual intercourse (hadith). Muhammad said that maintaining the chastity of one’s genitals and one’s tongue will guarantee a place in Paradise.
Men must avoid being entrapped by beautiful women into committing forbidden acts. Muhammad said that there are seven types of people who will merit Allah’s shade on the Day of Resurrection. One of these will be men who refuse to submit to charming women of noble birth who call on them to commit unlawful sexual intercourse and, instead, say to such women: I fear Allah.
According to a hadith, Muhammad told one of his companions that he will eventually achieve high office and that he should avoid the allurement of women. Muhammad said that the first trial of the people of Israel was caused by women.
Permitted and forbidden acts with slaves (hadith). After winning a battle, Muhammad distributed the captured women and children among the Muslim victors (the captured men were all killed). Muhammad had no objection to the intention of his men to have sexual intercourse with captured females. Sexual intercourse even with those captured women who were already married to polytheists was permitted. (These captured women were slaves of the Muslims and thus sexual intercourse with them was permitted, as stated in the Qur’an, cited above. The Qur’an (4:24, cited above) says that a woman who is married to someone else is forbidden to a man unless that woman is his slave. This verse of the Qur’an occurs in a list of women who are forbidden for marriage, but the hadiths say that it refers to sexual intercourse rather than marriage.)
A hadith reports that when one of the Muslim men (Ali) had sexual intercourse with a female captured in battle, Muhammad said that the man deserved more than that from the booty.
However, when a man committed unlawful sexual intercourse with a female slave who belonged to someone else, Muhammad ordered that man to be stoned to death, and he was.
According to the hadiths, after the Muslims won a battle, Muhammad told one of his men to take any female captive, now enslaved, as his own. The man selected Safiyya, but when Muhammad was told that she was fit only for Muhammad himself, he told the man who selected her to find another captive female slave for himself. Muhammad took Safiyya to be his own. He consummated his marriage to her. The people did not know if he had married her as a slave or as a free woman until he appeared at the wedding feast with her. Since she was veiled, it was clear that she was a free woman as Muhammad’s wife and no longer a slave. Muhammad had manumitted her and her manumission was her bridal payment (mahr*).
Hadiths tell of the time when a man wanted custody of the son of a female who was a slave to another man and Muhammad awarded the child to the man who owned the slave even though he saw that the child resembled the other man who was asking for the child. This was because a child belongs to the man who owns the bed the child is born in rather than to the man the child resembles. However, Muhammad told his wife, Sauda, to screen herself from the male child despite her close relationship to the man who was awarded paternity of the boy. (Editor’s note: If Muhammad had believed that the owner of the female slave was really the boy’s father, Sauda would not have had to screen herself from the boy because he would have been closely related (mahram) and not eligible to marry her and thus not forbidden from seeing her unscreened.)
From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh/sharia§): The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer of Ibn Rushd, the Risala of al-Shafi‛i and Reliance of the Traveller
The scholars*** agree that a man is permitted to have sexual intercourse with his wife (recognizing that there are cases in which the marriage is of uncertain legality) or with his slave (a concubine).
Conviction for unlawful sexual intercourse (zina) may be based on a confession or on the testimony of witnesses.
For conviction by witnesses, four legally competent witnesses must all give consistent detailed accounts of what they saw of the sex organs making contact during the unlawful sexual intercourse (zina).
A claim of rape by a pregnant woman can prevent her punishment for unlawful sexual intercourse.
The punishment for unlawful sexual intercourse depends upon who the transgressor is. It is generally agreed that the punishment for unlawful sex for a free married Muslim past the age of puberty who has had sexual intercourse within the marriage is death by stoning.
For a free person who was never married, the punishment for unlawful sexual intercourse is 100 lashes. Malik and al-Shafiʽi add exile to the punishment of lashes; Abu Hanifa does not.
Malik says that lashes are to be applied only on or near the back, while al-Shafiʽi and Abu Hanifa say lashes are applied everywhere on the body except the genitals and the head or face.
In general, it is agreed that the punishment for slaves for unlawful sexual intercourse is 50 lashes.
Malik, al-Shafiʽi and the Shafiʽi school say that a rapist (who is not the husband or the owner of the female) must pay the woman he raped the amount of her bridal payment (mahr) in addition to being punished according to the law. Abu Hanifa holds that such payment to the woman is not to be made in a case of rape; only the legal punishment applies.
Most say that there is full punishment for having sex with an employee, though Abu Hanifa says that sex with an employee results in no punishment.
**Zina, unlawful sexual intercourse, includes both adultery involving a married person and sexual intercourse between two people who are not married to anyone (though sexual intercourse with one’s female slave is permitted and so is not zina.)
***Islamic scholars disagree on certain points of law based on different methodologies used in deriving the law from the Qur’an and the traditions (sunna) concerning the life of Muhammad and his closest companions, particularly as expressed in the compiled hadiths. There are four major schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam: the Maliki, the Hanafi, the Shafi‛i and the Hanbali. These names are derived from the individual scholars considered to have been the founders of each school: Malik, Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, respectively. The source texts we have used to prepare our summaries of Islamic jurisprudence contain the legal views of these different founders and schools, as described at Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
§The specific derived laws of fiqh summarized here are often referred to by the more general term sharia law.
Abbreviations used in footnotes:
BK: Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources.
DJP: The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996. Limited preview is available here (Volume 1) and here (Volume 2). Full text online and download for Volume 1 is here and here and for Volume 2 is here and here.
RT: Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA. It can be downloaded as a pdf file from various websites such as this one.
SR: al-Shafi‛i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by The Islamic Texts Society. It can be downloaded here.
● The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
 QR 23:1-6
 QR 4:24
 QR 25:68
 QR 17:32
 QR 6:151
 QR 4:19
 QR 4:15
 QR 24:2
 QR 24:3, QR 24:26
 QR 4:25
 QR 25:68
 BK 6:60:4, BK 6:60:284, BK 8:73:30, BK 8:82:802, BK 9:83:1, BK 9:93:611, BK 9:93:623, ML 1:221, ML 1:156, ML 1:157
 BK 6:60:284, BK 8:73:30, BK 9:83:1, BK 9:93:623, ML 1:221, ML 1:157
 BK 3:48:821, BK 3:48:822, BK 8:73:7, BK 8:73:8, BK 8:78:667, BK 9:83:9, BK 9:83:10, BK 9:84:54, BK 9:84:55, ML 1:158, ML 1:159, ML 1:160, ML 1:161
 BK 7:69:484
 BK 7:72:717
 BK 8:82:818, BK 8:82:819, ML 17:4192-4193
 BK 3:48:817, BK 3:49:860, BK 3:50:885, BK 8:78:629, BK 8:82:815, BK 8:82:818, BK 8:82:821, BK 8:82:826, BK 9:89:303, BK 9:91:365, ML 17:4191
 ML 17:4191
 BK 3:34:362, BK 3:34:363, BK 3:34:435, BK 3:34:436, BK 3:46:731, BK 8:82:822, BK 8:82:823, ML 17:4219-4220, ML 17:4221-4222-4223
 ML 37:6676
 BK 8:82:824, ML 17:4218
 BK 7:63:195, BK 7:63:196, BK 8:82:805, BK 8:82:806, BK 8:82:810, BK 8:82:813, BK 8:82:814, ML 17:4191, ML 17:4192-4193, ML 17:4194-4195, ML 17:4201, ML 17:4206
 BK 3:49:860, BK 3:50:885, BK 8:78:629, BK 8:82:803, BK 8:82:815, BK 8:82:821, BK 8:82:826, BK 9:89:303, BK 9:91:365, ML 17:4191, ML 17:4192-4193, ML 17:4194-4195, ML 17:4205, ML 17:4206, ML 17:4209-4210
 BK 8:82:816, ML 17:4194-4195
 BK 2:23:413, BK 4:56:829, BK 6:60:79, BK 8:82:809, BK 8:82:825, BK 9:92:432, BK 9:93:633, ML 17:4211-4212-4213, ML 17:4214-4215
 BK 6:60:79, BK 8:82:809, BK 9:93:633, ML 17:4211-4212-4213, ML 17:4214-4215
 BK 4:56:829, BK 6:60:79, BK 8:82:825, ML 17:4214-4215
 BK 4:56:829, BK 6:60:79, BK 8:82:809, BK 8:82:825, BK 9:93:633, ML 17:4211-4212-4213, ML 17:4214-4215
 BK 8:76:481, BK 8:82:799
 BK 1:11:629, BK 2:24:504, BK 8:82:798, ML 5:2248-2249
 ML 36:6606
 BK 5:59:362
 BK 3:34:432, ML 19:4345
 ML 8:3432-3433-3434
 QR 4:24
 ML 8:3432-3433-3434
 BK 5:59:637
 ML 17:4201
 BK 1:8:367, BK 2:14:68, BK 5:59:512, ML 8:3325-3326, ML 8:3328, ML 8:3329
 BK 5:59:523, BK 7:62:22, BK 7:62:89
 BK 5:59:523, BK 5:59:524, BK 7:62:22, BK 7:62:89, ML 8:3328
 BK 1:8:367, BK 2:14:68, BK 5:59:512, BK 5:59:513, BK 7:62:23, BK 7:62:98, ML 8:3325-3326
 BK 3:34:269, BK 3:34:421, BK 3:46:710, BK 3:41:603, BK 4:51:8, BK 5:59:596, BK 8:80:741-742, BK 8:80:757, BK 8:82:807, BK 9:89:293, ML 8:3435-3436-3437-3438
 BK 3:34:440, BK 3:36:483, BK 7:63:260, ML 43:7180, ML 43:7181
 BK 3:34:439, BK 3:36:482, BK 7:63:258, BK 7:63:259, BK 7:71:656, BK 7:72:845, ML 10:3803-3804, ML 10:3805, ML 10:3806-3807
 DJP 18.2.3 (Vol 2, pages 36-37), DJP 56.6.1 (Vol 2, pages 521-523)
 DJP 56.6.3 (Vol 2, page 528)
 DJP 188.8.131.52 (Vol 2, page 529-530)
 DJP 56.6.2 (Vol 2, pages 524-528), SR 123 (pages 138-139), SR 232 (page 199)
 DJP 56.6.2 (Vol 2, pages 524-528)
 DJP 56.6.2 (Vol 2, pages 524-528)
 DJP 47.2 (Vol 2, pages 385-393), RT m8.10 (page 535)
 DJP 47.2 (Vol 2, pages 385-393)
 DJP 56.6.1 (Vol 2, pages 521-523)