وَالَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَأْتُوا بِأَرْبَعَةِ شُهَدَاءَ فَاجْلِدُوهُمْ ثَمَانِينَ جَلْدَةً وَلَا تَقْبَلُوا لَهُمْ شَهَادَةً أَبَدًا وَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ
And those who accuse chaste women (of fornication/adultery) then fail to produce 4 x witnesses; flog them 80 stripes – and do not accept their testimony ever again – and they are the ones who are the transgressors (Composition: The Light, سورة النور | Sign: 4)
Allah (the praiseworthy) has quantified the number of eye-witnesses a complainant is required to produce, in order to convict chaste women of fornication/adultery, in a court of law; as quoted in the Sign above. The number is a whopping 4 (four). The Holy Prophet (May Allah shower His blessings upon him) has further streamlined the kind of testimony these witnesses are required to present, i.e. they should be ‘eye-witnesses’ to the actual act of penetration, itself; nothing less! The cross-examination Holy Prophet used to mount included ‘metaphors’ that established, beyond doubt, that the man and woman in question were seen indulged in ‘copulation’ – and no lesser kind of lewdness. Failure to bring about such ‘iron-clad testimony’ meant 80 stripes, delivered to each one of the accusers – and declared unworthy of giving testimony, for life; referred to as ‘punishment for perjury’. It was because of this stringent law, no convictions ever, in the era of Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) or the Companions (رضي الله عنهم), were done on the basis of allegations. Any and all punishments, were meted out as a result of Confessions, only.
I know what you might be thinking: 4 x eye-witnesses to the act of copulation. Are you kidding me! And you are absolutely right! Anyone with a sane mind would reach to the same conclusion. And hence, would start looking for some finer point in the decree, which by the way, is absolutely obvious. It is a Gag Order! An order to keep shut even if you have witnessed some woman in an illegal intercourse with some man; and the order is from no one less than Allah Almighty, Himself!
Sometimes, in divine law-making, Allah-The Wise, doesn’t spell things out the way we want them to be. It is not because of His fondness for confusing, God forbid, but rather He has some other legal loopholes in sight, which might be exploited by the wicked to evade law. And bear in mind that the Holy Quran was being revealed for all mankind to come; till the Judgment Day. If He had enjoined upon us to ‘keep shut’ in plain words, even porn actors and dirty-college-fest-party dwellers would have gotten a carte blanche, to mock the law. Hence, instead of closing any pathways to legal-intervention by gagging the complainants completely, He coded the injunction in such a manner so as to elicit only an accusation proved by an insanely-damning evidence. It is an ingenious method by which Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) has not only sensitized His subjects on the grievousness of sullying the modesty of chaste women, but also kept the perpetrators in fear and on the lookout when committing such an act, since the offence isn’t un-reportable or un-provable, per se.
But nevertheless, it is a gag order of sorts. It is as if Allah is addressing a complainant after he has been unable to prove the guilt of the defendant, and has been handed out a punishment of 80 stripes, Allah is admonishing him by saying: “Whosoever made it your responsibility to report this crime? Did you not infer Our admonishment from the stringent requirement of evidence? Did we ask you to be poking your nose in other people’s matters? And even if you did so, did We ordain it upon you to report it? So now, bear the consequences of your idiocy!” And if you have the skill of attending to details and are prudent enough to infer the ‘spirit’ from the ‘letter’, you’ll find that the injunction is basically to stop the vulgarity-mongerers and defamers from indulging into mud-slinging in the society and contaminating the recommended level of modesty in a Muslim nation. A hypocrite or evil-mongerer is usually wise enough not to dare lay a blame on chaste women in such a society, because they are usually cleverer than the rest of us when it comes to keeping themselves out of harm’s way, and cautious enough not to present themselves willingly to such a humiliating end.
The only eventuality where this ‘gag order’ would have posed a problem, was between husband and wife. If a husband had caught his wife in the act, it would be unrealistic to demand 4 x witnesses from him. Thus, this is dealt with in the succeeding Sign wherein Allah has lifted the requirement of 4 x witnesses from the husband in order to bring the matter to a court of law. But, balancing the equation, Allah has also lifted the punishment from the wife, as well, if she contests the accusation. The only verdict that would be handed out in such a case would be that of ‘Divorce’ i.e. the husband and wife would be separated; but no punishments would be meted out. Only if the wife confesses, is she liable to any punishment. Praise be to the Lord for such pragmatic lawmaking!
Failure to infer this ‘gag order’ from the above Sign, seems to have led our present-day scholars to believe that perhaps this injunction needs to be revamped, or at least, supplemented to make it practicable. They haven’t stated it like this, but from the legislation they have done in countries like Pakistan etc., it seems a foregone conclusion. They have legislated that if the complainant is unable to prove fornication / adultery, but succeeds in proving some lesser offence, such as lewdness etc., he may be absolved of the punishment of perjury. Even if perjury is established, they have made it the responsibility of the defendant to launch a separate case for perjury against the claimant; which doesn’t happen as often as it should, since the woman can’t undergo another life-threatening and traumatizing court-experience, more so when the complainants are from affluent backgrounds. To add to this clumsiness, they imprison the defendant on the mere complaint of the complainant, where-after the defendant fights to establish her innocence from within the jail; wherein, with the heaps of cases pending in the courts, the woman stays ages before she is handed down the verdict. And on another related, but out of the scope of this article, note, our scholars have even somehow deduced a divine-necessitation of 4 x eye-witnesses for the proof of ‘Rape’ from the woman’s side, from this injunction. I would’ve said it was the ‘funniest’ deduction ever, but since we’re talking about a ‘Law’, the enforcement of which might have brought despair to I don’t know how many women up till now, it’ll suffice to say: May Allah guide such ‘scholars’ to the correct interpretation!
Anyone, with half a mind, can spot the irony in all of this. A law, the very enactment of which, was brought about to protect the sanctity of women’s honour, has been changed into the very tool of their revilement. But, the wicked part is; This law is attributed to our Lord! Oh the irony!
One can skim from the Sign quoted above, that a woman is not required to plead her innocence. The entire onus of proof has been laid on the accusers, by usage of such words as ‘ثُمَّ لَمْ يَأْتُوا بِأَرْبَعَةِ شُهَدَاءَ’, meaning ‘and then do not bring about 4 witnesses’; the first thing to infer from this was that the defendant must not be imprisoned until the crime is proven beyond doubt; and the ‘beyond doubt’ part is a sweet distance away, owing to the requirement of 4 x eye-witnesses, who haven’t just merely seen the woman with another man in his/her bedroom, but have actually witnessed them ‘with their pants down’, literally! And if at all she is to be incarcerated, the Holy Quran has itself ordained her to be confined to her own home (Composition: The Women, سورة النساء| Sign: 15). And then, their failure to produce witnesses should ‘automatically’ result in the punishment for perjury. A willingness, or otherwise, by defendant to launch a case against the complainant, is absolutely irrelevant. The immediate usage of ‘فَاجْلِدُوهُمْ ثَمَانِينَ جَلْدَةً’, meaning ‘flog them 80 stripes…’ leaves no room for any delay or revocation of the punishment for perjury, after the failure to produce witnesses. If this much seems too technical, which it does not, at least this much is right on the surface, that Allah is clearly on the side of the defendant, and has visibly heightened the level of evidence required to prove guilt. How and why should one try to ease the process for the complainants?
To further solidify what Allah means and establish the mood He is in while revealing this law, a few Signs after the above quoted Sign (i.e. Sign 13), Allah remarks while discussing an actual incident of slander that took place in the time of the Holy Prophet:
لَوْلَا جَاءُوا عَلَيْهِ بِأَرْبَعَةِ شُهَدَاءَ فَإِذْ لَمْ يَأْتُوا بِالشُّهَدَاءِ فَأُولَئِكَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ هُمُ الْكَاذِبُونَ
Why didn’t they come along with 4 x witnesses; for whence they could not produce these witnesses, they, in the sight of Allah too, they are the liars.
I mean, to quell the doubt that might arise in the mind of some accuser who has actually witnessed the subject act, that he is in fact speaking only the truth; why should he be declared a liar only because the ‘unrealistic’ scale of proof could not be established? Just to purge this doubt before it is born, Allah has clearly stated that even in the sight of Allah he’ll be considered a liar. One can easily infer from this that he’ll be considered a liar because, in this special case, Allah Himself has cranked the scale of proof up a notch; and he was informed beforehand that he will be proclaimed a liar if he falls short of establishing the crime through 4 x witnesses. Why should he have reported the incident knowingly that the law, and Allah Himself, are against his reporting the crime?
To me, our scholars have erred because of the reason that they failed to sense the anger in Allah’s tone for the accusers. They thought that since it would almost block the very means of reporting these crimes to the law if the injunction was implemented as is, they ventured down the wrong road to ‘improve’ the injunction with their own intellects. When in fact, the very spirit of the injunction was to strangle the means of reporting this crime, and when it does get reported, someone, either the accuser or the accused, must be punished, so that people do not take matters of slander and libel, lightly.
Their failure to interpret the verse correctly isn’t unforgivable; but their unwillingness to change after their error was pointed out to them by some scholars, is surely, contemptible.
NOTE: I use the word Composition in place of Chapter, and Sign in place of Verse, when quoting from the Holy Quran. Please click here to visit my article on this subject.