Honor Killings, Illicit Sex, Paternity and Punishment: Selections from Hadith
This page contains important prophetic traditions (hadith) related to the topics of proof of, and punishment for, illicit sex, zina, as well as the practice of li‘an, mutual cursing. They have been excerpted from two online translations of the compilations of Bukhari and Muslim and rearranged as they pertain to the topics at hand. Some repetition is inevitable, but common themes emerge throughout: an insistence on witnesses to any act of zina before punishment can be applied, a reluctance to listen to confessions or allegations of unchaste behavior, and little tolerance for men’s desire to reject paternity of children their wife bears (even when these turn out in fact to be from another man). To look up the additional hadith cited, see:
Adultery and Mutual Cursing (Li‘an)
These traditions address the topic of a man who finds his wife with another man. In each case, the Prophet refuses to grant the husband any power to kill (either the wife or her lover) for her behavior. Instead, he orders the practice of li‘an, which allows the husband to deny paternity of a child she bears without having witnesses to her adultery. See also Qur’anic verses on this topic.
Muslim: Book 009, Number 3570:
Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) reported that Sa'd b. Ubada (Allah be pleased with him) said: Messenger of Allah, if I were to find with my wife a man, should I wait until I bring four witnesses? He said: Yes.
Bukhari: Volume 7, Book 63, Number 185:
Narrated Sahl bin Sad As-Sa'idi:
Uwaimir Al-'Ajlani came to 'Asim bin Adi Al-Ansari and asked, "O 'Asim! Tell me, if a man sees his wife with another man, should he kill him, whereupon you would kill him in Qisas, or what should he do? O 'Asim! Please ask Allah's Apostle about that." 'Asim asked Allah's Apostle about that. Allah's Apostle disliked that question and considered it disgraceful. What 'Asim heard from Allah's Apostle was hard on him. When he returned to his family, 'Uwaimir came to him and said "O 'Asim! What did Allah's Apostle say to you?" 'Asim said, "You never bring me any good. Allah's Apostle disliked to hear the problem which I asked him about." 'Uwaimir said, "By Allah, I will not leave the matter till I ask him about it." So 'Uwaimir proceeded till he came to Allah's Apostle who was in the midst of the people and said, "O Allah's Apostle! If a man finds with his wife another man, should he kill him, whereupon you would kill him (in Qisas): or otherwise, what should he do?" Allah's Apostle said, "Allah has revealed something concerning the question of you and your wife. Go and bring her here." So they both carried out the judgment of Lian, while I was present among the people (as a witness). When both of them had finished, 'Uwaimir said, "O Allah's Apostle! If I should now keep my wife with me, then I have told a lie". Then he pronounced his decision to divorce her thrice before Allah's Apostle ordered him to do so. (Ibn Shihab said, "That was the tradition for all those who are involved in a case of Lian."
Muslim: Book 009, Number 3564:
'Abdullah reported: We were on the night of Friday staying in the mosque when a person from the Ansar came there and said: If a person finds his woman along with a man, and he speaks about it, you would lash him, and if he kills, you will kill him, and if he keeps quiet he shall have to consume anger. By Allah, I will definitely ask about him from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him). On the following day he came to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) and asked him thus: If a man were to find with his wife a man and if he were to talk about it, you would lash him; and if he killed, you would kill him, and if he were to keep quiet. he would consume anger, whereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: Allah, solve (this problem), and he began to supplicate (before Him), and then the verses pertaining to li'an were revealed:" Those who accuse their wives and have no witnesses except themselves" (xxiv. 6). The person was then put to test according to these verses in the presence of the people. There came he and his wife in the presence of Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him), and they invoked curses (in order to testify their claim). The man swore four times in the name of Allah that he was one of the truthful and then invoked curse for the fifth time saying: Let there be curse of Allah upon him if he were among the liars. Then she began to invoke curse. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to her: just wait (and curse after considering over it), but she refused and invoked curse and when she turned away, he (Allah's Apostle) said: It seems that this woman shall give birth to a curly-haired black child, And so she did gave birth to a curly-haired black child.
Muslim: Book 009, Number 3572:
AI-Mughira b. Shu'ba (Allah be pleased with him) reported that Sa'd b. 'Ubada (Allah be pleased with him) 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 (may peace be upon him) 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.
(See also: Bukhari: Volume 7, Book 63, Number 228, Number 229; Muslim: Book 009, Number 3553, Number 3554, Number 3555, Number 3556, Number 3567; Number 3569, Number 3571.)
In this case, the Prophet discourages the man from persisting with his confession of zina by turning his head repeatedly, until the man has confessed four times, equaling the testimony of four witnesses.
Bukhari: Volume 7, Book 63, Number 196:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
A man from Bani Aslam came to Allah's Apostle while he was in the mosque and called (the Prophet ) saying, "O Allah's Apostle! I have committed illegal sexual intercourse." On that the Prophet turned his face from him to the other side, whereupon the man moved to the side towards which the Prophet had turned his face, and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I have committed illegal sexual intercourse." The Prophet turned his face (from him) to the other side whereupon the man moved to the side towards which the Prophet had turned his face, and repeated his statement. The Prophet turned his face (from him) to the other side again. The man moved again (and repeated his statement) for the fourth time. So when the man had given witness four times against himself, the Prophet called him and said, "Are you insane?" He replied, "No." The Prophet then said (to his companions), "Go and stone him to death." The man was a married one. Jabir bin 'Abdullah Al-Ansari said: I was one of those who stoned him. We stoned him at the Musalla ('Id praying place) in Medina. When the stones hit him with their sharp edges, he fled, but we caught him at Al-Harra and stoned him till he died.
(See also Bukhari: Volume 7, Book 63, Number 195.)
Bukhari: Volume 7, Book 63, Number 225:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
A man came to the Prophet and said, "O Allah's Apostle! A black child has been born for me." The Prophet asked him, "Have you got camels?" The man said, "Yes." The Prophet asked him, "What color are they?" The man replied, "Red." The Prophet said, "Is there a grey one among them?' The man replied, "Yes." The Prophet said, "Whence comes that?" He said, "May be it is because of heredity." The Prophet said, "May be your latest son has this color because of heredity."
(See also Muslim: Book 009, Number 3574, Number 3575, Number 3576.)
Muslim: Book 008, Number 3435:
'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: Sa'd b. Abu Waqqas and Abd b. Zam'a (Allah be pleased with them) disputed with each other over a young boy. Sa'd said: Messenger of Allah, he is the son of my brother 'Utba b. Abu Waqqas as he made it explicit that he was his son. Look at his resemblance. Abd b. Zam'a said Messenger of Allah, he is my brother as he was born on the bed of my father from his slave-girl. Allah's Messenger (way peace he upon him) looked at his resemblance and found a clear resemblance with 'Utba. (But) he said: He is yours 0 'Abd (b. Zam'a), for the child is to be attributed to one on whose bed it is born, and stoning for a fornicator. Sauda bint Zam'a, O you should observe veil from him. So he did not see Sauda at all. Muhammad b. Rumh did not make a mention (of the words):" O Abd."
(See also Muslim: Book 008, Number 3436, Number 3437.)
Content by Kecia Ali
Senior Research Analyst, FSE
Revised June 10, 2003