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Interpretation of Sura an-Nur - Verses 4-5

Adopted from the book: "The Light of the Holy Qur'an - Interpretation of Sura an-Nur" by: "Sayyid Kamal Faghih Imani & a Group of Muslim Scholars"

4. " And those who accuse chaste women (with adultery) but do not bring four witnesses, then scourge them (with) eighty stripes and do not (afterward) accept their testimony forever, and these are they that are evil-doers,"

5. " Save those who repent thereafter and make amends, for verily Allah is Forgiving, Merciful."


Accusation is like shooting arrow to the honor and dignity of people and not observing it. And, the punishment of accusing married and chaste women is more severe.

Since the pervious verses consist of a heavy punishment for men and women who commit fornication, and it is possible that some impious malicious individuals accuse a few pure and chaste persons, thus immediately after mentioning of severe punishment of adulterers, the punishment of those who accuse others and intend to misuse this ordinance is declared, so that the honor and respect of chaste families can be saved from the threat of such persons, and no one dare denigrate people. At first, it says:

" And those who accuse chaste women (with adultery) but do not bring four witnesses, then scourge them (with) eighty stripes ..."

After this heavy punishment, two more ordinances are added, where it says:

"... and do not (afterward) accept their testimony forever, and these are they that are evil-doers,"

Thus, in this way, not only such persons are heavily punished, but also their testimony and speech is invalid and invaluable in a long term, so that they cannot defame pure individuals. Moreover, the mark of impurity is set on them and they will be scandalized in the society.

This austereness in saving reputation of pure people is not limited to this case here, but it is also seen in many Islamic teachings. It indicates how extremely Islam values reputation of pure female and male believers.

Imam Sadiq (a.s.) in a tradition said: "When a Muslim accuses his Muslim brother of a matter (that is not done by him), faith will vanish from his heart as salt melts in water."[1]

However, in view of the fact that Islam never closes the path of return to anyone, and it uses every opportunity to encourage wrongdoers to purify themselves and atone for the former errors and mistakes, in the next verse the Qur'an adds:

"Save those who repent thereafter and make amends, for verily Allah is Forgiving, Merciful."

Therefore, according to the traditions narrated from Imam Sadiq (a.s.) and other Imams (a.s.), by repenting both their testimony is valid in the future and the judgment of being mischievous is abrogated of them in all fields, because a person who has repented and become just again, the title of being mischievous will be taken from him.

Some Traditions on Repentance

1. The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) said: "An individual who repents his sin is like a person who is sinless."[1]

2. The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) said: "Nothing is more liked before Allah than a faithful man and woman who regret about sin and then repent."[2]

3. Imam Ali (a.s.) said: "Impart the pleasant odour of seeking forgiveness, so that the offensive smell of sins does not stigmatize you."[3]

4. Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said: "The favorite servant before Allah is a well-doer who repents a lot."[4]

Pay attention to some points

1. What does the word 'Ramy' mean here?

The Arabic word /ramy/ basically means throwing stones or shooting arrows and like, and it is natural that in many cases it harms.Then this Arabic word has been used sarcastically in accusation of individuals, cursing, abusing and unfair imputation, because as if these words and speeches are like arrows that hit the body of a person and wound him.

Perhaps it is for this reason that this word has been used in an absolute form in the verses under discussion and later verses. For example, it has not mentioned, "Those who accuse chaste women of adultery", because considering verbal contexts, the word 'fornication' has been omitted in the concept of the word /yarmana/. Moreover, the lack of clearly expressing it, when chaste women are mentioned, is- considered as a kind of courtesy, respect, and chastity in words.

2. Why Four Witnesses?

We know that in Islam two just witnesses are usually enough for proving crimes and asserting rights. Even in the case of homicide when there are two witnesses, the crime is proved, but in the question of accusation to adultery four witnesses are especially necessary. The reason that witness outweighs here is possibly the fact that many people accuse others very easily and they always mar reputation and honour of individuals suspiciously or not suspiciously. Islam is rather uncompromising in this respect so that people's honour can be saved. But in other issues, even homicide, individuals' tongue is not so defiled.

Moreover, in homicide there is only one party, i.e. the criminal is one, but in adultery two persons are charged with the crime, and if we require two witnesses for each of them, there will be four witnesses.

This statement is the content of a tradition narrated from Imam Sadiq (a.s.). Abi Hanifah, the famous Sunni jurist, says: "I asked Imam Sadiq (a.s.) that whether fornication is more condemnable than homicide. He said: 'No, homicide is.' Then I said: 'Why are two witnesses enough in proving homicide, but fornication requires 4 witnesses?' He said: 'What do you say about this matter?" Abi Hanifah could not answer explicitly. Imam said: "This is because there are two prescribed punishments in fornication, one of them is for man and the other one is for woman. So two witnesses are needed. But in homicide only one prescribed punishment is inflicted on murderer."[1]

Of course there are some cases of fornication for which prescribed punishment is inflicted on one party (e.g. rape and suchlike), but these are the exceptional instances. What is common and obvious is the one that is committed with mutual agreement, but we know that the philosophy of ordinances depends on prevailing individuals.

3. Important condition of repentance

We have reiterated this fact that repentance is not only asking Allah's forgiveness or feeling remorse about past deeds or even deciding to relinquish an evil act in the future, but in addition to all these things the wrongdoer must put his best foot forward to amend the past.

If he has really marred reputation and honour of a pure man or woman, he must, in order to make his repentance accepted, deny what he has said in the presence of those who have heard his accusation, so to speak, he must rehabilitate the disgraced person.

The Qur'anic holy phrase /wa 'aslahu/ ("...who ... make amends ...") that has come after the phrase /tabu/ ("... who repent ...") indicates this fact that such persons must repent from their sins and then must atone what wrong they have committed. This is not right that another one accuses a person of lying in public (or by means of press or mass media) and then, in his home, when he is alone, he asks Allah's forgiveness. Allah never accepts such repentance.

Therefore, there are some traditions narrated from the leaders of Islam as an answer to the question that whether the testimony of those who accuse someone of dishonour is accepted after they repent and are prescribedly punished; their answer is "Yes". And when it was asked how his repentance is done, they said: "He will come to Imam (or Islamic judge) and will say: 'I accused so and as and I repent of what I have said'."[1]

4. The ordinances of 'Qathf': (false accusation of unlawful intercourse)

In the book entitled: "Hudud" (prescribed punishments), there is a chapter which is called: "the prescribed punishment of Qathf". The word 'Qathf' (on the rhythm of 'Hazf') means hurling something to a far away place. But in these cases, like the Arabic word /ramy/, it alludes to dishonouring accusation of an individual. In other words, it is scurrility and foul language related to these matters.

Whenever 'Qathf' is done explicitly and affirmatively in any language and in any form, its prescribed punishment is 80 stripes, as it was mentioned above. If it is not explicit and affirmative, it is subject to the ordinance of discretionary punishment (the purpose of 'discretionary punishment' is those sins that have no definite prescribed punishment in religion, but it is up to the Islamic judge to decide the measure and the way of punishment in a certain case with regard to the characteristics of the criminal and the quality of crime as well as other conditions).

Even if a person accuses a group of people of such a crime, swears at them and accuses them one by one (singly), there will prescribed punishment of Qathf for each accusation separately. But if he accuses them on the whole or altogether, and if they jointly and intemperately ask punishment for him, he will be inflicted with one prescribed punishment, but if they separately take legal action against him, for each accusation he will be imposed with one independent prescribed punishment.

This is so important that if a person is accused of such a crime and this person dies, his heirs can sue accuser and ask prescribed punishment for the accuser. Of course, since this ordinance is among the personal rights, and if an entitled person forgives wrongdoer, his prescribed punishment will be canceled, unless this offence is repeated so many times that reputation and honour of society is threatened, in this case this crime will be treated differently.

If two persons use bad language about reputation of each other, there will be no prescribed punishment for both of them, but they will be imposed with discretionary punishment as judge decides. Thus, no Muslim has right to answer back foul language, but he can only demand his rights through the judge of religion and asks for punishment of bad language user.

Anyway, the purpose of this Islamic ordinance is, first: saving men's honour and reputation, and second is, preventing ample social and moral corruptions which bedevil the society, because if corrupted persons are to be free, they will swear at and accuse every one unjustly and then they are saved from punishment.

In this condition, people's reputation and honour are always at risk and even these unjust accusations make a spouse cynical of other half. And father will be skeptical of his issue's legitimacy. In short, the existence of family will be threatened, atmosphere of suspicion and skepticism prevails society, rumour-mongers drive a roaring line, and all chaste persons will be stained in the opinion of people.

Here, there will be the demand of decisiveness, the same decisiveness which Islam has presented to these bad language users.

Yes, they must be flogged with 80 stripes as penalty for their evil and accusing swearing, so that they will never fiddle with people's reputation and honour.

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