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Zina (Arabic: الزنا‎ ) is the Arabic word for "unlawful sexual relations." Zina, according to traditional Islamic jurisprudence, can include adultery[1][2][3] (of married parties), fornication[1][2][3] (of unmarried parties), prostitution,[4] rape,[5] sodomy[1][6] (in a heterosexual or homosexual context[7][6]), incest,[8][9] and bestiality.[1][10]

The Islamic definition of Zina differs from the commonly used definition of "adultery" in English. The meaning also differs in relation to gender under traditional Islamic jurisprudence.


Adultery is the consensual sex with a woman who does not qualify as one of the following:

  1. His wife
  2. His concubine
  3. His slave[11][12]

A Muslim man is permitted to have up to four wives[13] and an unlimited number of concubines and slave girls (whether he is married or not)[14].


Adultery is the consensual sex with a man who does not qualify as one of the following:

  1. Her husband
  2. Her master

A Muslim woman can only have one husband at a time. She may not have sex with her male slaves.[15] She must have consent from her guardian (usually her parents) to the marriage, if not, sex between the couple is classed as adultery.[16]

Punishments for Zina

The Quran prescribes the punishment of 100 lashes for men and women guilty of zina.

The adulterer and the adulteress, scourge ye each one of them (with) a hundred stripes. And let not pity for the twain withhold you from obedience to Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of believers witness their punishment.

For believing slave girls who their male masters are permitted to marry, the punishment is half that of free women i.e. 50 lashes.

And whoever among you cannot [find] the means to marry free, believing women, then [he may marry] from those whom your right hands possess of believing slave girls. And Allah is most knowing about your faith. You [believers] are of one another. So marry them with the permission of their people and give them their due compensation according to what is acceptable. [They should be] chaste, neither [of] those who commit unlawful intercourse randomly nor those who take [secret] lovers. But once they are sheltered in marriage, if they should commit adultery, then for them is half the punishment for free [unmarried] women. This [allowance] is for him among you who fears sin, but to be patient is better for you. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

A hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari narrates the story of a male labourer who commited zina with his master's wife and received 100 lashes and exile. It does not state whether or not he was married.

"Narrated Abu Huraira and Zaid bin Khalid Al-Juhani: A bedouin came and said, "O Allah's Apostle! Judge between us according to Allah's Laws." His opponent got up and said, "He is right. Judge between us according to Allah's Laws." The bedouin said, "My son was a laborer working for this man, and he committed illegal sexual intercourse with his wife. The people told me that my son should be stoned to death; so, in lieu of that, I paid a ransom of one hundred sheep and a slave girl to save my son. Then I asked the learned scholars who said, "Your son has to be lashed one-hundred lashes and has to be exiled for one year." The Prophet said, "No doubt I will judge between you according to Allah's Laws. The slave-girl and the sheep are to go back to you, and your son will get a hundred lashes and one year exile." He then addressed somebody, "O Unais! go to the wife of this (man) and stone her to death" So, Unais went and stoned her to death."

In Islamic law, if either party who commits zina is married, that person (male or female) receives a much harsher punishment - being stoned to death. The stoning punishment is not present in the Quran, but is based rather on hadiths (see stoning). On this basis the Quranic punishment of 100 lashes was interpreted as applying to either party only if they are unmarried.

In order to carry out the hadd punishment for zina (lashings or stoning to death) there must be either four reliable muslim male witnesses to the alleged offence or a confession. Pregnancy of an unmarried woman is also considered proof of zina unless she says she was raped, in which case she is spared punishment (though for the Maliki school of jurisprudence further evidence to prove coercion is required from her physical state or a witness who heard her cry for help).[17][18]

The four witnesses requirement comes from the early part of Surah al Nur:

And those who accuse chaste women and then do not produce four witnesses - lash them with eighty lashes and do not accept from them testimony ever after. And those are the defiantly disobedient, 24

A few verses later the surah turns into a rant about an alleged incident for which four witnesses were not presented. According to tradition these verses refer to the incident of al-Ifk (the slander) in which Muhammad's wife Aisha was accused of adultery. Critics might infer here that the four witnesses requirement at the start of the surah was introduced by Muhammad for the sake of sparing Aisha from suspicion and punishment.

Indeed, those who came with falsehood are a group among you. Do not think it bad for you; rather it is good for you. For every person among them is what [punishment] he has earned from the sin, and he who took upon himself the greater portion thereof - for him is a great punishment.

Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, "This is an obvious falsehood"? Why did they [who slandered] not produce for it four witnesses? And when they do not produce the witnesses, then it is they, in the sight of Allah, who are the liars. And if it had not been for the favor of Allah upon you and His mercy in this world and the Hereafter, you would have been touched for that [lie] in which you were involved by a great punishment When you received it with your tongues and said with your mouths that of which you had no knowledge and thought it was insignificant while it was, in the sight of Allah, tremendous. And why, when you heard it, did you not say, "It is not for us to speak of this. Exalted are You, [O Allah]; this is a great slander"?

Allah warns you against returning to the likes of this [conduct], ever, if you should be believers.

In Saudi Arabia today, if a female is raped but cannot prove it, she may be accused of khilwa (mingling)[19] or she may be deemed to have confessed to unlawful sex (zina) and prosecuted for that instead.[20]

See Also

  • Adultery - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Adultery


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Semerdjian, Elyse (in en). "Off the Straight Path": Illicit Sex, Law, and Community in Ottoman Aleppo. Syracuse University Press. p. 53. ISBN 9780815651550, 2008. https://books.google.com/books?id=cZzuBMnBKfUC&q=bestiality+zina&pg=PA53. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Khan, Shahnaz (in en). Zina, Transnational Feminism, and the Moral Regulation of Pakistani Women. UBC Press. p. 8. ISBN 9780774841184, 2011. https://books.google.com/books?id=9IfJl4J7MAgC&q=adultery+fornication+zina&pg=PA8. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Akande, Habeeb (in en). A Taste of Honey: Sexuality and Erotology in Islam. Rabaah Publishers. p. 145. ISBN 9780957484511, 2015. https://books.google.com/books?id=XKyPCgAAQBAJ&q=adultery+fornication+zina&pg=PA145. 
  4. Meri, Josef W. (in en). Medieval Islamic Civilization: L-Z, index. Taylor & Francis. p. 646. ISBN 9780415966924, 2006. https://books.google.com/books?id=LaV-IGZ8VKIC&q=prostitution+zina&pg=PA646. 
  5. Semerdjian, Elyse, "Zinah", In John L. Esposito, Oxford: Oxford University Press, Error: Bad DOI specified, ISBN 9780195305135, 2009, http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195305135.001.0001/acref-9780195305135-e-0984. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Habib, Samar (in en). Islam and Homosexuality (1st ed.). ABC-CLIO. p. 211. ISBN 9780313379031, 2010. https://books.google.com/books?id=9y_TyzK9_5oC&q=homosexuality+zina&pg=PA211. 
  7. Mohd Izwan bin Md Yusof; Muhd. Najib bin Abdul Kadir; Mazlan bin Ibrahim; Khader bin Ahmad; Murshidi bin Mohd Noor; Saiful Azhar bin Saadon, "Hadith Sahih on Behaviour of LGBT" (in English), Government of Malaysia, http://www.islam.gov.my/images/ePenerbitan/Hadis-hadis_Sahih_Berkaitan_Perlakuan_LGBT_BI.pdf. 
  8. Clarke, Morgan (in en). Islam and New Kinship: Reproductive Technology and the Shariah in Lebanon. Berghahn Books. p. 41. ISBN 9781845454326, 2009. https://books.google.com/books?id=MwreDKOTXM8C&q=incest+zina&pg=PA42. 
  9. Kamali, Mohammad Hashim (in en). Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law: A Fresh Interpretation. Oxford University Press. p. 94. ISBN 9780190910648, 2019. https://books.google.com/books?id=ZNGaDwAAQBAJ&q=incest+zina&pg=PA94. 
  10. Ahmed, Syed (in en). Law relating to fornication (Zina) in the Islamic legal system: a comparative study. Andhra Legal Decisions. p. 3,71,142, 1999. https://books.google.com/books?id=N24mAQAAIAAJ&q=bestiality+zina. 
  11. "The believers must (eventually) win through,- Those who humble themselves in their prayers; Who avoid vain talk; Who are active in deeds of charity; Who abstain from sex, Except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess,- for (in their case) they are free from blame, But those whose desires exceed those limits are transgressors;- " - Quran 23:1-7
  12. "And those who guard their chastity, Except with their wives and the (captives) whom their right hands possess,- for (then) they are not to be blamed, " - Quran 70:29-30
  13. "If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice. " - Quran 4:3
  14. "(Indeed We know what We have enjoined upon them about their wives) means, `concerning the limiting of their number to four free women, and whatever they wish of slave-girls" - Tafsir Ibn Kathir - Quran 33:50
  15. - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an (Quran 23:1-11, Footnote 7 #2)
  16. "It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that: the Messenger of Allah said: “No woman should arrange the marriage of another woman, and no woman should arrange her own marriage. The adulteress is the one who arranges her own marriage.” (Sahih)" - Ibn Majah Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 1882
  17. Position paper by Karamah (Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights) Zina, Rape, and Islamic Law: An Islamic Legal Analysis of the Rape Laws in Pakistan(2011)
  18. See the 2nd of the two hadiths here regarding Imam Malik's view: Al-Muwatta 41:16
  19. "Saudi Arabia: Rape Victim Punished for Speaking Out", HRW, 2007, https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/11/15/saudi-arabia-rape-victim-punished-speaking-out/. 
  20. Saudi Arabia: Forthcoming Penal Code Should Protect Rights - Human Rights Watch 29 April 2022