Personal Freedoms vs. Public Violations

17 August, 2016
Q I am an atheist living in Belgium, however I am interested in the history and practices of religions. It is sometimes difficult these days to get unbiased information concerning Islam, especially in the Western world. I am certain that most people who have religion try to lead a good life, although we sometimes see evidence to the contrary on the TV. The question I wanted to ask is the following: Muslims generally claim that they treat their women better than Westerners. Recently, a 19-year-old woman was kidnapped and raped 14 times in Saudi Arabia. At the time of her kidnapping, she was with a boy. Because they aren't married, she was condemned as well to 90 whiplashes, which is in compliance with the Shari`ah. Hasn't she already suffered enough? What does it matter that she was with this boy? I can understand that in the time when the Shari`ah was written, such clauses were included as a safety measure, but we are no longer living in the sixth century. Don't get me wrong, I am not criticizing Islam as a religion or a way of life. I honestly would like to broaden my understanding of the world and the so-called other.


Salam (Peace) Dear Vincent,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

I praise the idea that you seek knowledge from Muslims, because one of the problems we face is that people seek knowledge about Islam from third parties who in many cases fail to provide objective information about Islam.

Although I have never been there, I have heard that Belgium is a very beautiful country and I hope that one day I can visit your country.

You are absolutely right; Islam is not what you see on TV. What you see on TV is something that is been prepared for you to see and is presented for you as Islam but, in most cases, is not really Islam.

We have to be careful with the news we receive from others. Therefore, I cannot confirm what you mentioned in your question about what happened in Saudi Arabia.

Let me instead talk about the punishment for fornication in Islam. Islam prohibits fornication and adultery, for it leads to confusion of lineage, child abuse, the breaking up of families, and the spread of diseases.

It is interesting that when talking about the prohibition of adultery, the Quran uses the words wa la taqrabu” and do not come near adultery,” pointing out that all means that lead to adultery are to be avoided.

{and do not come near adultery; indeed, it is an abomination and an evil way.} (Al-Israa’ 17:32)

The specified punishment for a person guilty of fornication is 100 lashes, not 90 as you mentioned in your question. In the Quran we read what gives the meaning of:

{The woman and the man guilty of fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day, and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment.} (An-Nur 24: 2)

You are right. We do not want people to live in the sixth century. We want them to use modern technology in their daily life. Islam teaches us to cope with modern civilization. At the same time, Islam is an entire social system as well as a moral one. Being a system, this means that each part of it must be healthy in order for the system to function properly.

In this case, spouses should remain loyal to each other. They should be faithful and not cheat on each other, an ideal that existed in the sixth century and should continue to exist in our modern world.

Why is this important?

The Muslim community is a pure one. Muslims believe that every child has the right to know who his or her father is. If sexual relationships are left without control, we will have many generations of unknown lineage.

People should feel secure so that they do not get depressed and less social problems will happen. The wife should be sure that her husband is really at work when he says he is and that he is not cheating on her. The same holds true for the husband. Every man should feel secure that his wife is not having an affair with another man, and that the child in his house that he is bringing up is really his own. That is why Islam has ordained certain punishments to put an end to fornication.

If we look at the conditions that Islam stipulates for applying the punishment for fornication, we will find that Islam does not strive to apply it. On the contrary, it tries to evade it.

For example, when Islam says that those charged with fornication must be seen by four virtuous witnesses, this means that this act of fornication must be so public that it is practically done in the street. Can you imagine seeing this situation in the street? If Islam really wanted to apply this punishment, it would have minimized the number of witnesses or would not have stipulated that they have to be righteous.

Even if this does occur, what, you may ask is so disturbing that would deserve such a harsh punishment? Let’s imagine a hypothetical situation in which two people are engaged in such an act in public.

The public sphere, as you know, is not something you can control. By being public, this act is violating the sensibilities of everyone who is forced to see it as it is in public. This means that our families see it. And even more disturbingly, this means that our children see it.

The sexual act itself can be so disturbing to children that psychologists confirm that when the child becomes old enough to be able to open and close a door, his parents must lock their bedroom door when they are engaged in an intimate act.

If it happens that the child sees such an act, he or she might suffer psychological problems. Therefore, the psychological well-being of the society in general and children in particular take a higher priority than the “personal freedom” of anyone.

During the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the punishment for adultery was applied only twice. And it was applied only on people who freely confessed committing the crime and insisted on being punished.

When a woman who committed adultery and freely confessed to the Prophet Muhammad, he repeatedly thought of excuses for her to delay the punishment to give her a chance to revoke her confession. Ultimately, he did not want to punish her, and it was only her insistence that made him give in, after more than two years of her confession.

One of the Companions of the Prophet once said that if the woman had not insisted on her punishment, it would never have been carried out (Al-Hakim).

Furthermore, after the punishment of another adulterer who had confessed, the Prophet told his followers, “Avoid this abomination that Allah has prohibited. So, whoever is involved with such a sin should screen himself with the concealment of Allah and turn to Allah in repentance, for whoever confesses to a sin, we carry out the related prescribed legal penalty stated in Allah’s Book on him” (Al-Hakim).

Islam emphasizes that the original state of people is innocence unless otherwise proved. That is why when a man came to the Prophet confessing adultery, the Prophet said to the man, “Perhaps you just touched her; maybe you kissed her; maybe you, etc.” in an attempt to give him the chance to recall his confession (Al-Bukhari).

We can conclude that the Prophet did not want to apply the punishment. Therefore, the punishment is there not to be widely practiced but to deter people.

Finally, I think there is no wonder about this punishment as I heard that there is a law in Belgium against those who commit adultery in the streets.

We pray God to protect our societies and guide our youth to the best.

I hope this answers your question, Vincent. Please stay in touch.