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The Repentance of a Fornicator

16 March, 2023
Q As-salamu Alaykum. I have read and was told that God forgives a sin if one repents. But, for fornication, does the wrongdoer have to receive punishment (the lashes) and repent in order for Allah to forgive him or her? Or is just repentance enough alone for forgiveness?Also, do you receive 100 lashes for each time you fornicate and what would apply to girls in a country where Islamic morals and laws are not applied by the government, where no one is there to give you lashes. Can anyone then give you lashes? Please reply to this point.Does Allah's forgiveness depend on the intensity of the sin — whether major or minor — if one repents? I am not sure how to handle that. It all started with minor things and gradually things just got out of hand. He doubted my love and I didn't know how to prove it otherwise. Am I never to be forgiven?Please help me. Thank you.


Salam Dear Sister,

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

Now moving to your problem and your worries, to tell you the truth I was happy to sense the feeling of self-reproach between your lines. I personally don’t want to be hard on you. It seems you are hard enough on yourself. In fact, you have the right to be. Yet maybe it is better to kill your sin and bury it instead of destroying yourself by exposing your sin and being lashed.

You have to know, my dear, that mercy is the original essence of Islam. You need to learn from the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and from his biography that we are not ordered to expose our sins or to confess them except to the Divine.

Here you might notice that the Quran points out that we have to find four witnesses to the crime of fornication before we apply the penalty.

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Of course this is hardly to be had, for who would decide to commit zina in front of four people? Is this by any means a mistake in the Quranic text? No, my dear, it is the mercy of the Divine. He does not want fornicators to always be punished.  But He wants people to know that the crime is grave and that the punishment is even graver.

At the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), a woman committed zina and became pregnant. She went to the Prophet and confessed to him. Because she confessed, the proof was there and the Prophet could not but apply God’s law. If she had not confessed, the Prophet would have never punished her.

Though the Prophet wanted to apply God’s law, he tried his best to be merciful with the woman, especially because she had confessed in repenting and seeking Paradise. The Prophet told her to go away until after she had given birth. Maybe she would have never come back. It was a chance for her to rethink and save herself.

But after delivering the child she came back, asking for her punishment. Again, the merciful Prophet tried to avoid it. He gave her another chance. He let her go to nurse her child. And again, when she had weaned the child, she came back for her punishment.

I am not narrating this story because I see that you should go for your lashes, but to show you how the Prophet was merciful and was trying to avoid punishing the repentant woman. Also, you need to notice that she confessed to the Prophet, not to her father, her brother, or her uncle.

Today you have no Prophet to go to. You are living in a non-Islamic country and there is no government that applies the law. Another point that is most important is that it is not the Sunnah of the Prophet to expose our sins to others.

In Islam, we do not have priests or bishops, but we have the One and Only Lord, Who is our Witness. He saw you when you sinned … and now He is there for you when you repent.

You are asking whether God’s forgiveness depends on the intensity of the sin — whether major or minor — if one repents. My personal answer is I do not think so. I think in your relation with the Divine, you have to be watchful all the time.

What makes a sin grave is the ability to defy Him in the first place, whether with minor or major sins. This would differ from one person to another and from one situation to the other. How ignorant or weak was the person when they transgressed? Did they sin because they were weak, because they were ignorant, or because they didn’t care?

In your question, you said that it all started with minor things and gradually things just got out of hand. But that is why a minor sin is also forbidden, not only a major one. Zina starts with holding hands and touching … a glimpse or a look could drag you to the actual act.

If you really loved that person, you should never have made the deal with him, for it is not he who put love in your heart. I doubt that you still feel the same way about him. I would guess all you feel now is bitterness. The right thing to do — what you should have done — is to make a deal with Allah, the One and Only Sustainer of pure love.

In Islam, my dear sister N., if you loved your man right, you wouldn’t want to hold his hands only for five minutes or be with him only for a night or two. Rather, you would want to be with him for the rest of your life. You would want to bear his children. This can be achieved through the institution of marriage and establishment of a family. This means responsibility and accountability, and this is the best way of expressing love in Islam.

Here, the Only One Who would have given him to you is the One and Only Giver … Allah. This would have been true love — dual love — love for your man and love for your First Beloved: Allah, because you are doing it His way.

I hope you don’t get me wrong. Do not live to repent what you thought was your love. Love is a great value. But you need to repent what you have done in the name of love and to distinguish between love and sin.

Whether things got out of hand or not, black is black and white is white. No shades of gray here, my dear. You have the right here to mourn and grieve … and even weep for every moment of joyful sin. But don’t trap yourself there.

Repentance is your right. Pray at night and cry at the hands of your Lord, asking for His forgiveness. Fast a lot on Mondays and Thursdays. Make the Qur’an your best companion. Read a lot about the interpretation of meanings of the Qur’an. Attend Islamic lessons.

Learn your religion. Become a better Muslim. Keep asking for His forgiveness all day long. When you grow a bit older, try to go for pilgrimage. Set your goal to become a knowledgeable Muslim, for this will make you a stronger one. Then you would not be trapped in such a sin again that easily.

Promise God that He will never see you a fornicator again. Promise Him that in the years ahead He will see you a strong, knowledgeable, pure Muslim.

Carry a sincere heart that seeks His forgiveness and when you do, be sure that youare forgiven. This is the final answer to your question whether God’s forgiveness depends on the intensity of the sin.

My dear, God’s forgiveness depends on the intensity of the repentance, not the sin. All sins are transgressions, daring to cross the Divine. But because He is Merciful, He has promised to forgive everything and anything as long as we go back to Him — all except worshiping others than Him. And even this sin is forgiven when people revert to Islam, for they are considered newly born and they are accepted.

Repentance is not a word, my dear N., that you will say with a teardrop and then forget the whole thing. Nor is it an instrument of self-torture with which you are to reproach yourself and keep yourself idle and useless to yourself, your society, and your religion.

Sincere repentance is a serious and complete change in lifestyle. Devote yourself completely to your Life-Giver and you will attain His forgiveness. Not only that, but you might become one of His closest and favorite servants. However, this can never be achieved without knowledge. Seek knowledge and study your religion.

A whisper in your ears: The information you provided us with tells us that you are under 19. You are young. Get away from men for a while until you are mature and know how to handle a relation.

Always know that not all men are bad and not all of them will just use you. Some of them will. But others will love you, cherish you, and want to share life with you. You are not at the age to distinguish who is who, especially after such a terrible experience. Give the wound time to heal. Give yourself time to mature.

Wishing you all the best. Please write us again if you need anything.


About Sister Dalia Salaheldin
Sister Dalia Salaheldin is: - An instructor and consultant of interfaith & intercultural Dialogue - A speaker and orator on interfaith and intercultural discourse - An instructor of Arabic and Quranic language at the American University in Cairo - A trainer of interfaith and intercultural discourse and dialogue - A founder of Reading Islam Website - A bilingual writer and proem poet - A social and political activist who has traveled through the world widely - A human development adviser and alternative medicine practitioner