four witnesses for rape

Decon­struct­ing Mis­con­cep­tions : The Ques­tion of Four Wit­ness­es for Rape Cases

Does Islam real­ly require four wit­ness­es for rape vic­tims ? This is a com­mon argu­ment used by those who usu­al­ly attempt to make a false anal­o­gy with adul­tery by infer­ring from the fol­low­ing Qur’an­ic injunction :

And those who accuse chaste women [of adul­tery] 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. Except for those who repent there­after and reform, for indeed Allaah is For­giv­ing and Mer­ci­ful.“1

That this myth was repeat­ed by none oth­er than the for­mer Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Tun Dr. Mahathir at an UMNO Gen­er­al Assem­bly meet­ing had great­ly con­tributed to the mis­con­cep­tion that Islam requires four wit­ness­es for rape :

    If four wit­ness­es were to mere­ly watch a woman being raped and not attempt to help her, would they not be regard­ed as hav­ing sinned (for allow­ing a woman to be raped) and are not be fit to be wit­ness­es?” he said. Under Pas’ hudud also, rape vic­tims would in turn become the accused in the event that she could not make the four wit­ness­es available.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly for such peo­ple, this fal­la­cy of equiv­o­ca­tion has no basis in Islam­ic juris­dic­tions and the pun­ish­ment for rape (which is defined as forced sex­u­al inter­course) is cer­tain­ly not equiv­a­lent to the pun­ish­ment of adultery. 

Insha’al­lah, in what fol­lows we aim to deal with this issue once and for all by break­ing it down into sev­er­al points so as to enable easy understanding.

Exam­ing The Four Wit­ness­es For Rape” Claim

The claim that rape vic­tims require four wit­ness­es to seek jus­tice for their case is untrue and a false lie prop­a­gat­ed by those who either do not have any knowl­edge in Islam­ic law or want to prove” a so-called weak­ness in the hadd laws. Cir­cum­stan­tial evi­dence is suf­fi­cient and the judge can invoke his judg­ment based upon ta’zir2.

If a per­son makes an alle­ga­tion of adul­tery against anoth­er per­son (male or female), only then he or she must pro­duce four wit­ness­es to sup­port such an alle­ga­tion : And those who accuse chaste women [of adul­tery] and then do not pro­duce four wit­ness­es.…“3 ; oth­er­wise, he or she is guilty of slan­der­ing, which is a grave offense in Islam. 

To insist that the raped vic­tim must pro­vide wit­ness­es is akin to inflict­ing fur­ther pain on her. If any­one refutes her claim of inno­cence, the onus is on him to pro­vide evi­dence, and she may sim­ply deny the claim by mak­ing a solemn oath, thus clear­ing her­self in public.

This is based on what the Prophet Muham­mad(P) had once said :

    The onus to pro­vide evi­dence falls on the one who makes a claim, and the one who denies (the same) can absolve him­self or her­self by mak­ing a solemn oath to the con­trary.“4

Fur­ther, the Prophet(P) was report­ed to have said that :

    Allah(T) has par­doned my peo­ple for the acts they do by mis­take, due to for­get­ful­ness and what they are coerced into doing.“5

An event con­cern­ing rape had in fact led towards the Prophet Muham­mad(P) pun­ish­ing a rapist with­out demand­ing or even hint­ing for four witnesses :

    Nar­rat­ed Wa’il ibn Hujr : When a woman went out in the time of the Prophet(P) for prayer, a man attacked her and over­pow­ered [raped] her. She shout­ed and he went off, and when a man came by, she said : That [man] did such and such to me. And when a com­pa­ny of the Emi­grants came by, she said : That man did such and such to me. They went and seized the man whom they thought had had inter­course with her and brought him to her.

    She said : Yes, this is he. Then they brought him to the Apos­tle of Allah.

    When he [the Prophet] was about to pass sen­tence, the man who [actu­al­ly] had assault­ed her stood up and said : Apos­tle of Allah, I am the man who did it to her.

    He [the Prophet] said to her : Go away, for Allah has for­giv­en you. But he told the man some good words [Abu Dawud said : mean­ing the man who was seized”], and of the man who had had inter­course with her, he said : Stone him to death.6

It should also be not­ed that it was relat­ed by Ibn Abi Shay­bah through Târiq b. Sha­hab that a woman accused with adul­tery was tak­en to Caliph Umar. The woman plead­ed that she was asleep and woke up to find the man over her. Umar released the woman.7

Based on the above say­ings of the Prophet(P) and the events asso­ci­at­ed with it, the jurist Ibn Qudamah had stat­ed as fol­lows in his book al-Mugh­nî :

    If a woman becomes preg­nant with­out hav­ing a hus­band or a mas­ter, she may not be pun­ished and, in stead, she should be asked about it, if she claimed that she was coerced into it or that she com­mit­ted adul­tery under dubi­ous cir­cum­stances, or if she sim­ply does not con­fess adul­tery then she will not be pun­ished. This is the say­ing of Abu Hanî­fah and al-Shâfi‘î, because she may be preg­nant as a result of a force­ful inter­course or dubi­ous cir­cum­stances. Pun­ish­ment will be aban­doned in case sus­pi­cion exists. It is well known that a woman could become preg­nant with­out com­mit­ting the real inter­course. The woman may become preg­nant if sperm is man­u­al­ly insert­ed into her vagi­na. This would explain how a vir­gin becomes preg­nant.“8

We can now see that a tes­ti­mo­ny of the raped woman suf­fices in exon­er­at­ing her from adul­tery and that Islam recog­nis­es the crime of rape and that a raped woman will not be pun­ished for such a crime that was inflict­ed upon her.

So What Real­ly Is The Pun­ish­ment For Rape ?

Accord­ing to the major­i­ty opin­ion of Mus­lim schol­ars, rape is con­sid­ered as hirabah (high­way rob­bery or ter­ror­ism) and hence rapists are to be pun­ished accord­ing to the hirabah laws, as high­light­ed in the Qur’an :

The pun­ish­ments of those who wage war against Allah and His Prophet and strive to spread dis­or­der in the land are to exe­cute them in an exem­plary way or to cru­ci­fy them or to ampu­tate their hands and feet from oppo­site sides or to ban­ish them from the land. Such is their dis­grace in this world, and in the Here­after theirs will be an awful doom save those who repent before you over­pow­er them ; you should know that Allah is Oft-For­giv­ing, Ever Mer­ci­ful. (Quran 5:33)

This pun­ish­ment is jus­ti­fied as rape is con­sid­ered to be hirabah with the pri­vate parts” which is much worse than any oth­er types of hirabah :

    Al-Dasuqi, for exam­ple, a Mali­ki jurist, held that if a per­son forced a woman to have sex, his actions would be deemed com­mit­ting hira­ba. In addi­tion, the Mali­ki judge Ibn Ara­bi, relates a sto­ry in which a group was attacked and a woman in their par­ty raped. Respond­ing to the argu­ment that the crime did not con­sti­tute hira­ba because no mon­ey was tak­en and no weapons used, Ibn Ara­bi replied indig­nant­ly that hirabah with the pri­vate parts” is much worse than hira­ba involv­ing the tak­ing of mon­ey, and that any­one would rather be sub­ject­ed to the lat­ter than the for­mer.9

This of course is as opposed to what the Bible teach­es about the pun­ish­ment for rape. For exam­ple, we read that :

    If a man is caught in the act of rap­ing a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of sil­ver to her father. Then he must mar­ry the young woman because he vio­lat­ed her, and he will nev­er be allowed to divorce her.“10

What kind of lunatic would make a rape vic­tim mar­ry her attack­er ? Is there any jus­tice in forc­ing the raped woman to mar­ry her rapist and bound her to him for the rest of his life ? Fur­ther we also read anoth­er exam­ple that the Bible teach­es that the rape vic­tim should be pun­ished with death :

    If with­in the city a man comes upon a maid­en who is betrothed, and has rela­tions with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death : the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he vio­lat­ed his neigh­bor’s wife.“11

This injunc­tion of course leaves lit­tle to the imag­i­na­tion. We will leave the read­er to form their own con­clu­sions. We hope that the above expla­na­tion that was giv­en had made it clear that in Islam, rape vic­tims are not required to bring four wit­ness­es” as alleged and that Judeo-Chris­tian­i­ty has a much harsh­er law for rape when com­pared to Islam. Fur­ther read­ing on the issue can be found in the arti­cle, Are Raped Women Asked to Bring Four Witnesses ?

Con­clud­ing Remarks

In con­clu­sion, it is evi­dent that the notion that Islam requires rape vic­tims to pro­duce four wit­ness­es to val­i­date their claims is a pro­found mis­un­der­stand­ing. Islam, as a faith deeply root­ed in jus­tice and com­pas­sion, rec­og­nizes the heinous nature of rape and pro­vides mech­a­nisms to bring per­pe­tra­tors to account. The Quran­ic ref­er­ence to the require­ment of four wit­ness­es per­tains to accu­sa­tions of adul­tery, not rape. This is a clear dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion that is often misunderstood.

More­over, the view that rape is a form of hirabah, or ter­ror­ism, is sup­port­ed by a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Mus­lim schol­ars. This inter­pre­ta­tion puts rape in the cat­e­go­ry of heinous crimes, with severe pun­ish­ment for those found guilty, empha­siz­ing the grav­i­ty of the crime in the Islam­ic world­view. The per­spec­tive that a wom­an’s tes­ti­mo­ny can suf­fice to bring her assailant to jus­tice also under­lines Islam’s sup­port for vic­tims of such bru­tal acts.

The sto­ries from the Prophet’s life and the analy­sis of schol­ars like Ibn Qudamah pro­vide insights into the prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tion of these prin­ci­ples, fur­ther debunk­ing the myth about the require­ment of four wit­ness­es for rape. The Prophet’s actions under­scored com­pas­sion towards the vic­tims, acknowl­edg­ing their trau­ma and ensur­ing jus­tice for them.

Fur­ther­more, it’s crit­i­cal to com­pare the Islam­ic per­spec­tive on rape with oth­er reli­gious texts to under­stand its nuanced approach. The explo­ration of bib­li­cal vers­es about rape elu­ci­dates this con­trast and fur­ther high­lights the sup­port Islam pro­vides to the victims.

Final­ly, it’s vital to approach Islam­ic law and any reli­gious text with a nuanced and informed under­stand­ing. Mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions can lead to wide­spread myths, like the one dis­cussed here. There­fore, it’s cru­cial to edu­cate one­self and oth­ers about the real­i­ties of these laws and their appli­ca­tions to dis­pel such mis­con­cep­tions. Islam, in its essence, advo­cates for jus­tice, com­pas­sion, and dig­ni­ty for all, and its stance on rape vic­tims is no dif­fer­ent. We must con­tin­ue to strive for a deep and accu­rate under­stand­ing of our faiths, always seek­ing truth and justice.

And only God knows best !Endmark

  1. Quran 24 : 2 – 5[]
  2. Defined as dis­cre­tionary pun­ish­ment for crimes for which no spe­cif­ic pun­ish­ment is stat­ed in Islam”. Hence a rul­ing may be done at a judge’s own dis­cre­tion for these cas­es[]
  3. ibid.[]
  4. Record­ed in al-Bai­haqi no 20990, parts of it are in al-Bukhari no. 4552 and Mus­lim no. 1711[]
  5. Relat­ed by Ibn Mâjah, approved by al-Nawawî, Ibn Hajr and al-Albânî.[]
  6. Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38, #4366[]
  7. The nar­ra­tion was approved by al-Albâni.[]
  8. Ibn Qudamah, al-Maq­disi, al-Mugh­ni, vol.8, p.129[]
  9. Gisel­la Webb, Win­dows of Faith : Mus­lim Wom­en’s Schol­ar­ship Activism in the Unit­ed States, p. 130[]
  10. Deuteron­o­my 22:28 – 29[]
  11. Deuteron­o­my 22:23 – 24[]

12 Comments

  1. @SamB, first­ly what is meant by Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) par­don­ing the woman is that she was par­doned for wrong­ly iden­ti­fy­ing her cul­prit. It does­nt mean she was par­doned for being raped as if it was her mistake.

    Sec­ond­ly, the sec­ond man (actu­al cul­prit) con­fessed his crime because he did not want some­one else to suf­fer the pun­ish­ment of his crime. 

    Third­ly, there are crimes like homi­ci­dal mur­ders or rape that deserve hadd pun­ish­ment in this world. It’s up to Allah swt to accept the change in our hearts & accept repen­tence. Oth­er­wise, any­one could just com­mit such heinous crimes and ask to be spared of his punishment..

  2. To Sam B :

    The Prophet Upon Whom be Bless­ings and Peace could have been par­don­ing her for mis­tak­ing the inno­cent man’s identity.

  3. There is some­thing sin­is­ter about this state­ment, When he (the Prophet) was about to pass sen­tence, the man who (actu­al­ly) had assault­ed her stood up and said : Apos­tle of Allah, I am the man who did it to her.” The woman accused the wrong man and the right man con­fessed. First­ly, the Prophet sees her as sin­ner ; an erro­neous con­clu­sion by an ordained man. The woman did not sin because she was over­pow­er by a stronger being. On what pre­text that the Prophet regard her as a sin­ner ? The Prophet it seems to me has seri­ous judg­men­tal issues. Sec­ond­ly, the woman is so hys­ter­i­cal that she accused the first man that was accost­ed ; her tes­ti­mo­ny was also incor­rect. Why does the sec­ond man con­fess ? He knows he is going to lose his life unless he had empa­thy for the first man ? Third­ly, the prophet is total­ly wrong for con­demn­ing the sec­ond man. After all he had con­fessed and there some hon­our” in con­fes­sion. Why death when the Prophet had to look at the honesty\integrity of the con­fes­sor ? Some­how this sto­ry is con­trived as it focus­es on the wrong part of the nar­ra­tive. Is it the the two rapist” or the con­fused woman or the out of touch Prophet that is the focus of the narrative ?

  4. The ques­tion is :
    If by the Sharia Law, 4 MALE wit­ness­es are required to prove rape, or the rapist confession
    And the answer is YES

    [Sor­ry, the answer is still a NO.]

  5. TO : HEIGOU
    Thank you for your response. I see that this arti­cle is not enough to dis­miss the claim that Islam requires 4 rape wit­ness” for you. Again thank you for express­ing your hon­esty on how you feel. There is no shame in that.

    Again, I want to add that the Hadith men­tioned about the wom­an’s tri­al is indeed enough to dis­miss this false alle­ga­tion. My ques­tion to you is, if Islam requires 4 rape wit­ness­es, when why would the woman speak up in a case where she does not have 4 rape wit­ness­es ? In oth­er words, why would a per­son speak up in a case that they know they are going to lose. If she could­n’t pro­duce the 4 wit­ness­es she would have kept the rape sit­u­a­tion to her­self. The hadith has no men­tion of any 4 wit­ness­es need­ed for her to appeal and she did appeal. Luck­i­ly the real rapist spoke up before the inno­cent was killed unjust­ly which is also an indi­ca­tion of the lev­el of hon­esty in their society.

    Hope this answers the question.

  6. MashaAl­lah Xman, May Allah increase you in good­ness and grant you the knowl­edge and under­stand­ing of the Qur’an and the Sun­nah. May Allah help us to edu­cate peo­ple on Islam as effec­tive­ly and mag­nif­i­cent­ly as the Prophet(saas) and his com­pan­ions did.

  7. HeiGou, as usu­al, assumes much with­out check­ing for him­self what the Holy Quran says. It says Those who accuse chaste women but don’t pro­vide 4 wit­ness­es, flog them with 80 stripes and nev­er trust them again…”

    No Zina word here Hei­Goo. Your hatred blinds you again.

    And HeiGou blind­ly assumes that Islam­ic Law ONLY relies on 4 wit­ness­es or a con­fes­sion. Does he SERIOUSLY believe that Mus­lims dont believe in evi­dence gath­er­ing & forensics????
    Thats what hatred does to you Heigou. Give it up.

    As for rape being sim­i­lar to High­way Rob­bery, it makes per­fect sense to me.
    A total stranger usu­al­ly waits on lone­ly roads for a vic­tim to rob or rape or both.

    As for the west­ern con­cept of rape where a scant­i­ly dressed woman goes par­ty­ing, gets drunk, invites a male friend to her house, then screams rape the next day !!!!
    And todays west­ern soci­eties are plagued with how to define rape & whether or not the woman her­self is part­ly to blame for her dress and behaviour.

    This issue is so clear and sim­ple to under­stand but HeiGous Hatred has con­fused and blind­ed him.

  8. It does­nt mean that you have to do rape infront of four per­sons but you need four witnesses(in mod­ern days you can also used med­ical test as a prove instead of four witnesses)that can prove the allegation.

  9. An inter­est­ing, but unimag­i­na­tive defense of the Islam­ic law on rape. Not very con­vinc­ing real­ly. Notice this quote :

    And those who accuse chaste women [of adul­tery] and then do not pro­duce four witnesses….””

    Notice the words in brack­ets “[of adul­tery]”. They were not, I assume, in the orig­i­nal but added for clar­i­fi­ca­tion” sake. That is, the author assumes what he wants to find. Pre­sum­ably the Ara­bic word is zina” which does not trans­late as adul­tery” so much as sex­u­al mis­con­duct gen­er­al­ly. After all this sto­ry orig­i­nates with the zina” of Aisha which for a while even Muhammed wavered on. As no one could have ever *ever* have sus­pect­ed Aisha had com­mit­ted adul­tery (or could they ? Any­one here like to claim that for even a sec­ond a rea­son­able per­son know­ing Aisha could sus­pect such a thing much less some­one like Ali?) they must have thought it was rape and hence applied to all such cas­es. You can see this by the oth­er term used :

    Accord­ing to the major­i­ty opin­ion of Mus­lim schol­ars, rape is con­sid­ered as hirabah (high­way rob­bery or ter­ror­ism) and hence rapists are to be pun­ished accord­ing to the hirabah laws, as high­light­ed in the Qur’an.”

    Clear­ly Islam­ic law lacks a term specif­i­cal­ly for rape. Some schol­ars, in my opin­ion the vast major­i­ty of tra­di­tion­al schol­ars, have assim­i­lat­ed it to zina” where it belongs. But mod­ern apol­o­gists are attempt­ing to claim it is hirabah” even though rape has *noth­ing* in com­mon with high­way rob­bery *at* *all*.

    So does this arti­cle prove you do not need four adult male eye­wit­ness­es ? Of course not. Look at the case cited :

    When he [the Prophet] was about to pass sen­tence, the man who [actu­al­ly] had assault­ed her stood up and said : Apos­tle of Allah, I am the man who did it to her.

    He [the Prophet] said to her : Go away, for Allah has for­giv­en you. But he told the man some good words [Abu Dawud said : mean­ing the man who was seized”], and of the man who had had inter­course with her, he said : Stone him to death.“4

    Bril­liant. In the absence of four adult male eye­wit­ness­es, you may con­vict if the man con­fess­es. How many rapists con­fess ? Either this man was seri­ous­ly men­tal­ly dis­turbed, unusu­al­ly repen­tant (in which case I doubt he would have been a rapist any­way) or the sto­ry is fic­tion. Either way it is irrel­e­vant as rapists do not usu­al­ly confess.

    In short, this arti­cle does noth­ing what­so­ev­er to change the basic facts of Islam­ic law — rape needs four adult male eyewitnesses.

  10. The vic­tim in the Hadith is a mus­lim. What if the vic­tim is a non-mus­lim ? Are there any vers­es in the Quran or Hadith that record such ?

  11. U have quot­ed from the Hadith on rape. Are there any vers­es in the Quran that state the pun­ish­ment for rape ? It is local­ly com­mon, that rapist escape judge­ment if he agrees to take the vic­tim as his wife. Do you think the syari­ah court need to stan­dard­ize on this ? Did the rapist in this hadith pun­ished since he repent­ed ? Any how there are mus­lims who do not believe in the author­i­ty of the Hadith.

  12. How come you did­n’t select this Hadith as evi­dence that you don’t need 4 wit­ness­es to provee rape ? Rasoolul­lah (saw) pun­si­hed this man for rape with­out ask­ing for 4 witnesses :

    Sunan Abu Dawood
    Book 38, Num­ber 4366 :
    Nar­rat­ed Wa’il ibn Hujr :

    When a woman went out in the time of the Prophet (peace_​be_​upon_​him) for prayer, a man attacked her and over­pow­ered (raped) her.

    She shout­ed and he went off, and when a man came by, she said : That (man) did such and such to me. And when a com­pa­ny of the Emi­grants came by, she said : That man did such and such to me. They went and seized the man whom they thought had had inter­course with her and brought him to her.

    She said : Yes, this is he. Then they brought him to the Apos­tle of Allah (peace_​be_​upon_​him).

    When he (the Prophet) was about to pass sen­tence, the man who (actu­al­ly) had assault­ed her stood up and said : Apos­tle of Allah, I am the man who did it to her.

    He (the Prophet) said to her : Go away, for Allah has for­giv­en you. But he told the man some good words (Abu­Dawud said : mean­ing the man who was seized), and of the man who had had inter­course with her, he said : Stone him to death.

    He also said : He has repent­ed to such an extent that if the peo­ple of Med­i­na had repent­ed sim­i­lar­ly, it would have been accept­ed from them.

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