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Published in the 1-15 June 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Confessing extra marital relations

Question: If a man and woman had extra-marital relations and later they get married, how should they repent? Should they confess their crime? Should this matter be reported to the authorities? 

Answer: If we deliberate on the various forms of Islamic punishments, in particular on the punishment of Qadhf* (slandering someone of fornication) mentioned in the Qur'an, it becomes evident that in sins that do not relate to the violation of rights of a party, the Almighty does not like that a criminal confess to his/her crime him/herself or that those who are aware of his crime report this matter to the authorities.

The Prophet (bubh) is reported to have said: “He among you who gets involved in such filth should hide behind the veil stretched out for him by Allah, but if he unfolds the veil, we shall implement the law of Allah upon him.” (Al-Mu'atta, Kitabu'l-Hudud)

Similarly, the Prophet once told a person: “If you had hidden the crime of this [person], it would have been better for you.” (Al-Mu'atta, Kitabu'l-Hudud) 
If a man and a woman had committed such a sin, they should sincerely repent before God and keep asking His forgiveness. To cleanse themselves internally from the effects of this sin, they can adopt two measures: 

a. Keep some fasts. 

b. Spend some amount in the way of Allah. 

This is not an atonement prescribed by the Almighty; however it is a kind of self-imposed penalty that helps both in purifying the inner self and in lessening the burden of guilt.

* In case of Qadf, the law of Islam is that the accuser shall have to produce four witnesses. Anything less than this will not prove his/her accusation. Mere circumstantial evidence or mere medical examination in this case is absolutely of no importance. If a person is of lewd and loose character, such things may not be important in his life, but if he/she has a morally sound reputation, Islam wants that even if he/she has faltered, his/her crime should be concealed and he/she should not be disgraced in the society. Consequently, in this case, Islamic law requires four eye-witnesses for the testimony to initiate a legal hearing, and if the accuser fails to produce them, it regards him as guilty of Qadf. The Qur'an says: “Those who accuse honourable women and bring not four witnesses as an evidence [for their accusation], inflict eighty stripes upon them, and never accept their testimony in future: (24:4).

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