What Is Zina in Islam?

by Christina Lee

In historical and contemporary Islamic sexual ethics, zina refers to adultery and fornication and is considered haraam, or forbidden. Muslims believe that zina, like other "bad deed" or sins, will be held against the sinner after death or on the final day of judgment. Depending on context, there are some variations in precisely which behaviors constitute zina.

General Meaning of Zina

For Muslims struggling to attain righteousness in the eyes of God, zina has a broad meaning. It includes all consensual sexual acts committed with another person, from sexual intercourse to oral sex. But it is not limited to sex acts with others. Lust, masturbation and viewing pornography are also examples of zina. Following the teachings of the Quran, as well as Jesus's biblical condemnation of lust, Muslims understand lust as "zina of the eye."

Zina In Historical Islamic Jurisprudence

The term "Islamic jurisprudence" refers to the body of legal scholarship and debate developed throughout Islamic history. It determines both political governance and personal sexual ethics, including the avoidance of zina. Islamic legal scholars consider adultery or fornication that included consensual sexual intercourse to be zina, so it can be punished within an Islamic state or caliphate.

Punishments for Zina

Islamic countries historically imposed harsh punishments on those found guilty of zina; these are based on recommendations found in the Quran. Unmarried parties who committed zina were sentenced to 100 lashes, but the penalty for married offenders was death. Some countries, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, still impose these punishments on the guilty, but most countries, influenced by secularism, do not. Once in a while, individual communities and families enforce such punishments. Honor killings in countries Pakistan and Afghanistan, for example, which overwhelmingly target women, are one way some communities do this.

Teachings About Zina in the Quran and Hadith

English translations of the Quran include the passage, "And come not near to unlawful sex. Verily, it is a Faahishah (i.e. anything that transgresses its limits: a great sin, and an evil way that leads one to hell unless Allaah forgives him)". One of the Prophet Muhammad's hadith, or sayings, about zina is, “No adulterer is a believer at the time when he is committing adultery.”

About the Author

Christina Lee began writing in 2004. Her co-authored essay is included in the edited volume, "Discipline and Punishment in Global Affairs." Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and politics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Master of Arts in global affairs from American University and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Penn State University.

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