Why does Islam Impose Harsh Punishments for Sex outside Marriage

Punishment in Islam has a social purpose, which is to dissuade others from committing the same crime. The nature of the punishment depends on the seriousness of the crime in question. Nowadays, some are opposed to the Islamic punishment for fornication and adultery because they see it as disproportionate or too harsh a punishment. The basic problem here is the different standards by which the severity of the crime is measured.
Islam views adultery as a very serious crime, because it undermines the very foundation of the family system upon which the whole superstructure of the society is built. Illicit relationships destabilize the family and bring about the breakdown of the system. Family breakdown imperils the physical and mental health of future generations, which in turn leads to a vicious circle of decadence, dissipation, and dissolution. Therefore, it is imperative that all measures must be taken to protect the family. That is why Islam emphasizes protection of the family by imposing severe punishments for activities that threaten the family foundation. These punishments are the same for men and women alike.
There is no overstating of the fact that Islamic punishments are only a part of a vastly larger integrated whole. There are essential conditions for the application of prescribed punishments in Islam:


First, Muslims are strongly encouraged to marry whenever possible, providing a lawful means of gratification. Imam Ali (a.s.) exhorts,

“Marry, because marriage is the tradition of Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).”

Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) also said,

“Whosoever likes to follow my tradition, then he should know that marriage is from my tradition.”[1]

A man may legally take as many as four wives as long as he treats each of them equitably and justly. In cases of confirmed incompatibility or dissatisfaction, a wife has the right to request the dissolution of the marriage.


Second, Muslims, whether married or unmarried, must adhere to proper dress and behavior guidelines at all times. Privacy is to be respected and compromising situations strictly avoided as a matter of obedience to Allah.


Third, only a legitimate Islamic government has the right to implement these punishments. Such an Islamic government must establish justice as its core value in all affairs so that the social and cultural environment of the country is congenial for the moral life of its citizens. It is only after the above two conditions have been fulfilled that a government is entitled to implement Islamic punishments on its land, and only then does the court gain the authority to judge a case according to its provisions.
And finally, any case that comes before the court for judgment must be investigated thoroughly and proper evidence brought before the court to satisfy all the requirements of Islamic law. Conviction is subject to strict conditions, which are most difficult to fulfill. This means that, in reality, the punishments are seldom carried out without the connivance of the criminal, and serve primarily as deterrents.

[1] «تَزَوَّجُوا، فَاِنَّ التَّزْوِيجَ سُنَّهُ رَسُولِ اللهِ (صلي الله عليه و آله وسلم)، فَاِنَّهُ كَانَ يَقُولُ: مَنْ كَانَ يُحِبُّ اَنْ يَتَّبِعَ سُنَّتِي، فَاِنَّ مِنْ سُنَّتِي اَلتَّزْويِجَ۲»
وسایل الشیعه 4

The best among you in the sight of God is the most righteous

Prophet Muhammad (S) was sitting in the mosque in Madina giving a talk to some of his followers while they were waiting for Salaat time to set in. A rich man wearing expensive clothes came and sat in front of the Prophet (S) to listen to his speech. Meanwhile another man who had also came to listen to the Prophet (S) sat down beside the rich man. The second man was not rich, in fact he was quite poor. The old and torn clothes he was wearing showed just how poor he was. The rich man did not like for the poor man to sit next to him. He pulled his nice, new, expensive clothes closer to himself, so that they would not be touched by the old, torn clothes of the poor man.

The Prophet (S) noticed what the rich man had done and was annoyed and disappointed. He asked the rich man why he had acted in this manner. Was it because he thought that some of his wealth might go to the poor man, or was it because he thought some of the poverty of the poor man might come to him? The rich man, who was not a bad person, realized that what he had done was wrong and was truly sorry. To make up for his mistake and to show how sorry he was, he apologized to the poor man and offered him half of all his wealth.
The poor man told him that he accepted his apology and forgave him, but did not want half of his wealth. When he was asked why, he said he was afraid that his wealth might make him proud towards his fellow Muslims just like the rich man.1

A hadith from the prophet (s)

Do not get furious when something makes you angry. Sit down and remember how Allah is merciful and patient with us when we make him angry, although he has full power over us.2

1. Mutahhari, Daastan-e-Raastan
2. Tuhaf al-Uqul, p.14.

What corrupts the Tongue?

Talking in vain or uselessly

 Researchers in ethics say that there is a cause of corruption for everything. The tongue is not an exception to this. Many things will corrupt it. Talking in vein or uselessly is one of the causes of corruption of the tongue.

The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:

“One of the signs of goodness of a Muslim man’s submission to Allah (SWT) is avoiding vain talk.”

Ibn Abbas said:

Achieving the following five matters is more beneficial than owning the best types of horses:
(1) – Not involving yourselves in conversations that do not concern you, as there is no guarantee that you would not sin therein.
(2) – Not talking about things that do concern you, until you find the proper time; as a person may talk about a matter that does concern them but at the wrong time and therefore produce a bad consequence.
(3) – Not arguing with a wise or a foolish person, as the wise person would desert you and the foolish person would humiliate you.
(4) – Mentioning your brother, in his absence, with things with which you would wish him to mention you with in your absence and forgiving him for that which you would wish him to forgive you for.
(5) – Performing the actions of one who is certain that he would be rewarded for the good and punished for the bad that he does.

It is a fact that the majority of those who take the lead in vain talk during sinful gatherings talk so much that one who listens to them comes to realize that they themselves are not aware of what they are saying and that there is no thought process behind their words.

The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:

“No servants of Allah will be correct until his heart is corrected, and his heart will never be corrected until his tongue is.”

The first phase of achieving this correctness is for a person to give up that which does not concern them and not to involve themselves in things that they were not asked about.

Islam has dispraised frivolities and idle talk as they are immaterial and evil. In fact, the more a person stays away from them, the higher their rank becomes with Allah (SWT). Conversely, the more a person indulges in them, the more their punishment will be with Allah (SWT).

What is the best mustahabb (recommended) act a Muslim can do?

It is very hard to actually determine what the best mustahabb act is and we will explain why that is so:
Different actions have been considered the best mustahabb act in different hadiths.
Awaiting the help and aid of Allah (swt) [1] , prayer [2], sending salawat on the prophet (pbuh) and his progeny (as) [3], quenching the thirst of the thirsty [4], the love of Imam Ali (as) [5], making others happy [6], jihad [7], continuously doing a good deed [8], visiting the grave of Imam Husain (as) [9], night prayer (Salatul-Leil) [10], loving for Allah (swt) and hating for Allah (swt) [11], prayer on time and in the beginning of its time [12], doing good to your parents [13], feeding others [14], doing whatever is harder [15], etc.  Aside from these, there are hadiths that speak of some acts being the best because of a certain time or place factoring into them, such as doing something on Jum’ah (Friday) [16], in the holy month of Ramadan[17], on the night of the fifteenth of Sha’ban [18].

So what is the best mustahabb act one can do?

As you can see, there are many hadiths that speak of the best mustahabb act one can do; how can one draw a conclusion from all of them and find an explanation for why they have spoken of more than one “best act”?

1- Difference in the reasons behind them and the benefits they entail:

Each and every one of these acts that has been considered “the best”, has been considered so because of a certain reason and perspective; each of them has its own criteria for being “the best”.  For instance, certain reasons make the night prayer the best act, while others call for jihad to be the best. Take jihad for example, when the time for it comes, it is clearly the best act one can do and all other acts are inferior to it.  This is one way to explain how all of these acts can be “the best” at one time. It is because of not being able to solve the problem in this way that led to a portion of the adhan being omitted during the second khalifah’s time. They weren’t able to explain how prayer was “the best of all acts” and at the same time, jihad was also the best act of all, so they just ended up omitting the
حي علي خير العمل
part of the adhan altogether! [19]
Therefore, a difference in reasons and criteria can be a good way of explaining the true meaning of these hadiths. Some of them have very significant social benefits, such as jihad. Some of them bring along personal benefit, while a third group aren’t even actions and have to do with our beliefs, such as loving Imam Ali (as). Some hadiths haven’t even mentioned a specific action and have generally said the hardest act is the best of all acts. [20]

2- Difference of circumstances and situations:

Sometimes it is the situation the person is in that explains the variety seen in these hadiths. It was said above that the reasons behind different actions might make each of them “the best” act, so what mattered there was the action itself and the benefits it entailed, while here the thing that makes the difference doesn’t have to do with the act itself, it has to do with the circumstances the person is in, what time and place he is in and so on. This is also another way of explaining how these actions can be “the best” all at once. For instance, during the advent of Islam when the Muslims faced a rough time, or during the times when the Shia were under a lot of pressure, awaiting the help of Allah (swt) and not losing hope were the best of all acts and worship; the reason being that if the Muslims were to lose hope, everything would be jeopardized and would face elimination. The same goes with other actions that were mentioned above. Clearly, in normal conditions, jihad isn’t the best act for women.  The night prayer isn’t the best act for a person who has just embraced Islam and still hasn’t learned how to perform his daily prayers.


It can be deduced from all of these hadiths that there is no one best act in Islam. It can’t be said that under all circumstances and in all times such and such act is the best. As was mentioned, some of the acts that have been considered the best have different reasons behind them, while others become the best act as a result of certain circumstances. Nevertheless, those acts that have been mentioned in our hadiths are of the best acts out there.

[1] Biharul-Anwar, vol. 75, p. 208.
[2] Nouri, Mustadrakul-Wasa’el, vol. 4, p. 70.
[3] Mustadrak, vol. 5, p. 119.
[4] Mustadrak, vol. 5, p. 331.
[5] Mustadrak,vol. 5, p. 331.
[6] Wasa’ilul-Shia, vol. 14, p. 499.
[7] Muhammad ibn Yaqub Kulaini, Kafi, vol. 5, p. 9.
[8] Nouri, Mustadrak, vol. 1, p. 131.
[9] Wasa’ilul-Shia, vol. 14, p. 499.
[10] Mustadrak, vol. 6, p. 337.
[11] Mustadrak, vol. 12, p. 220.
[12] Mustadrak, vol. 3, p. 98.
[13] Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Biharul-Anwar, vol. 75, p.85.
[14] Wasa’ilul-Shia, vol. 24, p. 427.
[15] Biharul-Anwar, vol. 67, p. 191.
[16] Muhammad ibn Hasan Hurr Ameli, Wasa’ilul-Shia, vol. 7, p. 399.
[17] Wasa’ilul-Shia, vol. 10, p. 313.
[18] Muhammad ibn Hasan Sheikh Tusi, Misbahul-Mutahajjid, p. 829.
[19] Abdul-Husain Sharafuddin, Ijtihad dar Muqabele Nass, translation of Ali Davani, second chapter, 24th part.
[20]  Biharul-Anwar, vol. 67, p. 191.

What is the starting point for purifying the soul?

Purification means to clean your soul of impurity. The Quran has mentioned purifying the soul in various verses but one should know that the basis and starting point of purification varies from person to person. For a person that is not Muslim, the first essential step will be to convert to Islam.  For believers, it would be to become well aware of the necessity of purifying the soul. Clearly, pondering about why the world was created, what Allah’s objectives and purposes for creation were and why he appointed and sent the prophets and the like increase the notion of the need for purification.

The next stage is to repent from the past, make an effort to compensate for others’ rights he may have disregarded and to perform Allah’s (swt) commands which he has violated. Another step is to strive to abide by every obligation and prohibition one is aware of and to remain determined and persevere; this will result in Allah (swt) subsequently granting us additional knowledge which will help us in continuing our mission of the purification of our soul. Allah (swt) has given glad tidings by announcing his support for such servants that endeavor and struggle for his sake, and that he will strengthen them.

The concept of self-building has been referred to in the Quran as “purification” which means to cleanse the self from corruption and immorality.[1] Purification is of great importance in the viewpoint of the Quran, thus we read in Surah Shams:

To a happy state shall indeed attain he who causes this [self] to grow in purity, and truly lost is he who buries it [in darkness]. [2]

Verses 19 of Surah Al-Fatir and verses 14 and 15 of Surah Al-Aa’lah also emphasize on the same matter. So purifying the soul is considered a praiseworthy and encouraged act in Islam, but the starting point in purification differs from person to person.  For someone that is not a believer, converting to Islam is the first step required. According to akhlaq scholars these are the steps to purification: 1- Converting to Islam 2- Iman (Belief) 3- Immigration 4- Struggle for His cause. [3]

For one that has entered the safe fortress of Islam and is addressed by verses such as: “O you who believe, look out for yourselves” [4] and “O you who believe! Believe in Allah” [5], the first step is to become aware of the great significance of purification. After gaining this awareness the question: “Where should I start from?” comes to mind.  Actually, it can be said that the person with such a question has surely finalized the first step; because he has reached the conclusion through his own intellect and thinking that “this world is not a place to live forever and all of these resources and the prophets of God were not sent in vain so we could live a life ruled simply by our carnal desires”. [6]

After this level (awareness), it is time for repentance and to make up for what has been lost; making up for whatever rights we may have disregarded concerning both people and Allah (swt). However, repentance must definitely be accompanied by a strong decision. Repentance from the past and a strong decision to move ahead. Hence, some akhlaq scholars believe in repentance to be the second stage [7] while others say it is to make a strong decision. [8]
Imam Khomeini has a phrase relevant to this matter:

“Resolving not to commit haram acts and to perform the wajib ones and to make up for what has been lost and determination to become intellectual and religious on the outside”. [9]

In the supplication of the day of Maba’th it says:

“Therefore I recognized that the most significant provision for someone seeking you is the sole determination to only choose you.” [10]

The next step after that would be to avoid haram acts and perform the wajib ones.

Ayatollah Bahjat has said in reply to the question “I have the intention to purify my soul, but don’t know what I’m supposed to do?”,

“Avoiding the haram acts is more than enough and guaranteed to answer throughout your whole life, even if you are to live for a thousand years”. [11]

So in this stage we are supposed to avoid the haram acts and perform the wajib ones to the extent of our knowledge. This very sequence provides the ground for Allah (swt) to bestow his grace and mercy upon us by granting additional knowledge in order to proceed further in seeking his nearness. Our progress in purifying ourselves is determined by the capacity of knowledge we obtain. Thus as long as we keep our end of the deal and correspond to our knowledge, Allah (swt) will grant us more and the process will continue. In a narration from the prophet (pbuh), he says:

“Whoever does what he knows, God will teach him what he doesn’t know.” [12]

This hadith is completely in line with what the Quran says:

“As for those who strive hard in us (our cause), We will surely guide them to our path