Accusation Process and Punishment
Given the severity of punishment for the offense of zina, the Qur'an requires solid proof beyond the shadow of doubt before convicting an individual, be it a man or a woman, of zina. Muslim jurists have derived from the Sunnah of Muhammad very strict requirements for proving zina. In fact, jurists unanimously agree on only two means of doing so:
- A clear, free, and willful confession by the person guilty of the act of zina. However, if that person retracts his/her confession, he/she is not punishable (barring the presence of witnesses, as indicated below), because there would no longer be any proof of the occurrence of the prohibited act, and alternatively,
- The testimony of four reliable Muslim male eye-witnesses, all of whom must have witnessed the actual intercourse at the same time.
It is pertinent to point out that the evidentiary requirement for zina was initially intended to protect men and women from frivolous charges. This intention derives directly from Asbab al-nuzul (reasons of revelation) relating to the Qur'anic verse that establishes the hadd of zina. Therefore it is believed that the requirement of four witnesses (with all its restrictions and specifications) is considered a merciful measure from God in order to not only avoid incriminating innocent people, but also to preserve the privacy of Muslims, which is one of the most valued principles in Islam.
In the case of a confession, it is recommended that the judge ignore the first three iterations of such confession. The confession does not become legally binding unless it is repeated freely four different times.
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