Oath of condemnation

Some questions have been asked regarding the following law:

– وَالَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَأْتُوا بِأَرْبَعَةِ شُهَدَاء فَاجْلِدُوهُمْ ثَمَانِينَ جَلْدَةً وَلَا تَقْبَلُوا لَهُمْ شَهَادَةً أَبَدًا وَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ – إِلَّا الَّذِينَ تَابُوا مِن بَعْدِ ذَلِكَ وَأَصْلَحُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ – وَالَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ أَزْوَاجَهُمْ وَلَمْ يَكُن لَّهُمْ شُهَدَاء إِلَّا أَنفُسُهُمْ فَشَهَادَةُ أَحَدِهِمْ أَرْبَعُ شَهَادَاتٍ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ – وَالْخَامِسَةُ أَنَّ لَعْنَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ إِن كَانَ مِنَ الْكَاذِبِينَ – وَيَدْرَؤُاْ عَنْهَا الْعَذَابَ أَنْ تَشْهَدَ أَرْبَعَ شَهَادَاتٍ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الْكَاذِبِينَ – وَالْخَامِسَةَ أَنَّ غَضَبَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهَا إِن كَانَ مِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ

And those who accuse their wives [of adultery] and have no witnesses except themselves – then the witness of one of them [shall be] four testimonies [swearing] by Allah that indeed, he is of the truthful. And the fifth [oath will be] that the curse of Allah be upon him if he should be among the liars. But it will prevent punishment from her if she gives four testimonies [swearing] by Allah that indeed, he is of the liars. And the fifth [oath will be] that the wrath of Allah be upon her if he was of the truthful. [Q.24:6-9]

It is claimed that the law of li’an (the oath of condemnation) is one-sided and only in favor of the husband where the wife has no right to do the same thing i.e. accuse her husband and all she has the rights for is self-defense. In order to clarify this doubt, the law needs to be simplified and it is as follows:

  • If the husband notices promiscuous behavior from his wife, he has the right to separate from her
  • It may not be possible to have witnesses to this act and in such case, he presents his testimony to the judge in the form of four oaths
  • The fifth oath is the conclusive one and results in divorce
  • If the wife does not respond, she would be considered guilty
  • At this point, whatever the two parties do, the marriage has ended in divorce
  • For the wife to remove the blame from her, she swears four oaths in front of the judge and a concluding fifth oath
  • The marriage ends in divorce and the wrath of Allah is deserving upon the one who lied

There are many occasions when it is impossible for the law to decide in favor of one party with absolute certainty and the above example is one of them. In Islam, the law is not limited to this world and rewards and punishments carry to the next one as well as also seen above. Those who are God-conscious and fear Him will be fearful of taking false oaths.[1]

From the law, we learn that it is meant to regulate marital relations when it reaches such a point that one party accuses the other of promiscuity. Hence, to call this a right would not be the best choice of words.

Usually a man does not go to the extent of exposing his wife and accusing her of adultery unless he is telling the truth and has good reasons to do this, and she knows that what he is accusing her of is true. Even if a man intends to divorce his wife for another reason, for him to use promiscuity as an excuse would not benefit him in any way and the woman can get out of the blame through the process as well.

If the woman is of the view that her husband is cheating on her and her view is not merely based on conjecture but based on what she herself has seen or heard, then she has the right to separate from her husband just like the husband has the right to separate from her. There is no difference in both the cases except the manner of divorce and the rights of both are the same in this regard. Moreover, there are even more reasons for a woman to separate from her husband. Shaykh ‘Abdullah b. ‘Abdul Rahman b. Jibreen[2], provided some reasons as follows:

  • If a woman dislikes her husband’s treatment of her – for example, he is over-strict, hot-tempered or easily-provoked, or gets angry a lot, or criticizes her and rebukes her for the slightest mistake or shortcoming, then she has the right of khula’ [female-instigated divorce].
  • If she dislikes his physical appearance because of some deformity or ugliness, or because one of his faculties is missing, she has the right of khula’.
  • If he is lacking in religious commitment – for example, he doesn’t pray, or neglects to pray in congregation, or does not fast in Ramadan without a proper excuse, or he goes to parties where illegal and immoral things are done, such as fornication, drinking alcohol and listening to singing and musical instruments, etc. – she has the right of khula’.
  • If he deprives of her of her rights of spending on her maintenance, clothing and other essential needs, when he is able to provide these things, then she has the right to ask for khula’.
  • If he does not give her her conjugal rights and thus keep her chaste because he is impotent (i.e. unable to have intercourse), or because he does not like her, or he prefers someone else, or he is unfair in the division of his time [i.e., among co-wives], then she has the right to ask for khula’.

We learn that the law of li’an (the oath of condemnation) is not a right enjoyed by the husband but is a way to settle the matter in the absence of witnesses[3]. This way, a worldly legal punishment on both is avoided.

Allah knows best.

References and footnotes:

[1] The Prophet (ﷺ) said:

إِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِعَبْدِهِ الْخَيْرَ عَجَّلَ لَهُ الْعُقُوبَةَ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَإِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِعَبْدِهِ الشَّرَّ أَمْسَكَ عَنْهُ بِذَنْبِهِ حَتَّى يُوَفَّى بِهِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ

When Allah wants good for his slave, He hastens his punishment in the world. And when He wants bad for His slave, He withholds his sins from him until he appears before Him on the Day of Judgment. [Jami’ al-Tirmizi 2396]

[2] Examples of acceptable reasons for asking one’s husband for khula’

[3] False testimonies and witnesses is another topic that is extensively covered by Islam; there are strict conditions and misuse of it is well controlled by Islamic law.

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