Opinion, August 2003, www.aljazeerah.info
When a Husband Accuses His Wife Commentary
Arab News, August 1, 2003
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent
And as for those who accuse their own wives (of adultery), but have no witnesses except themselves, let each of them call God four times to witness that he is indeed telling the truth; and the fifth time, that God’s curse be upon him if he is telling a lie.
However, punishment is averted from her if she calls God four times to witness that he is indeed telling a lie; and the fifth time, that God’s curse be upon her if he is telling the truth.
Were it not for God’s favor upon you and His grace, and that God is the One who accepts repentance, the wise...! (Light, Al-Noor: 24: 6-10)
We commented briefly last week on these verses, pointing out the special case of a husband finding his wife with a man and the difficulty of producing four witnesses. The method of proof and counter proof is that explained in these verses. Several reports explain the occasion when these verses were revealed. Imam Ahmad reports on the authority of Ibn Abbas: “When the verse stating, ‘As for those who accuse chaste women (of adultery), and cannot produce four witnesses, flog them with eighty stripes; and do not accept their testimony ever after,’ was revealed, Saad ibn Ubadah, the chief of the Ansar said: ‘Is that how it has been revealed, messenger of God?’ The Prophet said: ‘People of the Ansar! Do you hear what your chief is saying?’ They said: ‘Do not blame him, messenger of God. He is a man with a keen sense of honor. He never married a woman unless she was a virgin. If he divorced a woman, none of us would dare to marry her, because we realize how he takes that.’ Saad said: ‘Messenger of God! I know it to be true and that it comes from God. I only wondered that if I would find a man on top of my wife, I could not disturb him until I have brought four witnesses. By the time I bring them, he would have finished his business.’
It was not long after that that Hilal ibn Umayyah came. He had been in his farm before going home at night. He found a man with his wife. He saw things with his own eyes, and he heard things with his ears. He did not fight with the man, but the next morning he said to the Prophet: ‘Messenger of God! I went home last night and I found my wife with a man. I saw and heard things with my own eyes and ears.’ The Prophet was very displeased when he heard that, and found it hard to deal with. The Ansar said: ‘What Saad ibn Ubadah foretold has come to pass. The Prophet may now subject Hilal ibn Umayyah to punishment by flogging and may declare him unacceptable as a witness.’
Hilal said to his people: ‘By God, I certainly hope that He will provide a way out for me.’ Addressing the Prophet, he said: ‘Messenger of God! I see that my story has been very difficult for you; but God knows that I am telling the truth.’
The Prophet was about to give orders that punishment should be inflicted on Hilal when revelations were bestowed on him from on high. Those who were around him would recognize the fact by the change in his face. These verses dealing with the situation were revealed. The Prophet’s face regained its color, and he said: ‘Hilal! Rejoice, for God has given you a way out.’ Hilal replied: ‘I certainly hoped that God would grant me that.’ The Prophet gave orders for the woman to be brought to him. When she came, the Prophet recited these verses to them both, reminding them both that punishment in the hereafter is far more severe than any punishment in this life. Hilal said: ‘Messenger of God! I have certainly said the truth when I accused her.’ She said: ‘He is lying.’ The Prophet then said: ‘Let them both say their oaths.’
Hilal was first told to swear. He swore by God four times that what he said was the truth. Before saying his fifth oath, people said to him: ‘Hilal, fear God. This is the one that incurs punishment in the hereafter, while punishment in this world is a far lesser one.’ He said: ‘By God! He will not punish me for this, just like He did not let me be flogged for it.’ He made the fifth oath, incurring God’s curse on himself if he was lying. The woman was then offered the chance to refute the charge. She swore by God four times that he was lying. When she was about to make her fifth oath, people said to her: ‘Fear God, and remember that punishment in the hereafter is much more severe. This is the oath that incurs you God’s punishment.’ She stopped for a while and thought about confessing. She then said: ‘I will not bring a scandal on my people’s heads.’ She made her fifth oath, incurring God’s curse on herself if her husband was telling the truth.
The Prophet ordered their marriage absolutely terminated. He also judged that her child would not be named after a father, and the child would not be shamed. If anyone throws an accusation against the child, that person would be punished. His judgment also made it clear that she could not claim shelter in her husband’s home, and she could not have any maintenance from him, as the marriage is dissolved without divorce or death. He also said: ‘If her child, when born, has slightly reddish hair, a thin bottom and small legs, then he is Hilal’s child. If he is born dark, with strong features and curly hair, big and with large legs and a fat bottom, then he belongs to the man she has been accused of associating with.’ When the child was born, he was of the second description. The Prophet said: ‘If it was not for the oaths, I would have had something to sort out with her’.”
We see that this ruling has been given to deal with a particular case that was hard for the man concerned, the Muslim community and the Prophet. Indeed, the Prophet could not find a way out of it. According to Al-Bukhari’s report, the Prophet said to Hilal: “You either bring the proof or lay your back for punishment.” Hilal said to him: “Messenger of God! If any of us finds a man on top of his wife, should he go and seek witnesses?”
We will comment on this story next week, God willing.
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