First of all, a correction should be made to the following phrase frequently asked: “the punishment specified for the person who commits adultery is 80 lashes”. It’s to be noted that as regard flogging – as a punishment specified for an unmarried person guilty of fornication – it’s 100 and not 80 lashes. In the very beginning of Surat An-Nur, it is stated that 100 lashes is the punishment specified for unmarried adulterer and adulteress, Allah says: (The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day: and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment.) (An-Nur 24: 2).
Coming to the issue of stoning to death as a punishment for married adulterer and adulteress, the statement that there is no verse stipulating that punishment is not correct. It is to be made crystal clear that the punishment is explicitly sanctioned by both the Qur’an and the Prophetic Tradition. Before explaining this further, it’s to be stressed that such punishment should not be a cause of wonder, especially when we know that it had been there in the Divine Scriptures revealed before the Glorious Qur’an. There is a reference to this punishment in the Bible, for instance. It reads: “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.” (Deuteronomy 22: 22) and also in Leviticus, we find the following verse: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife-with the wife of his neighbor-both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death” (Leviticus 20: 10).
All this makes it clear that it was neither Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) nor the glorious Qur’an, revealed to him, brought the capital punishment (as a punishment for adultery) out of the blue. Being the Seal Prophet, it was his mission to perfect the Divine Message of the Supreme Creator!
The second point that should be borne in mind on this issue is that, as previously refuted, the statement that the Qur’an is silent on this punishment is not genuine. Actually, according to renowned Muslim jurists, there was a verse (Ayah) in the Qur’an that talked about this matter. Though the verse was abrogated, but the abrogation here is in wording; the ruling is still kept in force.
One may ask “What is abrogation?” Abrogation means removal. It may involve the text or the ruling or both. There is a great Divine wisdom behind every incident of abrogation, part of which is to assert that the Islamic legislation, unlike man-made ones, was not established at once; rather, all its teachings and rulings were set gradually. In addition, when abrogating the words of a verse but not its ruling, this serves as a reminder that not all the Divine messages are to be through one channel, i.e. a direct revelation. Rather, part of these messages is to be clarified through the practice and tradition of the Prophet sent to deliver the message.
So the point here is: the practice of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is itself a part of revelation. Almighty Allah explains this saying: (And whatsoever the messenger giveth you, take it. And whatsoever he forbiddeth, abstain (from it). And keep your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is stern in reprisal.) (Al-Hashr 59: 7) Also Allah says: (…then let those beware who withstand the Messenger’s order, lest some trial befall them, or a grievous penalty be inflicted on them) (An-Nur 24: 63).
According to eminent Qur’an exegetes, this verse serves as a strong warning against deviating from the Tradition of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Imam Ibn Kathir says: “The words ‘the messenger’s order’ refer to his Path, teachings, laws and tradition. Thus, all words and deeds should be weighed according to the words and deeds of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in the sense that whatever correspond with his words and deeds are accepted and whatever contradicts that should be rejected.”
The abrogated verse stated that “A married man and woman, if they commit adultery, stone them to death.”
This verse states clearly that the prescribed punishment for adultery, which means an illegitimate sexual intercourse between a married man and a woman married to another man is stoning to death. But this offense must be proven either through a confession made voluntarily by the accused or by the testimony of four witnesses who state under oath that they have witnessed the commission of the crime. It’s only after this legal procedure that the accused will be punished by lapidation. This punishment is agreed upon by scholars and there is no question about it. In citing proofs for this punishment, scholars of Hadith quote `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) as saying that he would have written this verse if not for the fear that it would be viewed as tampering with Allah’s book.
So we are to bear in mind that the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is a part of the Divine Revelation, indicating that many things were revealed to the Prophet either through inspiration or instruction. Allah tells us in the Qur’an that the Prophet (does not speak out of his own fancy. It is all an inspiration sent down to him.) (An-Najm 53: 3-4) Therefore, what the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, teaches us is part of our religion. It is not something that he has determined by himself. It is certainly revealed to him.
In the Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Islamic Jurisprudence, we read the following:
Ibn Qudamah wrote: “Muslim jurists are unanimous on the fact stoning to death is a specified punishment for married adulterer and adulteress. The punishment is recorded in number of traditions and the practice of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stands as an authentic source supporting it. This is the view held by all Companions, Successors and other Muslim scholars with the exception of Kharijites.”
Al-Bahuty said: “The authentic practice of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) supports stoning to death as a punishment specified for adultery. In addition, the verse commanding this punishment was revealed in the Qur’an. Later, it was verbally abrogated but its ruling is still binding. `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “Almighty Allah sent Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) with the truth and revealed unto Him the Qur’an. Among the revelation (brought by him) was the verse stipulating that married adulterer and adulteress should be stoned to death. We read, comprehended and understood it. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) acted in accordance with that and so did all of us. I fear, by the passage of time, that some people will say: ‘We do not find this verse in the Qur’an’, and thus they go astray abandoning an obligation given to them by Allah. Stoning to death is a Divine obligation and punishment specified for any married adulterer or adulteress once there is four witnesses or the confession of the accused.”
In another narration, `Umar added: “By the One in Whose hands is my soul, had it not been that people would say: ‘`Umar added to the Book of Allah, I would have reinserted it. It (the verse) read: “A married man and woman, if they commit adultery, stone them to death. This is a punishment from Allah. Allah is Almighty and Wise.”
Finally, we would like to note that there are many incidents in the Sunnah and the life of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in which the Prophet stoned the married adulterer and adulteress to death. This happened in the case of Ma`iz and the Ghamidi woman. All this makes it clear that the punishment is proven and authentic and is not debatable.