In one of his articles, Mr. Jochen Katz has pointed out a contradiction in two verses of the Qur’an. Mr. Katz writes:
Those who slander chaste women are cursed forever1 [in this life and the Hereafter] according to Sura 24:23.
However, according to another verse of the Qur’an, the slanderer may be forgiven. Mr. Katz continues:
But Sura 24:5 says that they can be forgiven if they repent after they have been beaten with 80 stripes. since it says to let them come back into full rights as members of society, restoring their right to testify, BECAUSE Allah is (also) oft-forgiving, most Merciful.
At this point Mr. Katz writes:
The earthly forgiveness would not have any foundation or counterpart if Allah would not extend forgiveness as well. That is the very basis on which He commands earthly forgiveness.
In this article we shall consider the criticism of Mr. Katz in the light of the referred verses of the Qur’an. The two verses of the Qur’an, pertinent to Mr. Katz’s criticism are Al-Noor 24: 23 and Al-Noor 24: 4 – 5.
Al-Noor 24: 23 reads as:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ الْغَافِلَاتِ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ لُعِنُوا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ
Those who slander against chaste, innocent, believing women shall indeed be cursed in this world as well as the hereafter. For them shall be a grievous punishment.
Al-Noor 24: 4 – 5 reads as:
وَالَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَأْتُوا بِأَرْبَعَةِ شُهَدَاءَ فَاجْلِدُوهُمْ ثَمَانِينَ جَلْدَةً وَلَا تَقْبَلُوا لَهُمْ شَهَادَةً أَبَدًا ۚ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ ﴿٤﴾ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ تَابُوا مِن بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ وَأَصْلَحُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّـهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
Those who slander against chaste women and then do not produce four eye witnesses, shall be awarded with eighty lashes and their testimony shall never be accepted after this. These are the [true] transgressors, except those who [sincerely] repent after this and correct themselves, for, then, God is indeed forgiving, merciful.
I really do not understand what is the contradiction in these two verses. One of the verses (24: 23) tells us that slanderers shall face a grievous punishment in this world as well as the hereafter, while the other set of verses (24: 4 – 5) explains the punishment that shall be administered on such slanderers in this world (eighty lashes and disqualification from testifying forever) and in the hereafter (being placed in the category of transgressors). However, the second set of verses (24: 4 – 5) has also mentioned the obvious exception that if such people repent and correct their behavior, they shall then not be dealt with as transgressors (in the hereafter).
I had explained in one of my earlier responses to one of Mr. Katz’z criticisms titled: “Does Allah forgive Shirk?” that according to the Qur’an, true and sincere repentance and subsequent correction of one’s behavior not only does away with the punishment of all sins in the hereafter — however grave the sins may be — but also converts the sins into good deeds (Al-Furqaan 25: 68 – 71). Therefore, even if the Qur’an had not mentioned (in 24: 5) that the only exception would be those who repent and correct their behavior, it would still have been understood (by a student of the Qur’an) to be an exception, in the light of other verses of the Qur’an.
Keeping the above explanation in perspective, it should be clear that even though Al-Noor 24: 23 has not mentioned the exception clause, yet it is clear that even there the punishment mentioned is for such slanderers who do not repent on their past doings and do not correct their behavior. The verse, should more accurately be understood as follows:
Those who slander against chaste, innocent, believing women [and then neither repent for their slander nor correct their behavior], shall indeed be cursed in this world as well as the hereafter. For them shall be a grievous punishment.
Stating it even more generally, all the punishments of sins mentioned in the Qur’an entail the obvious exception of repentance and correction during the life of this world, in the light of the Qur’an itself.
The above explanation should suffice as a response to the criticism of Mr. Katz. However, I would like to clarify here that Al-Noor 24: 5 is construed by some of the interpreters of the Qur’an to imply an exception to the worldly punishment mentioned in the previous verse2. In my opinion, this is not correct. Earthly punishments, mentioned in the Qur’an are generally not excepted with repentance, due to the simple reason that the sincerity and the truthfulness of repentance is a matter of the heart, not known to man. Thus, a murderer or a fornicator or a thief may repent for his deeds and promise to correct his behavior after being caught by the authorities, yet the prescribed punishment shall be administered on him and he shall deserve no leniency, merely on the grounds of repentance and resolve to correction. However, his sincere repentance and true resolve to correction shall save him from the grievous punishment for his sins in the hereafter.
Thus, the earthly punishment mentioned in Al-Noor 23: 4 (eighty lashes and disqualification from testifying forever) shall be administered even in the face of sincere repentance and resolve to correction. However, true repentance and correction shall qualify the sinner for the forgiveness and the mercy of the Lord, in the hereafter.
In view of the above explanation, Al-Noor 23: 4 – 5 should be understood as:
“Those who slander against chaste women and then do not produce four eye witnesses, shall be awarded with eighty lashes and their testimony shall never be accepted after this. These are the [true] transgressors [and shall, therefore, be punished by God as transgressors deserve to be punished,] except those who [sincerely] repent after this and correct themselves, for then God is indeed forgiving, merciful”.
© Copyright February 2000. All Rights Reserved with the Author
- It may however be noted that the word ‘forever’ is not given in the Qur’an. [↩]
- Mr. Katz seems to be of the same opinion, as is evidenced by his words: “The earthly forgiveness would not have any foundation or counterpart if Allah would not extend forgiveness as well. That is the very basis on which He commands earthly forgiveness.” [↩]