Trigger Warning: Rape.
Q: Does Islam require a victim to provide four witnesses before it can be proven that she was raped?
This is, unfortunately, a very common and very serious misconception amongst many Muslims — not only the average Muslim, but Muslims who would call themselves scholars of Islam. The very short answer to the question is: No. Islam does not require a woman to produce any eye-witnesses to prove that she was raped.
Logically, this is a conclusion any Muslim should be able to come to. However, Islamophobic propaganda has been around for so long and spread so far that it has infected many minds. When our own scholars suggest that a victim must provide four witnesses to her rape or remain silent, when our governments establish and enact laws that further humiliate, victimize and torture rape survivors, when so-called experts on Islamic Jurisprudence suggest that women are to blame when they suffer rape, where is the average Muslim woman to go? How can she refute this evidence? Simply by using her mind, and turning to the indelible evidence provided by Allah (SWT) in the Qur’an and Hadith.
Can you imagine having faith in any religion that barbarically demands that a rape victim produce four male witnesses to her rape? In what circumstances would four men witness a rape and do nothing to stop it? And if, indeed, such men exist, what kind of witnesses are they, and how can their word be taken as the truth? After all, they watched a woman’s torture and did nothing to stop it. Could Islam possibly demand such a thing? Our hearts should tell us, no. Islam is not a system of oppression. It is not meant to be a torment for the believer. Allah (SWT) is never unjust.
Now, let’s look at the verses of the Qur’an which mention the production of four witnesses:
The adulterer and the adulteress — flog each one of them with a hundred stripes…
…And those who calumniate chaste woman but bring not four witnesses — flog them eighty stripes and do not admit their evidence ever after.
In these verses, it is made clear that four witnesses are required to prove adultery — and not when the husband is being accused of unfaithfulness, but when the wife is being accused. This onus is meant to protect women from the evils of men who would destroy a woman’s reputation and name out of spite. If their accusation is honest, they are required to produce four impeccable witnesses to back up their claims. If they cannot, the accusers are to be punished severely for falsely accusing a woman and attempting to ruin her, and they are never to be trusted to give evidence again. If four witnesses are produced, the woman may still take a solemn oath swearing her own innocence, and if she does so her word is taken above the words of the accusers and she is to be considered blameless. These extensive protections suggest that it would be foolish to believe that Islam would ever require a woman to go through the pain and suffering of providing four witnesses to her rape.
One popular hadith mentioning rape was narrated by Wa’il ibn Hujr:
When a woman went out in the time of the Prophet (PBUH) for prayer, a man attacked her and overpowered [raped] her. She shouted and he went off, and when a man came by, she said: ‘That [man] did such and such to me.’ And when a company of the Emigrants came by, she said: ‘That man did such and such to me.’ They went and seized the man whom they thought had had intercourse with her and brought him to her. She said: ‘Yes, this is he.’ Then they brought him to the Apostle of Allah (SWT). When he [the Prophet (PBUH)] was about to pass sentence, the man who [actually] had assaulted her stood up and said: ‘Apostle of Allah, I am the man who did it to her.’ He [the Prophet (PBUH)] said to her: ‘Go away, for Allah (SWT) has forgiven you [for mistakenly identifying the wrong man].’ But he told the man some good words [Abu Dawud said: meaning the man who was accidentally seized], and of the man who had had intercourse with her, he said: ‘Stone him to death.’ He also said: ‘He has repented to such an extent that if the people of Medina had repented similarly, it would have been accepted from them.’
–4366, Sunan Abu-Dawud
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did not require the rape survivor to provide any witnesses, nor did he require her to provide any evidence beyond her accusation. He did not blame her, nor did he question her regarding the circumstances surrounding the rape. He simply took her word, and was ready to pass sentence. We can assume that the sentence would have been the same as that given to the true rapist, once the rapist confessed.
Islamic legal scholars have deduced that evidence from the Qur’an and Hadith suggest that the crime of rape falls under a different category than the crime of adultery. Adultery is a crime which involves the consent of both parties involved, and therefore both parties are equally responsible for the sin. Rape, on the other hand, is an act of non-consensual violence, and therefore carries with it different legal proceedings, and different punishments. Rape falls under the category of hiraba (terrorism and the promotion of terror), and is defined as any form of non-consensual sex, where the victim was coerced into the situation against her will. Many scholars will suggest that there should be some proof that the woman fought to escape, screamed for help, or was incapacitated. However, this is arguably untrue, as many forms of coercion do not involve violence or struggle.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has clearly stated:
Allah has pardoned my people for the acts they do by mistake, due to forgetfulness, and what they are coerced into doing.
-[Related by Ibn Mâjah and authenticated by al-Nawawî, Ibn Hajr, and al-Albânî].
Criminal prosecution of rape in today’s Islamic courts would involve circumstantial evidence, medical reports, and expert testimony. The punishment under Sharia law would be the death penalty. There would be no blame on the victim, as long as rape is reasonably proven, and minimal evidence (that is, if there is even the slightest suspicion that the act was non-consensual) is sufficient to clear a woman’s name. The woman is also to be recompensed for her pain and suffering by the state.
Islam is clear in its treatment of rape and rapists, and takes the crime very seriously.
Unfortunately, there are Muslim scholars and governments that will continue to punish women who have suffered rape, and justify the punishment in the name of Islam. To change things, it is important to take the first step – educate yourself and those around you. Do not allow any Muslim to harbor false or harmful misconceptions.
Note: Men and boys can also suffer rape, at the hands of other men, and at the hands of women. In such cases, I expect the laws to remain the same. I have focused on women in an attempt to appeal to the target audience of this website – Muslimahs.
Disclaimer: I do not consider myself a scholar or an authority where Islam and Islamic jurisprudence are concerned. The responses to the questions are formulated after much reading and research. If there are any glaring errors in the logic, or in the factual accuracy of the sources, please do not hesitate to point them out.