To convict an unfaithful spouse of adultery in Islam, four witnesses need to have watched them shag

Islam mandates a draconian punishment for those convicted of adultery: stoning to death. This sounds terrifying, but the good news is that a conviction for adultery is more easily avoided than you might expect because four witnesses are required to prosecute the libertine in question.

According to a prophetic tradition brought to us by Abu Dawud, a man asked Prophet Muhammad the following: “If I find a man sleeping my wife, should I give him time until I bring four witnesses?” To this, Muhammad replied “Yes.” One sees right away how impractical this is and how the Prophet seems to give adulterers a way out of their dilemma. According to another tradition, a man confessed to Prophet Muhammad that he was unfaithful to his wife. In an effort to spare the hapless Muslim an agonizing death, Muhammad turned away three times, pretending not to hear him. The man insisted on being “purified,” and his abject masochism won the day. He was duly chased down by a gaggle of believers and murdered with rocks.

The huge disproportion in the severity of the punishment to the crime generally serves as a warning to Believers in that it highlights the gravity of adultery in particular. In practice, the only cheaters in serious danger would have been exhibitionists of the highest order who insisted on eloping in streets for all to see.

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