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. This is because four witnesses are required to prosecute the libertine in question.

According to a prophetic tradition brought to us by Abu Dawud, the Prophet Muhammad was once asked the following question: “If I find a man sleeping my wife, should I give him time until I bring four witnesses?” to which Muhammad replied in the affirmative.

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 his marital infidelity to Muhammad. In an effort to spare the hapless Muslim an agonizing death, Muhammad turned away three times, pretending not to hear him, but the man insisted on being “purified.” His dejected masochism won the day and he was duly chased down by a gaggle of True Believers and murdered with rocks.

Whether or not dodging such an outcome is easy, the huge disproportion in the severity of the punishment to the crime largely serves as a warning to Believers by highlighting the gravity of adultery versus other sins. In practice, one can speculate that the only people in serious danger would have to be been exhibitionists of the highest order!

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