Breaking the Marriage: Does Adultery Break The Marriage Covenant?

Adultery can be defined as a consensual sexual relationship between two people. Here, the two individuals are not bound by marriage. Also, either or both individuals are, in fact, married to someone else. Adultery is defined as a major sin in a majority of religions. We shall discuss does adultery break the marriage covenant.

Zina; an Islamic term that refers to unlawful sexual intercourse. Based on the traditional law, committing the following acts is considered as Zina

  1. Rape
  2. Incest 
  3. Sodomy 
  4. Adultery
  5. Bestiality  
  6. Fornication 
  7. Prostitution 
  8. Homosexuality  

Under the laws of Islam, adultery is –

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“The sexual intercourse committed by an individual be it a man or a woman with another individual with whom they are not legally married”

Sexual intercourse is a private act and should only be performed between a husband and a wife. As a woman, you should have a look at how to make love to your husband in Islam

Extramarital affairs (Zina) are considered a violation of the bond within a marriage. It is undoubtedly a heinous act and is condemned by Allah SWT in the Quran. If you commit adultery, then you’ll be punished harshly.

Does Adultery Break The Marriage Covenant

What Does Committing Adultery Mean? What is Zina?

It’s mentioned that Zina (adultery) is partaking in any form of sexual intercourse other than that with your lawfully married husband or wife. Both premarital and extramarital sexual intercourse are considered as Zina

Zina refers to any act of penetration. While any form of ‘non-penetrative’ sex outside of married couples can lead to committing Zina.

Based on the Shariah ruling, the punishment that is provided to the ones committing Zina varies for adult – Muslims and married once (muhsan) to that of a minor – slave, who’s never married, non-Muslim (not muhsan). An individual is only considered as a muhsan if he or she fulfills all the aforementioned criteria.

The punishment handed out to one who is a muhsan would be to stone him or her to death. Whereas, Punishment to one who is not a muhsan is that he or she would receive 100 lashes. 

Below is a Qur’anic verse from Surah Al Isra, that strictly prohibits adultery –

وَلَا تَقْرَبُوا الزِّنَا إِنَّهُ كَانَ فَاحِشَةً وَسَاءَ سَبِيلً And (do) not go near adultery. Indeed, it is immorality and (an) evil way.–       Surah Al Isra; Verse 32 

Another Qur’anic verse from the Ayah Al Araf

قُلْ إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ رَبِّيَ الْفَوَاحِشَ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَمَا بَطَنَ وَالْإِثْمَ وَالْبَغْيَ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ وَأَن تُشْرِكُوا بِاللَّهِ مَا لَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِ سُلْطَانًا وَأَن تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُون Say, “Only (had) forbidden my Lord the shameful deeds what (is) apparent of it and what is concealed, and the sin, and the oppression without [the] right, and that you associate (others) with Allah what not He (has) sent down of it any authority, and that you say about Allah what not (do) you know?” –       Ayah Al Araf; Verse 33

Dealing with Zina, as mentioned in the Holy Quran 

Zina is strictly prohibited; this has been mentioned many times within the Holy Quran.

First, the general Qur’anic rule directs all believers to not commit Zina, irrespective of the circumstances.

How has Zina been described in the Hadiths? 

According to the Hadiths, Zina has been described as a form of sexual intercourse, be it penetrative or non-penetrative performed outside of marriage.

“Allah SWT has decreed for every son of Adam his share of Zina, which he will inevitably commit. The Zina of the eyes is looking, the Zina of the tongue is speaking, one may wish and desire, and the private parts confirm that or deny it.”As narrated by Al Bukhari 

The Ruling of Adultery & Fornication, as Mentioned in the Holy Quran

The ruling, as mentioned in the Holy Quran for false accusations, fornication & adultery from a lawfully married husband or from other members within a community towards chaste women, has been mentioned in Surah Al-Nur. The ruling is as follows –

“The [married] woman or [married] man found guilty of sexual intercourse – lash each one of them with a hundred lashes, and do not be taken by pity for them in the religion of Allah, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a group of the believers witness their punishment.”–  Surah Al Nur: Verse 2 

Ruling of Adultery & Fornication

وَالَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَأْتُوا بِأَرْبَعَةِ شُهَدَاءَ فَاجْلِدُوهُمْ ثَمَانِينَ جَلْدَةً وَلَا تَقْبَلُوا لَهُمْ شَهَادَةً أَبَدًا وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُون “And those who accuse the chaste women, then not they bring four witnesses, then flog them (with) eighty lashes(s) and (do) not accept their testimony ever. And those, they (are) the defiantly disobedient”–       Ayah an Nur; Verse 4 

The Ruling of Rape According to Islamic Law 

Rape has been described as ‘forceful illicit sex’ otherwise known as zina Al-Zibr, as mentioned within traditional Islamic scriptures. Other renowned hadiths also talk about rape. One of the popular hadiths mentions a rapist should be put through stoning. Also, there isn’t any need for eyewitnesses or other sorts of punishment.

“A woman went out during the time of the Prophet () to go to Salat, but she was caught by a man and he had relations with her, so she screamed and he left. Then a man came across her and she said: ‘That man has done this and that to me’, then she came across a group of Emigrants (Muhajirin) and she said: ‘That man did this and that to me.’ They went to get the man she thought had relations with her, and they brought him to her.

She said: ‘Yes, that’s him.’ So they brought him to the Messenger of Allah (), and when he ordered that he be stoned, the man who had relations with her, said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, I am the one who had relations with her.’ So he said to her: ‘Go, for Allah has forgiven you.’ Then he said some nice words to the man (who was brought). And he said to the man who had relations with her: ‘Stone him.’ Then he said: ‘He has repented a repentance that, if the inhabitants of Al-Madinah had repented with, it would have been accepted from them.” –  As recounted by ‘Alqamah bin Wa’il Al-Kindi’  

The aforementioned hadith strictly declares that rape of either a slave of free women is considered as Zina.

The Ruling of Homosexuality in Islam

The holy Quran strictly condemns attraction towards same-sex. So, any homosexual relationship is strictly forbidden in Islam.

“Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? “For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.” And his people gave no answer but this: they said, “Drive them out of your city: these are indeed men who want to be clean!” But We saved him and his family, except his wife: she was of those who lagged. And We rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): then see what was the end of those who indulged in sin and crime!”–  The Holy Quran; Verse 7:80-84 

The following verse describes the punishment for homosexuality as mentioned in the Holy Quran.

وَاللَّذَانِ يَأْتِيَانِهَا مِنكُمْ فَآذُوهُمَا فَإِن تَابَا وَأَصْلَحَا فَأَعْرِضُوا عَنْهُمَا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ تَوَّابًا رَّحِيمً-   Surah Al-Nisa; Verse 16 

The Ruling of Incest in Islam  

Various hadiths strictly forbid any forms of incestuous relationships, otherwise known as zinā bi’l-mahārim. If an individual takes part in any sexual relationship with a mahram, then according to the ruling of Islam, he or she needs to be punished through execution.

Prophet Muhammad () mentioned: “If a man says to another man: ‘O you Jew’ then beat him twenty times. If he says: ‘O you effeminate’ then beat him twenty times. And whoever has relations with someone that is a mahram then kill him.” –  As narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas

The Ruling of Beastiality in Islam  

As mentioned in various hadiths, beastiality falls under the category of Zina and it needs to be punished by execution of the man or woman who’s been accused of committing such an act along with the animal.

In Islam, under the Shariah, it is unlawful to shed a Muslim’s blood except for these 3 sins    

  1. A lawfully married individual who fornicates 
  2. An individual who has committed a premeditated murder 
  3. A person who rejects Islam and starts a full-fledged war against his community 

Sexuality in Islam 

According to Islam, as largely mentioned in the Quran and based on Islamic traditions, sexuality should strictly be confined to marital relationships. The majority of the religions don’t encourage celibacy. In fact, all religions strictly encourage modesty & chastity in cross-gender relationships. Intimacy should strictly be reserved for marriage.

Sexuality in Islam

“We were with the Prophet while we were young and had no wealth. So Allah’s Apostle said, “O young people! Whoever among you can marry, should marry…and whoever cannot marry, should fast, as fasting diminishes his sexual power.”–       Sahih Bukhari 7:62:4

In fact, sexual relationships between lawfully married couples are a source of reward from Allah SWT, i.e., a person needs to be punished if he or she satisfies their sexual needs through illicit means.         

Punishment for Committing Zina 

If someone commits Zina, be it for adulterers or fornicators, their punishment has been strictly stipulated within the Shariah.

“When a married man commits adultery with a married woman, they should receive one hundred lashes and be exiled for a year. If they (fornicate while they) were married, they shall receive a hundred lashes and be stoned to death. Reported by Muslim.”–  Messenger of Allah SWT; Bulugh al-Maram 

 When can these adulterers be served punishment?

  • If they convict a man and a woman of performing Zina, then there need to be 4 credible Muslims who have witnessed this act.
  • Or if both the man and the woman confess to committing Zina.

Frequently Asked Questions 

If either a man or a woman commits adultery (Zina) after marriage, would this break the nikah? What does it mean by breaking the covenant of marriage? Based on the laws of Islam, what punishment should be given for such a shameful activity?

It is prohibited for a lawfully married individual to commit adultery (Zina). But performing Zina would not invalidate the nikah.

If an individual is proven guilty of performing Zina according to the Shariah, as punishment, he should be stoned to death. However, these sorts of penalties are not prevalent in South Asia. Rather, the individual is advised to perform Istighfar, he or she should refrain from performing such acts in the future.

Source – Darul Ifta, Darul Uloom Deoband, India

What’s the ruling about divorce according to Islam?

It is discouraged for Muslims to take the path of divorce. However, they are allowed to remarry if they wish to do so.
You should keep in mind; the procedures vary in divorce for different sectarians of Muslims –  

Sunni – They don’t need a witness. It only requires the husband to express his wishes on 3 occasions. Also, the man and the woman need to wait for a duration of 3 months for the divorce to become effective.

Shariah – It needs Muslims to have 2 witnesses. They also need to wait for a certain period before the marriage ends.

In a scenario where the woman starts the divorce is known as Khula. Here, they also need to wait for a certain period to make sure the woman isn’t pregnant.

Based on the laws of the Shariah –
“The most detestable of lawful things before Allah is divorce”– As reported by Abdullah Ibn Umar the Prophet Muhammad SAW(PBUH)

Although divorce is allowed in Islam, it should be avoided, if possible, by Muslims.

How do we resolve issues related to our marriage?

Imam – As spouses, visit the Imam of a mosque to seek his advice related to your marital issues.

Extended families – Your extended families can also play a crucial role in resolving issues related to your marital problems.


Always remember to be modest while you interact with your colleagues or friends, be it at work, while commuting, at your university, or even online. If you’re married, then you must keep in mind, your spouse is your only lawful partner to engage in sexual relationships. You should go through the ruling on friendship between men and women in Islam.  

Hence, remain loyal towards them and never be tempted towards any unlawful relationships. Zina is undoubtedly a sinful act and has a detrimental effect on your Iman and society. If you’re a practicing Muslim and fear Allah SWT, then you should distance yourself from such a shameful act. To conclude, adultery can break the marriage covenant. 

Omar Abdullah

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