Q. The Qur'an ordains public flogging (100 lashes) as the punishment for adulterers.(Q24:2) It also states that the punishment for a married slave is half that of a free married woman.(Q4:25) However, in Bukhari, which in the Muslim world is accepted as the most authentic compilation of the Prophetic traditions, the hadith mention stoning to death for adultery. Some of the translators of the Qur'an agree that this is the sunnah. Imam Shafi, a renowned Muslim scholar, endorses this position in his book "Al Risalah." Therefore, some Muslims believe that this is the correct punishment, which is implemented in certain Muslim countries. Can you explain this anomaly?

A. The entire business about adultery is skewed in the world of Muslim jurists. Allah, Lord and Ruler of all the worlds, tells us in the Qur'an not to take life without cause. The same Allah tells us that He has left nothing out of the Qur'an. The same Allah specifies the case of flogging in the Qur'an for the adulterer and adulteress. Yet some Muslims would have us believe the following: "That according to a report from Umar, the stoning verses were in the Qur'an, but the material on which it was written was eaten by a goat!" Additionally, they ask us to believe that the verse which was allegedly abrogated was left in the Qur'an, and the abrogating one was somehow lost. What a strange God we have! A God who has pledged to preserve the Qur'an, and on the most important aspect of human - human relations, the same God has forgotten His promise, leaving the issue of taking life to rest on a hadith that may or may not be accepted.

Not only that, if one checks the case of Maaz in the hadith, one finds that even within Bukhari and Muslim, there is so much contradiction that no right thinking person can base legal rulings on such flimsy evidence. In one hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w) allegedly averts his face from Maaz when the latter comes to him. In others, the Prophet goes to him and says: "I have heard so and so about you, is it true?" Which are we to believe? In the Qur'an, we are told to ask the Christians and Jews: "Bring your proof if you are indeed telling the truth." Must we not set the example ourselves, and ask for proof regarding our own rulings?

On the issue of abrogation, it may be noted that there is no such thing in the Qur'an, as shown clearly by Muhammad Al Ghazali in his book "Kayfa Natamal Ma Al Qur'an." Even if for argument's sake we were to allow for abrogation, in the case of adultery, there is no scope for it.

Posted December 3, 1998