What is the Islamic evaluation of slandering a chaste woman?
Chastity means moral virtue and maturity that enables one to refrain from derogatory behaviors in the eyes of Allah and people, by resisting one’s desires. And honor means, with its general meaning, the sum total of values that shape one’s moral characteristics and which is the reason of respect for the person himself and his close relatives. Honor, with its peculiar and narrow meaning, means chastity and purity in terms of sexuality.
Chastity and purity, with their both meanings, are amongst people’s main rights in Islam and attacks against them are deemed as crimes and sins; and they are subject to worldly and otherworldly sanction. Prohibition of fornication and of what may lead to fornication, and orders and regulations about hijab (covering) are indeed actions aimed at protection of individuals’ chastity and honor, and social moral values.
Slandering a chaste woman is called “Qazf” in Islamic terminology.
Qazf literally means throwing something hard, throwing words out of mouth, aspersing and slandering one’s chastity. It is a law term which means accusing an innocent man or woman of fornication, with words such as “you fornicated…” or “you fornicator”. Qazf is one of the great sins. On the issue, Allah stated “Those who slander chaste women, indiscreet but believing, are cursed in this life and in the Hereafter: for them is a grievous Penalty” (an-Nur, 24:23). The Prophet (pbuh) counted qazf amongst seven factors which led one to destruction in his Hadiths. (Bukhari, Wasaya, 23).
The punishment for qazf is flogging him/her eighty times and rejecting his/her witnessing: “And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations), flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors” (an-Nur, 24:4). Accordingly, the crime of slandering one with fornication is valid only when the accuser accuses one of fornication and he can bring at least four witnesses to prove that crime.
Stripes are hit on not a specific part of the body, but on various parts of body. Besides, outer clothes such as coats and mantles of the criminal are taken off.
That the person slandered is “muhsan” means that s/he is free, sane, pubescent, Muslim and innocent.
If a person admits to have slandered and attempts to retract, it is not accepted and s/he is punished.
If a person slanders one with anything other than fornication, such as sinfulness, infidelity or maliciousness, s/he is sentenced to the penalty, if there is, established by the Islamic state.
Even if a person punished because of slandering repents, his/her evidence is not accepted. (see: an-Nur, 24:4). However, s/he gets rid of sinfulness. On the other hand, according to Shafiis, s/he both gets rid of sinfulness and his/her evidence is accepted from then on. (see: al-Qurtubi, al-Jami’fi Ahkam al-Quran, Beirut, 1965-1966, XII, 190-195; Elmalili Hamdi Yazir, Hak Dini Kur’an Dili, Istanbul 1936, IV, 3478-3483).
Disinterested criteria have been employed in proving crimes for which there are severe penalties such as fornication in Islamic law in order to protect especially indispensable values; and those crimes were not punished until they were proved. This attitude is an important precaution taken in order to prevent wearing out the institution of family and tainting individuals’ chaste and honor easily. Indeed, since people are very careful about their honor and chaste, in other words, since people’s chaste resembles an untainted, clean and white floor, any gossip on the issue is very effective and causes a state of victimization which cannot be compensated for that person. Islam laid down serious conditions of proving for such a serious accusation in order not to give rise to such gossips and to prevent judging by suspicion and prejudice. When the crime is impossible to prove with precise evidence, Islam orders people to keep silent and to keep their personal judgments and information to themselves.
All of the other kinds of slanders and calumnies apart from fornication that is aimed at chaste and honor are also forbidden by the Quran and sunnah, criticized and, even though declared to require responsibility, is not punished; and it is left to the community’s initiative to take necessary precautions on the issue. In this sense, it is possible and necessary for communities to make some lawful regulations and find various solutions in accordance with their era and social conditions in order to protect their peace and unity. As a matter of fact, it would not be appropriate to leave the prevention of gossips, wrong information and slanders solemnly to religion’s and social structure’s way of sanction. Law system’s supportive precautions on the issue always play an important role.