Answered by Sidi Abdullah Anik Misra

Question: A girl and I committed zina a few months back. We are in the process of getting married very soon.

Is it permissible for me to marry the girl I committed zina with?

Is it obligatory for her to repent before we get married ?

She will definitely repent but I want to know if its required in order us to marry.

Answer: All praise is to Allah Most High who has shown us right from wrong, in order that we may benefit both in this life and in the next life.

Zina (either illicit fornication for those never-before-married, or adultery for those who have been married) is one of the vilest and gravest sins a Muslim can commit, after ascribing partners with Allah, murder, and disobedience to one’s parents. In the Qur’an, right after the prohibition of killing one’s children, Allah Most High says:

“And do not even go close to Zina! Truly, it is a gross obscenity and an evil path (to go down).” [al-Quran, 17:32]

This verse is not just about prohibiting the act of zina itself, rather, we are told not even to go near it through anything that may lead or invite to it. This is why the pre-marital contact of an unrelated man and woman for unnecessary reasons is not allowed in Islam, even if marriage is the eventual goal.

However, if anyone has fallen into committing this act (and may Allah save us), know that Allah is so Merciful and He is ready to accept the repentance of those who are truly remorseful and commit themselves not to repeat the act again. He, Most High, says:

“And those who, after they had committed a gross obscenity [ie. zina], or wronged themselves [by what approaches it, such as kissing], remembered Allah, and then sought forgiveness for their sins – and who forgives sins except Allah? – and they did not continue in committing it, knowing fully-well [it was a sin]:

For those people, their recompense is a great forgiveness from their Lord! And gardens underneath which rivers flow! They will be in there forever!  What a wonderful reward for those who act for Allah!”

[al-Quran, 2:135-136, interpretation from Jalalayn and Tabari]]

It is definitely a step in the right direction that you both have turned away from this and are now working to get married soon. Both of you, not just the woman, should repent from what has passed and make a firm commitment not to come near to a situation where it might happen again. However, the direct answer to your question is that it isn’t a legal requirement that one repent (which is an inward act between a servant and Allah) in order for the marriage to be valid (which is an outward action).

That being said, it is still obligatory to repent in any case, and to do so before marriage is not so much of a technical requirement as some opinions say, but rather something strongly encouraged for the couple get on the right footing with Allah Most High as they embark on the sacred journey of being husband and wife. Now, we’ll look at the reasons why the majority of scholars say this, and the verse of the Quran which concerns the issue.

The Verse Concerning Marriage With Those Who Commit Zina

Allah Most High says:

“A man guilty of adultery or fornication does not marry other than a woman guilty of adultery or fornication, or an idolatress, and as for a woman who committed adultery or fornication, no one but a man who committed adultery or fornication, or an idolater, marries her.  And that has been prohibited for the Believers.” [al-Quran 24:3]

The opinion that you read says that this verse is a prohibition against the marriage of a Believer with someone guilty of zina, until the adulterer repents, thereby being cleansed of the sin and no longer being an adulterer. This is based on the taking the statement “it has been prohibited” at one of its literal and apparent meanings and applying it to marriage. Some Hanbali scholars held this view.

However, the majority of scholars have said that this is not a prohibition in terms of validity of marriage, but rather they interpret the verse in many different ways.

Al-Suyuti in Tafseer al-Jalaalayn points out that the beginning of the verse speaks about who is appropriate for marriage to another due to their character; that the only person who would want to marry an adulterer is one who has similar inclinations or makes light of the sin of zina, or a person who is not a Muslim and therefore does not see zina as being unlawful and sinful in the first place. The suitability of a man and woman of this nature is repeated twice to show emphasis on how detestable the act and its consensual perpetrators are, and it also highlights that this stigma is not attached only to the male or female alone (as is sometimes sadly observed in some cultures).

Al-Suyuti goes on to say that the prohibition on the Believers was initially meant to address a situation in which some very poor Muslim Emigrants to Medina had wanted to get married to women who were pagans and known prostitutes, so that they might benefit from those women’s earnings to survive. Hence, the verse was revealed to prohibit this, and he says that the prohibition of marrying anyone who had once committed adultery was abrogated by a later command which said “and marry the single ones from amongst you.” [al-Quran, 24:32]

That does not mean however, that it is of no consequence to marry someone who is unrepentant about their adultery, nor that a chaste person should marry such a person.

Al-Shaukani in Fath al-Qadeer lists 7 different interpretations, one of them being that the verse is simply commending the most commonly observed trend, which is that a chaste person would not usually want to marry someone who was unremorsefully unchaste. He also mentions that the verse is in reference specifically to people to whom zina has become a way of life and even a way of earning. Some transmissions of prohibiting the marriage of two fornicators to each other exist from some Companions, but conflicting narrations from some of those same Companions and the rulings of many of the Imams of the Salaf (such as al-Shafi’i and Abu Haneefa) who knew the Companion’s opinions better than we do today, show that this prohibition was not conclusive or absolute.

Ibn Katheer in his tafseer quotes a narration attributed to Ibn ‘Abbas which indicates that the word “to marry” in this verse (yankiHu) actually takes its other literal meaning, which is “to have intercourse”, so that the verse reads “(illicit intercourse) is prohibited for the Believers”. Al-Tabari says that the verse was revealed to speak about a specific brothel which was frequented by non-Muslims and adulterers, and that the Muslims were forbidden from visiting houses the likes of those. Al-Baghawi even mentions specific people for whom the verse was revealed initially.

To summarize, a casual glance through many other tafseers will reveal that while most mufassireen (commentators on the Qu’ran) reported a variety of reasons and interpretations of the verse, the most common interpretations were either one compatibility and censure, or a prohibition that was later abrogated in that same surah.

Some Reports on this Issue

Reports of the sayings of the Companions and Followers on this issue are plentiful.

Daraqutni reports, in part of a hadeeth, from Aisha that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked about a man who committed zina with a woman, and then wanted to marry her. Part of the reply was, “Something unlawful (zina) does not make prohibited that which is lawful (marriage)…”

He also reports that Ibn Abbas, regarding a man who had committed zina with a woman and then married her, said, “The first part of [the relationship] was fornication (al-sifaaH) and the last part of it was lawful Islamic marriage (al-nikaah). The first part was unlawful, and the last part was lawful.”  In another riwayah, he said “there is no harm in it”, and that a similar meaning had been reported from ‘Umar, Abu Hurayara and Jabir (may Allah be well pleased with them all), though saying there is “no harm in it” doesn’t necessarily show that it is liked or recommended.

‘Abd al-Razzaq in his Musannaf also relates from Ibn ‘Abbas, on the same issue that a man committed zina with a woman then married her, that he said, “Then that (marriage) is better”, and in another narration, “Now he did the right thing!”, and “What’s disliked about that?” He goes on to report that Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) said, “There is no better repentance than that he marries her- (after all) they both went from fornication to Islamic marriage.” [This last report contains an unidentified narrator but its concept and wisdom is amply supported by other reports]. Although there are few reports about ‘Aisha and Ibn Mas’ud not allowing such a marriage, perhaps they can be interpreted as recommendations rather than laws, or that the wisdom is for both people to start fresh with other people rather than build their marriage on wrong actions or to discourage the validating of pre-marital relationships. Either way, repentance as a technical requirement to validate the marriage is not established according to the majority.

Amongst the Sunni schools of law, the Hanafi school (as well as the Shafi’i and Maliki schools) rules the permissibility of the marriage of two adulterers [Tabyeen al Haqaiq, al-Zayla’i].  One proof says that the verse in the Quran intends to prohibit intercourse rather than marriage with an adulterer, as it would otherwise seem to recommend that a fornicating muslim can actually marry a non-believing idolater, and there is no such valid marriage between the two as is decisively established in Islam, and so the meaning is carried upon intercourse in order to outlaw zina, and not marriage, to an adulterer.

However, the opinion of some Hanbali jurists that repentance is required is good in its meaning because it forces the two people to recognize their wrong and repent to start their marriage on a fresh footing. One might say however, that the intention to make up for the wrong one has done by doing in its place what is good and chaste, by getting married, is itself a commendable act that shows regret for what was done in the past, though correcting a wrong must be joined by sincere taubah and a promise never to return to the sin again.

It should also be clear that there is also no obligation for the two parties to continue on with marriage after an illicit relationship; rather, one should marry someone who they feel has a good Islamic character and a desire to live a righteous life.

And Allah knows best,

And His help is sought,

Abdullah Misra

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

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