What Is The Real Meaning of Zina (Adultery)?

Question and answer details
Dear sir/madam, I would like to ask you about the real definition of zina (sex outside marriage - adultery). Is it only the fact of having sex or is it also the fact that for example there was just a contact without penetration? Thank you
Salem Al-Hasi

Salam Dear Brother,

Thank you for this question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

The word
zina (adultery and fornication), in Islam, can be used in two different, yet related, ways. It can be used as a general term that refers to a general meaning, and as a legal term defining a criminal act that invites punishments and other legal applications.

in its broad meaning indicates any haram (prohibited) act, whether the act was sexual intercourse or a look, talk, touch, or desire that is related or may lead to illicit sexual relations.

Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

 "Allah has written for Adam’s son (mankind) his share of zina (adultery and fornication), which he commits inevitably. The zina of the eyes is the sight (to gaze at a forbidden thing), the zina of the tongue is the talk, and the inner-self wishes and desires and the private parts testify all this or deny." (Al-Bukhari)

 These are forbidden because they eventually might lead to sexual intercourse, and they are forbidden as a preventive issue.

in the Nobel Quran said:

{Nor come near to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils).}

Surah 17 Verse 32

Scholars said that what makes some forms of gazing, talking, and touching forbidden acts is that they bring you near zina.

Allah also said:

{Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And God is well acquainted with all that they do.}

Surah 24 Verse 30

Zina, as a legal term, has a more specific meaning because there are legal applications related to it. According to scholars, in its legal meaning zina is ‘the voluntary sexual intercourse outside of marriage when the male sexual organ is inserted inside the female one, regardless of the number of times.’

Thus, any sexual relationship, which fits this definition, is legally
zina and deserves the application of a major legal penalty.

in its broad meaning and its legal meaning are both haram (forbidden). However, committing zina (the legal meaning) leads to a major legal penalty, whereas committing anything that brings you near to zina is considered a bad deed for which one is accountable before Allah and it does not qualify for any specific physical punishment set out in Islamic law.

is regarded among the major sins in Islam. One may ask why zina is forbidden. The answer is that the sharia (Islamic law) has objectives and intents. The objective of the Islamic law is to serve the interest of people (masalih al-ibad). The five ultimate interests (al-kuliyat al-khamsah) are the deen (belief), an-nafs (life), al-aql (intellect), al-maal (wealth), and an-nasl (family and lineage).

The wisdom of preserving
an-nasl (family and lineage) is to assure the recognition of the right lineage of people and their children, by which the social kinship and social network is kept safe and stable, as well as preserving society from sexually transmitted diseases.

Islam has two ways to preserve
an-nasl (family and lineage):
  1. Making marriage permissible and commanding Muslims to declare their marriages and to announce the children who come from the marriage.
  2. Eliminating the causes of corruption by prohibiting and punishing zina and by forbidding coming near to zina.

Allah knows best. I hope this helps answer your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

Useful Links:

What Constitutes Zina?

How Islam Views Adultery

The Consequences of Adultery