بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
Kaleef K. Karim
“And those who accuse chaste women and then do not produce four witnesses – lash them with eighty lashes and do not accept from them testimony ever after. And those are the defiantly disobedient.” – Quran 24:4
The above verse has been used by critics to prove that in Islamic Law for a rapist to get convicted and punished, the victim has to produce four ‘male witnesses’. They further add that if she does not produce the evidence, she will get punished. Not only is this misleading but they are deliberately twisting the verse for their gain, to further stigmatise and stir up more hatred towards Muslims with these lies.
If one were to read the verse just as it is, nowhere is there any mention of ‘four males needed for rapist to get punished’. This baseless claim is easily refuted if one reads the passage itself. Those who spread these lies would not dare to bring one commentary of the Quran, either classical or contemporary to substantiate their flimsy assertions. For if they did, they will get exposed for deceptively twisting the verse. I will not go over the ruling pertaining on rape in Islamic Law in this article, but you can access my previous two articles, here and here, where I (and Dr. Mufti Allie Haroon Sheikh) have presented many evidences from the time of Prophet Muhammed (p) and Companions and how they dealt with rapists. From reading those articles, you would come to realise that ‘four male witnesses’ were never needed for a rapist to get convicted and punished.
The verse, Quran 24:4 is a clear prohibition against accusing women of adultery without the testimony of four witnesses. The penalty for slandering an innocent woman is very severe in Islamic Law. The punishment is a deterrent so people do not go around accusing women of adultery. Claims like this break up relationship(s) and risk destroying family unity. Not only that, but the woman would also be psychologically broken with such accusations hurdled at her. This is why the Noble Quran warns those who say such that they should be prepared to be subjected to lashes for lying if they cannot produce four eyewitnesses to substantiate their claims. The following are Quran-commentaries by various scholars on the verse (Q. 24:4).
Tafseer Anwarul Bayan – Shaykh Ashiq Ilahi Madni
“Islam attaches great importance to the chastity and honour of Muslim men and women. If any person calls another an adulterer in clear words, the offended party may take the case to the Islamic court, where the accuser will be punished eighty lasher when found guilty of the defamatory remark. This is referred to in the Shari’ah as the ‘haddul qadhaf.’ Another punishment for the slanderer will be that his or her evidence will never be accepted in an Islamic court. If one repents, the sin will be forgiven, but they will still live with the stigma that their evidence will be rejected by the Islamic court.” 
Asrar At-Tanzil – Amir Muhammad Akram A’wan
“…those who accuse chaste women of adultery and fail to produce four witnesses will be punished with eighty lashes, to ensure that nobody dares accuse a chaste woman out of vengeance or to her tarnish. Moreover, their testimony will not be entertained ever in the future being extremely vile persons. The false accuser will have to endure this punishment.” 
In the Shade of the Qur’an – Sayyid Qutb
“Prescribing a very hard punishment for adultery is not sufficient, on its own, to protect the Muslim community and ensure the purity of its atmosphere. Therefore, a supplementary order is given to isolate the adulterers from the rest of the Muslim community. Furthermore, heavy punishment is prescribed for those who accuse chaste women of adultery without providing firm evidence in support of their accusation…
Allowing people to accuse chaste women, whether married or not, without clear proof would mean that people could make such accusations without fear of repercussion. This in turn would stain the Muslim community’s reputation. Every individual would feel threatened with false accusations. Every man would suspect his wife, and every wife her husband, and people would begin to doubt their legitimacy. In such an intolerable state of doubt and suspicion, every family would be undermined. Moreover, when such accusations are frequently made, those who steer themselves away from adultery might begin to think that such crime was common n society. They might even begin to see it in a different light, as less ghastly, as a result of such frequent mention. Furthermore, those who would not even have contemplated it at all might even begin to think of doing so, feeling that since many others do it, there is no harm in it. Thus, in order to protect people’s honour, and to prevent their suffering from suspicion as a result of uncorroborated accusations, the Qur’an prescribes for false accusation a punishment that almost equals that of adultery. False accusers are to be flogged with 80 stripes each, and their future testimony in any case or situation rejected. Plus they are to be labelled as transgressors. The first part of this punishment is physical, while the second is moral. T is sufficient that the accuser is deprived of the right to testify, and considered an unreliable and unacceptable witness no matter what the case or situation.
The third part is religious. The one guilty of false accusation follows a line that deviates from the straight path of faith. The only way out is that the accuser should provide four witnesses who have seen the offence being committed, or three alongside him if he himself has seen it. If the four give such testimony, the accusation is proved and punished for adultery is enforced on the perpetrator.
The point at issue here is that the Muslim community does not lose much by supressing an accusation that cannot be proven. Conversely it loses much more by condoning accusations that cannot be proven. Indeed when such accusations become the subject of casual conversation, they serve to encourage people to do the same, while stopping and discussion of such matters, unless clearly proven, delivers a clear message that adultery, an abominable offence, is rare or even non-existent in society. Moreover, the false accusation of chaste women causes the latter much pain and mental suffering, in addition to its being a means of destroying families and relations.” 
Tafsir -Ul- Qur’an – Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi
“181. (to substantiate the charge). Note that the number of witness where the honour of a believing woman is involved is double that of usual number requisite.
182. Notice the very serious view the Qur’an takes of slandering chaste women.” 
The Message of The Quran – Muhammad Asad
“6 The term Muhsanat denotes literally ‘women who are fortified [against unchastity]’, i.e., by marriage and/or faith and self-respect, implying that, from a legal point of view, every woman must be considered chaste unless a conclusive proof to the contrary is produced. (This passage relates to women other than the accuser’s own wife, for in the latter case – as shown in verses 6-9 – the law of evidence and the consequences are different.
7 By obvious implication, this injunction applies also to cases where a woman accuses a man of illicit sexual intercourse, and is subsequently unable to prove her accusation legally. The severity of the punishment to be meted out in such cases, as well as the requirement of four witness – instead of the two that Islamic law regards as sufficient in all other criminal and civil suits – is based on the imperative necessity of preventing slander and off-hand accusations. As laid down in several authentic sayings of the Prophet, the evidence of the four witness must be direct, and not merely circumstantial: in others words, it is not sufficient for them to have witnessed a situation which made it evidence that sexual intercourse was taking or had taken place: they must have witnessed the sexual act as such, and must be able to prove this to the entire satisfaction of the Judicial authority (Razi, summing up the views of the greatest exponents of Islamic Law).
Since such a complete evidence is extremely difficult, it not impossible, to obtain, it is abvious that the purpose of the above ‘Qur’anic injunction is to preclude, in practice, all third-party accusations relating to illicit sexual intercourse – for, ‘man was created weak’ (4:28) – and to make a proof of adultery dependent on a voluntary, faith-inspired confession of the guilty parties themselves.” 
The Holy Qur’an Arabic Text With English Translation & Short Commentary – Malik Ghulam Farid
“2028. The other social evil, second to adultery in heinousness, which eats into vitals of human society, is the slandering of innocent persons. Islam also views with extreme disfavour this social evil which has become so common in the so-called civilized modern society, and severely punishes the accusers of innocent people. The verse mentions three forms of punishment in an ascending order which are to be meted out to a slanderer:
(A) the physical punishment of scourging:
(B) the disgrace of being branded as a perjurer and a liar which invalidates his evidence and
(C) the spiritual stigma of being adjudged as a transgressor. It may be noted that no mention is made here of the accusation being true or false. So long as the accuser cannot produce the necessary evidence in support of his charge, the charge would be considered as false and the accuser would be render himself liable to the prescribed punishment. Whatever the facts of the case, the woman with whom adultery is alleged to have been committed will be held innocent so long as the required evidence is not produced. The law, in fact, is intended to supress with a strong hand the offence of slandering and scandalmongering. The commandment contained in this verse covers both men and women although the word used is Muhsanat which means ‘chaste women.’ In the Arabic language when something has to be said which releates equally to both men and women the gender used is masculine. But when something is said regarding a matter which concerns women more than men, then feminine gender is used. The commandment here relates to punishment for slandering whether the victim of the slander is a man or a woman but as women generally are more often the victim of the slander, the verse speaks of ‘chaste women.’ Similarly, the word Alladhina (those), though in masculine gender, applies to both men and women slanderers.” 
The Holy Quran Arabic Text with English Translation, Commentary and comprehensive Introduction – Maulana Muhammad Ali
“4a. This is an effectual restraint against slander and gossip, which so often bring disaster upon the heads of innocent women. Unless there is the clearest evidence of adultery against a woman, the slanderer is himself to be punished.” 
 Illuminating Discourses on the Noble Quran – Tafseer Anwarul Bayan – By Shaykh Ashiq Ilahi Madni, volume 3, page 561
 Holy Quran Translation & Commentary: Asrar At-Tanzil [12 Rabi’ul Awwal 1423 AH, 25 May 2002 C.E.] By Amir Muhammad Akram A’wan, Volume 4, Page 213
 In the Shade of the Qur’an By Sayyid Qutb, volume 12, Page 210 – 211
 Tafsir -Ul- Qur’an: Translation And Commentary Of the Holy Qur’an [Published by Darul – Isaaht Urdu Bazar Karachi- 1 Pakistan – First Edition 1991] By Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi, Volume 3, Page 213
 The Message of The Quran – By Muhammad Asad page page 751
 The Holy Qur’an Arabic Text With English Translation & Short Commentary [2002 (UK) Published By Islam International Publications Limited] By Malik Ghulam Farid Page 711 – 712
 The Holy Quran Arabic Text with English Translation, Commentary and comprehensive Introduction [Year 2002 Edition] by Maulana Muhammad Ali Page 699