Hudud (Arabic: حدود Ḥudūd, also transliterated hudood; plural of hadd, حد) is an Arabic word meaning "borders, boundaries, limits".[1] In the religion of Islam, it refers to punishments that under Islamic law (sharīʿah) are mandated and fixed by God as per Islam, i.e. prescribed punishments, unlike Ta'zeer. These punishments were applied in pre-modern Islam,[2][3] and their use in some modern states has been a source of controversy.

Traditional Islamic jurisprudence divides crimes into offenses against God and those against man. The former are seen to violate God's hudud or "boundaries", and they are associated with punishments specified in the Quran and in some cases inferred from hadith.[4][5] The offenses incurring hudud punishments are zina (unlawful sexual intercourse such as fornication), unfounded accusations of zina,[6][7] drinking alcohol, highway robbery, and some forms of theft.[8][9] Jurists have differed as to whether apostasy from Islam and rebellion against a lawful Islamic ruler are hudud crimes.[4][10]

Hudud punishments range from public lashing to publicly stoning to death, amputation of hands and crucifixion.[11] Hudud crimes cannot be pardoned by the victim or by the state, and the punishments must be carried out in public.[12] These punishments were rarely implemented in practice, however, because the evidentiary standards were often impossibly high.[5][2] For example, meeting hudud requirements for zina and theft was virtually impossible without a confession in court, which could be invalidated by a retraction.[13][5] Based on a hadith, jurists stipulated that hudud punishments should be averted by the slightest doubts or ambiguities (shubuhat, sing. shubha).[13][5]

During the 19th century, Sharia-based criminal laws were replaced by statutes inspired by European models in many parts of the Islamic world, although not in particularly conservative regions such as the Arabian peninsula.[3][14][15] The Islamic revival of the late 20th century brought along calls by Islamist movements for full implementation of Sharia.[14][16] Reinstatement of hudud punishments has had particular symbolic importance for these groups because of their Quranic origin, and their advocates have often disregarded the stringent traditional restrictions on their application.[14] In practice, in the countries where hudud have been incorporated into the legal code under Islamist pressure, they have often been used sparingly or not at all, and their application has varied depending on local political climate.[14][15] Their use has been a subject of criticism and debate.

Hudud is not the only form of punishment under Sharia. For offenses against man—the other type of crime in Sharia—that involve inflicting bodily harm Islamic law prescribes a retaliatory punishment analogous to the crime (qisas) or monetary compensation (diya); and for other crimes the form of punishment is left to the judge's discretion (ta'zir).[4] Criminals who escaped a hudud punishment could still receive a ta'zir sentence.[3]

In the 21st century, hudud, including amputation of limbs, is part of the legal systems of Afghanistan,[17] Brunei,[18] Iran, Mauritania,[19] Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates,[20] Yemen,[21] and northern part of Nigeria.

Scriptural basis

Hudud offenses are mentioned in the Quran. The punishments for these offenses are drawn from both the Quran and the Sunnah. The Quran does not define the offenses precisely: their definitions were elaborated in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).


The Qur'an describes several hudud crimes and in some cases sets out punishments.[4] The hudud crime of theft is referred to in Quran verse 5:38:[4]

As for male and female thieves, cut off their hands for what they have done—a deterrent from Allah. And Allah is Almighty, All-Wise.

The crime of "robbery and civil disturbance against Islam" inside a Muslim state is referred to in Quran 5:33:[4]

Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and spread mischief in the land is death, crucifixion, cutting off their hands and feet on opposite sides, or exile from the land. This ˹penalty˺ is a disgrace for them in this world, and they will suffer a tremendous punishment in the Hereafter.

The crime of illicit consensual sex is referred to in several verses, including Quran 24:2:[4]

As for female and male fornicators, give each of them one hundred lashes, and do not let pity for them make you lenient in ˹enforcing˺ the law of Allah, if you ˹truly˺ believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a number of believers witness their punishment.

The crime of "accusation of illicit sex against chaste women without four witnesses" and a hudud punishment is based on Quran 24:4, 24:6, among others Quranic verse.[4]

Those who accuse chaste women ˹of adultery˺ and fail to produce four witnesses, give them eighty lashes ˹each˺. And do not ever accept any testimony from them—for they are indeed the rebellious—


The crime of drinking alcohol is referred to in Quranic verse 5:90, and hudud punishment is described in hadiths:[4]

O believers! Intoxicants, gambling, idols, and drawing lots for decisions are all evil of Satan’s handiwork. So shun them so you may be successful.

The sahih hadiths, a compilation of sayings, practices and traditions of Muhammad as observed by his companions, are considered by Sunni Muslims to be the most trusted source of Islamic law after the Quran. They extensively describe hudud crimes and punishments.[23][24] In some cases Islamic scholars have used hadiths to establish hudud punishments, which are not mentioned in the Quran.[4] Thus, stoning as punishment for zina is based on hadiths that narrate episodes where Muhammad and his successors prescribed it.[25] The tendency to use existence of a shubha (lit. doubt, uncertainty) to avoid hudud punishments is based on a hadith that states "avert hadd punishment in case of shubha".[26]

Hudud offences and punishments

The offences subject to hudud punishment:

There are a number of differences in views between the different madhhabs with regard to the punishments appropriate in specific situations and the required process before they are carried out.[4] There are also legal differences (ikhtilaf) over the term limitation of pronouncing the punishment. Hanafite scholars assert that punishment for hadd crimes other than qadhf (false accusation of illegal sex) have to be implemented within a month; except for witnesses with a valid legal justifications for delayed testimony or in cases of self-confession.[36]

Marja' following Shia jurisprudence generally believe that hudud punishments can be changed by appropriately qualified jurists.[37][38]

Murder, injury and property damage are not hudud crimes in Islamic criminal jurisprudence,[39][40] and are subsumed under other categories of Islamic penal law, which are:


Because the stringent traditional restrictions on application of hudud punishments, they were rarely applied historically.[3] Criminals who escaped hudud punishments could still be sanctioned under the system of tazir, which gave judges and high officials discretionary sentencing powers to punish crimes that did not fall under the categories of hudud and qisas.[3] In practice, since early on in Islamic history, criminal cases were usually handled by ruler-administered courts or local police using procedures that were only loosely related to Sharia.[41][42] During the 19th century, Sharia-based criminal laws were replaced by statutes inspired by European models nearly everywhere in the Islamic world, except some particularly conservative regions such as the Arabian peninsula.[3]

Flogging of a man who seduced a woman in Islamabad, Pakistan (1970s)

Under pressure from Islamist movements, recent decades have witnessed re-introduction of hudud punishments and by 2013 about a dozen of the 50 or so Muslim-majority countries had made hudud applicable,[43] many countries have disregarded traditional strict requirements. In 1979 Pakistan instituted the Hudood Ordinances. In July 1980 Iran stoned to death four offenders in Kerman. By the late 1980s, Mauritania and Sudan had "enacted laws to grant courts the power to hand down hadd penalties". During the 1990s Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and northern Nigeria followed suit. In 1994 the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein (who had persecuted and executed many Islamists), issued a decree "ordering that robbers and car thieves should lose their hands".[44] Brunei adopted hudud laws in 2014.[45][46]

Enforcement of hudud punishments has varied from country to country. In Pakistan and Libya, hudud punishments have not been applied at all because of strict requirements.[3] In Nigeria local courts have passed several stoning sentences for zina, all of which were overturned on appeal and left unenforced because of lack of enough evidence.[47]

During the first two years when Sharia was made state law in Sudan (1983 and 1985), a hudud punishment for theft was inflicted on some criminals, and then discontinued though not repealed. Floggings for moral crimes have been carried out since the codification of Islamic law in Sudan in 1991 and continue. In 2012 a Sudanese court sentenced Intisar Sharif Abdallah, a teenager, to death by stoning in the city of Omdurman under article 146 of Sudan's Criminal Act after charging her with "adultery with a married person". She was held in Omdurman prison with her legs shackled, along with her 5-month-old baby.[48] (She was released on July 3, 2012 after an international outcry.[49])

The hudud punishment for zinā in cases of consensual sex and the punishment of rape victims who failed to prove the coercion, which has occurred in some countries, have been the subject of a global human rights debate.[50][51][52] In Pakistan many rape victims who have failed to prove accusations have been jailed this has been criticized as leading to "hundreds of incidents where a woman subjected to rape, or gang rape, were eventually accused of zināʾ" and incarcerated.[53] Kennedy states that majority of cases against women jailed on charges of zina in Pakistan are filed by their family members against disobedient daughters and estranged wives as harassment suits. Hundreds of women in Afghanistan jails are victims of rape or domestic violence, accused of zina under tazir.[54] In Pakistan, over 200,000 zina cases against women under the Hudood laws were under way at various levels in Pakistan's legal system in 2005.[55] In addition to thousands of women in prison awaiting trial for zina-related charges, rape victims in Pakistan have been reluctant to report rape because they feared being charged with zina.[56] The resulting controversy prompted the law to be amended in 2006, though the amended version has been criticized for continuing to blur the legal distinction between rape and consensual sex.[25]

Crucifixion in Islam, at least in Saudi Arabia, takes the form of displaying beheaded remains of a perpetrator "for a few hours on top of a pole".[57] They are far fewer in number than executions.[58] One case was that of Muhammad Basheer al-Ranally who was executed and crucified on December 7, 2009 for "spreading disorder in the land" by kidnapping, raping and murdering several young boys.[58] ISIS has also reportedly crucified prisoners.[59]

Requirements for conviction

Illegal sex

Main article: Zina

There are certain standards for proof that must be met in Islamic law for zina punishment to apply. In the Shafii, Hanbali, and Hanafi law schools Rajm (public stoning) or lashing is imposed for religiously prohibited sex only if the crime is proven, either by four male adults witnessing at first hand the actual sexual intercourse at the same time or by self-confession.[6] For the establishment of adultery, four male Muslim witnesses must have seen the act in its most intimate details. Shia Islam allows substitution of one male Muslim with two female Muslims, but requires that at least one of the witnesses be a male. The Sunni Maliki school of law consider pregnancy in an unmarried woman as sufficient evidence of zina, unless there is evidence of rape or compulsion.[6][60] The punishment can be averted by a number of legal "doubts" (shubuhat), however, such as existence of an invalid marriage contract or possibility that the conception predates a divorce.[32] The majority Maliki opinion theoretically allowed for a pregnancy lasting up to seven years, indicating a concern of the jurists to shield women from the charge of zina and to protect children from the stigma of illegitimacy.[6] These requirements made zina virtually impossible to prove in practice.[25]

If a person alleges zina and fails to provide four consistent Muslim witnesses, or if witnesses provide inconsistent testimonies, they can be sentenced to eighty lashes for unfounded accusation of fornication (qadhf), itself a hadd crime."[32] Rape was traditionally prosecuted under legal categories requiring less stringent evidentiary rules.[61] In Pakistan, the Hudood Ordinances of 1979 subsumed prosecution of rape under the category of zina, making rape extremely difficult to prove and exposing the victims to jail sentences for admitting illicit intercourse.[25] The resulting controversy prompted the law to be amended in 2006, though the amended version is still criticized by some for blurring the legal distinction between rape and consensual sex.[25]


Malik ibn Anas, the originator of the Maliki judicial school of thought, recorded in The Muwatta of many detailed circumstances under which the punishment of hand cutting should and should not be carried out. Commenting on the verse in the Quran on theft, Yusuf Ali says that most Islamic jurists believe that "petty thefts are exempt from this punishment" and that "only one hand should be cut off for the first theft."[62] Islamic jurists disagree as to when amputation is mandatory religious punishment.[63] This is a fatwa given by Taqī al-Dīn ʿAlī b. ʿAbd al-Kāfī al-Subkī (d. 756/1356), a senior Shafi scholar and judge from one of the leading scholarly families of Damascus: The Imam and Shaykh said: It has been agreed upon that the Hadd [punishment] is obligatory for one who has committed theft and [for whom the following conditions apply]:

# [the item] was taken from a place generally considered secure (ḥirz)

  1. it had not been procured as spoils of war (mughannam)
  2. nor from the public treasury
  3. and it was taken by his own hand
  4. not by some tool or mechanism (āla)
  5. on his own
  6. solely
  7. while he was of sound mind
  8. and of age
  9. and a Muslim
  10. and free
  11. not in the Haram
  12. in Mecca
  13. and not in the Abode of War
  14. and he is not one who is granted access to it from time to time
  15. and he stole from someone other than his wife
  16. and not from a uterine relative
  17. and not from her husband if it is a woman
  18. when he was not drunk
  19. and not compelled by hunger
  20. or under duress
  21. and he stole some property that was owned
  22. and would be permissible to sell to Muslims
  23. and he stole it from someone who had not wrongfully appropriated it
  24. and the value of what he stole reached three dirhams
  25. of pure silver
  26. by the Meccan weight
  27. and it was not meat
  28. or any slaughtered animal
  29. nor anything edible
  30. or potable
  31. or some fowl
  32. or game
  33. or a dog
  34. or a cat
  35. or animal dung
  36. or feces (ʿadhira)
  37. or dirt
  38. or red ochre (maghara)
  39. or arsenic (zirnīkh)
  40. or pebbles
  41. or stones
  42. or glass
  43. or coals
  44. or firewood
  45. or reeds (qaṣab)
  46. or wood
  47. or fruit
  48. or a donkey
  49. or a grazing animal
  50. or a copy of the Quran
  51. or a plant pulled up from its roots (min badā’ihi)
  52. or produce from a walled garden
  53. or a tree
  54. or a free person
  55. or a slave
  56. if they are able to speak and are of sound mind
  57. and he had committed no offense against him
  58. before he removed him from a place where he had not been permitted to enter
  59. from his secure location
  60. by his own hand
  61. and witness is born
  62. to all of the above
  63. by two witnesses
  64. who are men
  65. according to [the requirements and procedure] that we already presented in the chapter on testimony
  66. and they did not disagree
  67. or retract their testimony
  68. and the thief did not claim that he was the rightful owner of what he stole
  69. and his left hand is healthy
  70. and his foot is healthy
  71. and neither body part is missing anything
  72. and the person he stole from does not give him what he had stolen as a gift
  73. and he did not become the owner of what he stole after he stole it
  74. and the thief did not return the stolen item to the person he stole it from
  75. and the thief did not claim it
  76. and the thief was not owed a debt by the person he stole from equal to the value of what he stole
  77. and the person stolen from is present [in court]
  78. and he made a claim for the stolen property
  79. and requested that amputation occur
  80. before the thief could repent
  81. and the witnesses to the theft are present
  82. and a month had not passed since the theft occurred

All of this was said by ʿAlī b. Aḥmad b. Saʿīd (probably Ibn Ḥazm, d. 1064). And the Imam and Shaykh added: and it is also on the condition that [the thief's] confession not precede the testimony and then after it he retracts [his confession]. For if the thief does that first and then direct evidence (bayyina) is provided of his crime and then he retracts his confession, the punishment of amputation is dropped according to the more correct opinion in the Shafi school, because the establishment [of guilt] came by confession not by the direct evidence. So his retraction is accepted.[64][65]



Those arguing in favor of that the hudud punishment of amputation for theft often describe the visceral horror/fear of losing a hand as providing strong deterrence against theft, while at the same time the numerous requirements for its application make it seldom used and thus more humane than other punishments. Supporters include Abdel-Halim Mahmoud, the rector of Azhar from 1973 to 1978, who stated it was not only ordained by God but when implemented by Ibn Saud in Saudi Arabia brought law and order to his land — though amputation was carried out only seven times. [66] In his popular book Islam the Misunderstood Religion, Muhammad Qutb asserts that amputation punishment for theft "has been executed only six times throughout a period of four hundred years".[67]

However, according to historian Jonathan A.C. Brown, at least in the mid-1100s in the Iraqi city of Mosul the Muslim jurists found the punishment less than effective. Faced with a crime wave of theft the ulama "begged their new sultan ... to implement harsh punishments" outside of sharia. The hands of arrested thieves were not being cut off because evidentiary standards were so strict, nor were they deterred by the ten lashes (discretionary punishment or tazir) that Shariah courts were limited to by hadith.[66][68]

Disputes and debates over reform

Protests in Hanover against stonings of women in Iran (2012)

A number of scholars/reformers[69][70] have suggested that traditional hudud penalties "may have been suitable for the age in which Muhammad lived" but are no longer,[69] or that "new expression" for "the underlying religious principles and values" of Hudud should be developed.[70] Tariq Ramadan has called for an international moratorium on the punishments of hudud laws until greater scholarly consensus can be reached.[71]

Many contemporary Muslim scholars think that the hudud punishments are not absolute obligations as it is an act of mu'amalah (non-worship), thus, they think that hudud is the maximum punishment.[72]

Hudud punishments have been called incompatible with international norms of human rights and sometimes simple justice. At least one observer (Sadakat Kadri) has complained that the inspiration of faith has not been a guarantee of justice, citing as an example the execution of two dissidents for "waging war against God" (Moharebeh) in the Islamic Republic of Iran—the dissidents waging war by organizing unarmed political protests.[73][74] The Hudood Ordinance in Pakistan led to the jailing of thousands of women on zina-related charges, were used to file "nuisance or harassment suits against disobedient daughters or estranged wives".[75] The sentencing to death of women in Pakistan, Nigeria, Sudan for zina caused international uproar,[76] being perceived as not only as too harsh, but an "odious"[77] punishment of victims not wrongdoers.

Among the questions critics have raised about the modern application of hudud, include: why, if the seventh-century practice is divine law eternally valid and not to be reformed, have its proponents instituted modern innovations? These include use of general anesthetic for amputation (in Libya, along with instruction to hold off if amputation might "prove dangerous to [the offender's] health"), selective introduction (leaving out crucifixion in Libya and Pakistan), using gunfire to expedite death during stoning (in Pakistan).[78] Another question is why they have been so infrequently applied both historically and recently. There is only one record of a stoning in the entire history of Ottoman Empire, and none at all in Syria during Muslim rule.[78] Modern states that "have so publicly enshrined them over the past few decades have gone to great lengths to avoid their imposition." There was only one amputation apiece in Northern Nigeria and Libya,[79] no stonings in Nigeria. In Pakistan the "country's medical profession collectively refused to supervise amputations throughout the 1980s", and "more than three decades of official Islamization have so far failed to produce a single actual stoning or amputation."[80][Note 1] (Saudi Arabia is the exception with four stonings and 45 amputations during the 1980s though they were overturned because of lack of required evidence.[79])

Among two of the leading Islamist movements, the Muslim Brotherhood has taken "a distinctly ambivalent approach" toward hudud penalties with "practical plans to put them into effect ... given a very low priority;" and in Pakistan, Munawar Hasan, then Ameer (leader) of the Jamaat-e-Islami, has stated that "unless and until we get a just society, the question of punishment is just a footnote."[57]

Supporting hudud punishments are Islamic revivalists such as Abul A'la Maududi[81] who writes that in a number of places the Quran "declares that sodomy is such a heinous sin ... that it is the duty of the Islamic State to eradicate this crime and ... punish those who are guilty of it." According to Richard Terrill, hudud punishments are considered claims of God, revealed through Muhammad, and as such immutable, unable to be altered or abolished by people, jurists or parliament.[82]

Opposition to hudud (or at least minimizing of hudud) within the framework of Islam comes in more than one form. Some (such as elements of the MB and JI mentioned above) support making its application wait for the creation of a "just society" where people are not "driven to steal in order to survive."[83] Another follows the Modernist approach calling for hudud and other parts of Sharia to be re-interpreted from the classical form and follow broad guidelines rather than exact all-encompassing prescriptions.[84][85] Others consider hudud punishments "essentially deterrent in nature" to be applied very, very infrequently.[84][85]

Others (particularly Quranists) propose excluding ahadith and using only verses in the Quran in formulating Islamic Law, which would exclude stoning (though not amputation, flogging or execution for some crimes).[86][87][88][89] The vast majority of Muslims[87] and most Islamic scholars, however, consider both Quran and sahih hadiths[88] to be a valid source of Sharia, with Quranic verse 33.21, among others,[90][91] as justification for this belief.[88]

Indeed, in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent example for whoever has hope in Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah often. ...It is not for a believing man or woman—when Allah and His Messenger decree a matter—to have any other choice in that matter. Indeed, whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has clearly gone ˹far˺ astray.

See also


  1. ^ The courts of Pakistan have avoided enforcement of the hadd penalties entirely, extrajudicial lynchings and guerilla activity notwithstanding. Colonel Qaddafi's Libya conducted just one official amputation, in a 2003 case involving a four-man robbery gang. Northern Nigeria has claimed about the same number of hand in total, ... [and] has not carried out any stonings at all. ...[79]


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