Lashes for lies

April 21, 2024

The legacy of the Hudood Ordinances illustrates the complexities of applying religious laws in a modern state

Lashes for lies


n a rare verdict that highlights the complexity of Pakistani law, a sessions court in Malir recently sentenced one Fareed Qadir to 80 lashes for the grave offence of qazf.

The court held that by refusing to acknowledge the paternity of his child and falsely accusing his former wife of adultery, Qadir had not only questioned her fidelity but also contravened the stringent requirements set by the Offence of Qazf (Enforcement of Hadd) Ordinance, 1979.

The ordinance, a relic from Gen Zia-ul Haq’s Islamisation efforts, mandates severe penalties for those who falsely accuse others of zina (adultery or fornication) without the requisite four eyewitness testimonies.

This case not only illuminates the legal implications of such accusations but has also once again revealed the social and moral dimensions of the Pakistani legal framework, particularly the way they intersect with issues of honour, reputation and judicial emphasis on truthful testimony.

As Pakistan struggles to balance traditional Islamic laws and contemporary human rights standards, this case is a pivotal example of the challenges and impacts these laws have on individuals and the society.

The offence of qazf is part of a set of laws known as the Hudood Ordinances, which were enacted in Pakistan under the military dictatorship of Gen Zia as part of his Islamisation agenda.

The Qazf Ordinance specifically deals with Islamic criminal law regarding false accusations of unlawful sexual intercourse (zina).

The ordinance defines qazf as the false accusation of zina (adultery or fornication) that is made without producing four eyewitnesses, as required by Sharia law. The punishment prescribed for a proven case of qazf is 80 lashes. This is consistent with the traditional Islamic punishment for such offences.

The ordinance allows the accuser to retract their utterance and seek forgiveness, potentially mitigating the punishment if done before the execution of the sentence.

Consistent with Islamic jurisprudence, the ordinance requires the testimony of four male witnesses who are considered upright and reliable by Islamic standards, having directly witnessed the act of intercourse.

The stringent evidence requirement emphasises protecting individuals’ reputations and ensuring that accusations are not made lightly.

One of the most controversial aspects of the Qazf Ordinance, and the Hudood Ordinances in general, has been their impact on women. Critics argue that these laws have often been used to victimise women, particularly in cases where women have come forward with accusations of rape.

Without the requisite four witnesses, these women have risked being accused of zina or of making false accusations.

Thus, the Qazf Ordinance remains a significant, albeit controversial, element of Pakistan’s legal landscape, reflecting the complex interplay between religious laws and modern legal and human rights considerations.

Qazf is essentially a form of slander. The law discourages people from making baseless allegations that can ruin lives and lead to social chaos. 

The history of the legislation is closely tied to the country’s adoption and adaptation of ordinances implementing hadd offences, which were part of a broad policy to ‘Islamise’ the legal system in Pakistan to make its laws more congruent with Sharia.

The Hudood Ordinances also included the Zina Ordinance, which criminalised unlawful sexual relations.

Since their introduction, the Hudood Ordinances have been highly controversial and have faced domestic and international criticism. Critics argue that the laws have been misused, particularly against women.

Pakistan has undertaken some legal reforms in response to widespread criticism and the apparent injustice resulting from the enforcement implementation of the Hudood Ordinances.

Most notably, in 2006, the Women’s Protection Bill was passed. It sought to remove the elements of rape and adultery from the domain of the Hudood Ordinances and put them under the civil penal code, thereby offering more procedural safeguards to the accused.

Despite these changes, elements of the Hudood laws, including the provisions regarding qazf, still exist and their application continues to generate debate.

The legacy of the Hudood Ordinances illustrates the complexity of applying religious laws in a modern state. It also reflects ongoing tensions between traditionalist and modernist elements in Islamic societies today, mainly due to the deep-seated moralistic logic behind hadd offences like qazf.

The logic behind the offence of qazf, seen as a hadd or a crime against God, in Islamic law primarily centres around protecting individual honour, reputation and the integrity of societal morals. Personal honour and reputation are highly valued in many cultures, particularly those influenced by Islamic teachings.

Accusations of unlawful sexual activity (zina) can lead to severe social stigmatisation and damage a person’s dignity and standing in the community. By setting a high evidentiary standard (requiring four eyewitnesses) and penalising false accusations, Islamic law aims to safeguard individuals from slander and defamation.

Qazf is essentially a form of slander. The law discourages people from making baseless allegations that can ruin lives and lead to social chaos.

This aspect of the law upholds the Islamic ethical standard that emphasises the importance of speech integrity and discourages harmful speech.

By criminalising and imposing severe penalties for qazf, Islamic law seeks to maintain social and moral order. It acts as a deterrent against careless or malicious statements that could disrupt community peace and cause personal conflicts.

The strict requirements for proving accusations of zina (i.e., four reliable and upright witnesses who directly observed the act) emphasise a commitment to justice and due process in Islamic law.

It ensures that convictions of severe offences are based on clear, substantial evidence, thereby reducing the risk of miscarriage of justice.

Islamic law often includes mechanisms for repentance and redemption. In the case of qazf, the accuser can avoid punishment if they retract their accusation and repent before the sentence is carried out. This aspect of the law provides a way out for those who may have made a mistake and promotes forgiveness and reconciliation in society.

Striking a balance between the extreme elements of hadd offences and the closely linked options for repentance is critical to tackling the aspects of the Hudood laws in Pakistan, including the provisions regarding qazf.

The writer is an advocate of the high court, a founding partner at LexMercatoria, and a visiting teacher at Bahria University’s Law Department. She can be reached at

Lashes for lies