Why did Umar ibn Al-Khattab sentence a lunatic woman to death?

Why did Umar ibn Al-Khattab sentence a lunatic woman to death?

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


Why did Umar ibn Al-Khattab sentence a lunatic woman to death even though he knew that an insane person is not to be punished for his or her crime?

Narrated Ali ibn Abu Talib:

Ibn Abbas said: A lunatic woman who had committed adultery was brought to Umar. He consulted the people and ordered that she should be stoned.

Ali ibn Abu Talib passed by and said:

What is the matter with this (woman)? They said: This is a lunatic woman belonging to a certain family. She has committed adultery. Umar has given orders that she should be stoned.

He said: Take her back. He then came to him and said: Commander of the Faithful, do you not know that there are three people whose actions are not recorded: a lunatic till he is restored to reason, a sleeper till he awakes, and a boy till he reaches puberty?

He said: Yes. He then asked: Why is it that this woman is being stoned?

He said: There is nothing. He then said: Let her go. He (Umar) let her go and began to utter: Allah is most great. (Sunan Abi Dawud 4399)

It should be noted here that Umar ibn Al-Khattaab (Radhi’allahu’anhu= may Allah be pleased with him) was even criticized by Hazrat Ali ibn abi Talib (Radhi’allahu’anhu= may Allah be pleased with him) for sentencing that lunatic woman to death.

Umar (Radhi’allahu’anhu=may Allah be pleased with him) even knew that an insane person should not be given capital punishment since such a person is not responsible for his or her actions.


The scholar Al-Khattabi said about this hadith:

قلت لم يأمر عمررضي الله عنه برجم مجنونه مطبق عليها في الجنون ولا يجوز أن يخفى هذا ولا على أحد ممن بحضرته،

ولكن هذه امرأة كانت تجن مرة وتفيق أخرى فرأى عمر رضي الله عنه أن لا يسقط عنها الحد لما يصيبها من الجنون إذ كان الزنا منها في حال الإفاقة،

ورأى علي كرم الله وجهه أن الجنون شبهة يدرأ بها الحد عمن يبتلي به والحدود تدرأ بالشبهات لعلها قد أصابت ما أصابت وهي في بقية من بلائها فوافق اجتهاد عمر رضي الله عنه اجتهاده في ذلك فدرأ عنها الحد والله أعلم بالصواب.

Insanity= جنون is of various types. Intermittent insanity is a type and would be included in the word. Even so a version of the hadith hints to that more clearly, see sunnah.com/abudawud/40/52 


My translation: I say, Umar (RA) did not command stoning for an insane woman that was insane at all times, and it is not possible that this (knowledge of her insanity) was hidden from him and those around him.

Rather, this woman would be insane sometimes and sane at other times, so Umar (RA) thought the Hadd punishment would not be waived for her when the Zina she did was in a state of sanity.

And Ali (RA) thought that the insanity (even if intermittent) is enough doubt that punishments should be waived from the one who is suffering it since Hadd punishments are waived in the presence of doubts. Because it is possible that her madness affected her as long as she is in her sickness.

Umar (RA) came to agree with his Ijtihaad in this, so the Hadd was waived from her. And Allah knows best what is correct. (Ma’aalim As-Sunan 3/309)

Many books I looked at quoted this same opinion, thus it seems to be something accepted among scholars.

In essence, it seems to be about those who are insane only sometimes. Should the Hadd be applied to them if somehow it could be shown they were sane at the time of the crime?

Umar (RA) and the Sahabah=companions of the Prophet around him originally decided that it should be applied.

Ali (RA) disagreed because the hadith of the Prophet (SAW) said “The pen is lifted” from insane people until they became sane. And he interpreted this to mean completely sane, not just sane for the time being. He said the insanity is reasonable doubt to waive the punishment.

Umar ibn Al Khattab was a companion and is not infallible. Often the companions made mistakes that the Prophet corrected. The companions had wars with each other (Ali vs Muawiya), so they made mistakes. Eventually Umar ibn Al-Khattab did not carry the punishment for adultery on that woman due to her condition of insanity.

They aren’t infallible. Even the Prophet Muhammad (salallahu 3alayhe waslam=peace be upon him), according to Shaykh Ahmad Saad Alazhari, when making judgments only made judgments according to what he knew of people.

He said that some people may present a case more favorably/clearly than others and he may rule in favor of them by mistake. That was the Prophet, obviously was infallible in regards to conveying the message of Islam and the revelation, as Allah Exalted He told us in the Glorious Holy Quran.


Umar (RA) came to agree with him and let her go.

Allah knows Best.

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