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Those who commit unlawful sexual intercourse of your women - bring against them four [witnesses] from among you. And if they testify, confine the guilty women to houses until death takes them or Allah ordains for them [another] way. And the two who commit it among you, dishonor them both. But if they repent and correct themselves, leave them alone. Indeed, Allah is ever Accepting of repentance and Merciful. -- Qur'an 4:15-16

Judging from some other translations, the "two who commit it" are both men, so it seems like it is referring to anal intercourse between men. But I want to check if this is the only possible interpretation.

Question: Does the Arabic in Qur'an 4:16 "...the two who commit it..." necessarily refer to two men?

This tafsir indicates it's referring to two men:

And when two of you read wa’lladhāni or wa’lladhānni men commit it that is a lewd act adultery or homosexual intercourse punish them both with insults and beatings with sandals -- Tafsir al-Jalalayn

However, this one suggests it's not necessarily two men, but it's a bit unclear:

(And as for the two of you) of your free people, i.e. any unmarried man or woman (who are guilty thereof) who are guilty of adultery, (punish them both) by maligning and upbraiding them. -- Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs

  • In Arabic if you have one man and no matter how many women, you'll use the male version of the conjugation of words. Similar to French or some other languages. So in the Arabic sense of the sentence it doesn't necessarily refer to two men. But looking at the sentence before, you see that it refers to two women so by comparison the second must follow by two men. Because the punishment is different, the first sentence will serve no purpose if you follow the second punishment for men and women. if you understand what I mean. Wa allaho Alam (God knows better) – Ismasou Jun 4 '17 at 11:09
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The Arabic in Qur'an 4:16 uses the masculine form, which is used to address either men alone, or men and women collectively. As you noted, it is not that straight forward to understand whom is being addressed, and indeed, there is a scholarly difference of opinions.

Al-Tabari is of the opinion that the verse is addressing the relationship between chaste men and chaste women. He explained that had the verse been addressing men only, it would have used the word al-lathīna (Arabic: الذين) to address men at large (more than one), or al-lathī (Arabic: الذي) to address a single man and employ the rule of extrapolation of a general one-to-many. Of a similar opinion to al-Tabari (not a comprehensive list) are 'Abdallah ibn Wahb ibn Muslim, Ahmad ibn al-Mufaddal al-Khoza'i, 'Atta' ibn Abu Rabah, Isma'il ibn 'Abdur-Rahman al-Suddi, Muhammad ibn al-Hussain ibn 'Ali, and Usama ibn Zaid al-Laithi.

There is a second opinion that says Qur'an 4:16 is potentially referring to homosexual relationships between men only. Among them are (not a comprehensive list) Abu Hisham al-Rifa'i, 'Abdullah ibn Abu Najeeh, 'Abdul-Malik ibn 'Abdul-'Aziz ibn Juraij, and Yahya ibn Ayuub al-Masri.

There is a third opinion that that says Qur'an 4:16 is potentially referring to hetrosexual relationships between men and women with no condition of chastity. Among them are (not a comprehensive list) al-Hassan al-Basri, Abu Hisham al-Rifa'i (also adopts the possibility of the second opinion), Muhammad ibn Hummayyid, Yahya ibn Wadih al-Marwazi, and Yazid ibn Abi Sa'id al-Nahwi.

Note that for Qur'an 4:15, there are different interpretations of the verse. Some scholars interpret the verse as pertaining to homosexual relationship between women, or heterosexual relationship between women and men. There is no disagreement that I know of that the verse refers only to married women.

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No. The dual demonstrative pronoun اللذان may refer to two men as well as one man and one woman, despite being masculine. This is general style of Arabic language. For example, even though والدان is masculine, it refers to both father and mother.

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