Khalwat vs. Zina

A few days ago, Muslim Twitter blew up when this happened:

The sheikh in question, Assim Alhakeem (@assimalhakeem), caused an uproar on Muslim Twitter when he said that there is no punishment for “hanging out” as seen in the pictures above. Generally, Muslims lost it. It’s worth noting however that the sheikh reiterated many times that it is a sin, but it is not punishable under Shariah Law.

I cannot speak for the rest of the Muslim community, but I have observed many Malaysian Muslims who were baffled by his statement. The most common question was: “What about la taqrabu zina (do not go near adultery)?”, a phrase that can be found in [17:32].


  • Zina = unlawful sexual intercourse (pre-marital/extra-marital)
  • Khalwat = close proximity, excessive closeness/illicit contact with persons of the opposite sex

While khalwat might or might not lead to zina, it is not the same as zina. The prescribed punishment for zina as written in [24:2] is a hundred stripes each for the adulterer and adulteress. But what is the prescribed punishment for khalwat?


However, just because there is not prescribed punishment, it does not mean that we cannot give it a prescribed punishment. In Malaysia, khalwat is an offence under Shariah Law and our religious police frequently do ‘khalwat raids’. Images below are just some examples:


Religious Police: What You Need To Know

  1. They cannot arrest people, only the police can.
    • This is why they always bring police officers with them. There are two types of arrests – those with warrants, and those without. An arrest without warrant can only be conducted for seizable offences under the Penal Code, not offences under State Laws (Example: Shariah Law).
  2. They are not allowed to detain you for more than 24 hours.
  3. They are not allowed to force entry into a room.
UK’s Channel 4 documentary on religious police raids

If they disobey any of these 4 rules above, please know that you have every legal right to sue them.

Special thanks to Cilisos for most of the information on how much power religious authorities have in Malaysia. To know what to do when faced with unlawfulness by the religious police, head on to their website to read about it.

It is worth pointing out that Malaysia is the only Muslim country in which khalwat is a punishable offence. Personally, I believe that we have been putting so much emphasis on la taqrabu zina that we can no longer tell the difference between acts that might lead to zina and zina itself.

Another interesting fact: Malaysia is the only Muslim country that gazettes fatwas into laws. However, this is nothing to be surprised of. Pew Research Centre has conducted a study showing that Malaysia has more stringent religious controls than in Saudi, Syria, and Brunei.

Assim Alhakeem is only explaining Shariah Law as he understands it from his context. It really is simple – “hanging out” (as he calls it) is a sin, but it is not a punishable offence under the Shariah Law of Saudi Arabia.

PS: Please don’t tell me about some contradictory thing the sheikh said from way before because I am not interested in him and neither am I defending him. I am merely agreeing with this particular point he is making and explaining why I do so.


[2] The Legal Perspective of Khalwat (Close Proximity) as a Shariah Criminal Offence in Malaysia
[3] Application of Islamic law by country
[4] What happens during khalwat raids? UK broadcaster joins Malaysia’s religious police in a show-all (VIDEO)
[5] Why I Do Not Agree With Hudud In Malaysia

Shafiqah Othman Hamzah

Shafiqah is a Singapore-born Malaysian who is best known for her advocacy on social and human rights issues. She is notably known for her tweets and for being a columnist on Malay Mail.

%d bloggers like this: