Author Topic: The Gory Truth About Stoning  (Read 2328 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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The Gory Truth About Stoning
« on: July 09, 2010, 11:34:30 am »
from THE DAILY BEAST:

The Gory Truth About Stoning
by Reza Aslan


News that Iran has suspended the stoning of a 43-year-old mother of two, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, for the crime of adultery certainly came as a relief. But the case has once again focused international attention on a barbaric and draconian form of punishment that, in some Muslim states, has become an effective and horrific tool of misogyny.

Stoning is a brutally precise punishment with a host of specific procedures and regulations. The convicted person is wrapped in a shroud, placed into a pit, and buried either to the waist if a man or the chest if a woman. If the adultery was proven in court by confession, the judge has the responsibility of throwing the first stone. But if the case was proven through witnesses, they start first, followed by the judge, and then by any others who are present, the number of which cannot be less than three. The stones are then hurled one by one until the accused is killed. And if the person manages to wriggle out of the pit, she or he is set free (which explains why these pits are so often little more than loosely packed holes in the ground).

The punishment for adultery in the Quran is lashes, not stoning. In fact, nowhere in the whole of the Quran is stoning prescribed for any crime.

The Iranian Penal Code is chillingly explicit regarding the proper stones to use. Section 119 states: “The stones for stoning to death shall not be so big that one or two of them shall kill the convict, nor shall they be so small that they may not be called ‘stones.’”

Islamic law considers adultery, or zina, to be one of six Quran-mandated offenses whose punishment is prescribed by God (the other five are false accusations of adultery, theft, robbery with violence, apostasy, and drunkenness). These are essentially a random collection of crimes whose only connection is that their punishment is mentioned somewhere in the Quran. Consequently, these “crimes” receive special treatment in Islamic law.

But the punishment for adultery in the Quran is lashes, not stoning. In fact, nowhere in the whole of the Quran is stoning prescribed for any crime—though this is a point of endless debate for legal and religious scholars.

Although zina literally means adultery, in practice it refers to any unlawful sexual act, whether adultery (illicit sex between married persons), fornication (sex between unmarried persons), sodomy, rape, or incest. However, even the simplest definition of zina can become hopelessly entangled in the complexities of Muslim sexual ethics. For instance, some legal scholars suggest that zina should not be applied in instances in which a married person is unable to enjoy his or her spouse due to legally acceptable conditions, such as prolonged travel or life imprisonment. Then there is the problematic relationship between adultery and rape in some Islamic penal codes. Rape victims can themselves be charged with adultery if they are unable to definitively prove sexual coercion. Indeed, there have been some cases in which the victims of rape, rather than the rapists, are convicted of zina and stoned to death for adultery.

Adding to all of this confusion is the fact it is nearly impossible to legally convict someone of zina in Islamic law. Without exception, zina must be proven in a court of law either by four clear and unambiguous confessions made in four separate meetings with a qualified judge, or by the attestation of four men of “blameless integrity” who must all profess to be direct eyewitnesses to the crime. (If four men are not available, three men and two women will suffice.) Where one finds four blameless men who happen to have simultaneously witnessed the very private act of sexual intercourse between two people is another matter.

It is for this reason that even those countries that still have stoning in their penal codes go to such lengths to work around the punishment. After Zia al-Haq instituted the Islamic Penal Code in Pakistan, over 95 percent of adultery convictions between 1980 and 1987 were overturned on legal technicalities. In Iran—a country that, to this day, applies a strict interpretation of Islamic law—a temporary moratorium was placed on the practice of stoning a decade ago, due in part to a vigorous debate in the courts over the legality of the punishment.

Nevertheless, despite its illegitimacy as a Quran-mandated punishment and regardless of the many legal impediments embedded in Islamic law to deter its use—especially when the accuser himself can be punished if the accused is found innocent—the practice of stoning adulterers continues in a number of conservative Muslim countries. The vast majority of these stoning cases are undocumented because they occur in the most rural, poorest, and least-educated regions of the countries (though often with the tacit approval of the government).

Consequently, those like Ms. Ashtiani, who have been charged and “tried” by their village elders, are often totally unaware of their rights under Islamic law; indeed, the judges themselves are sometimes ignorant of the complexities of the law and the burden of proof required for conviction. Too often, this ignorance allows the zeal of the community to dictate guilt or innocence, which is why zina laws are so often used as a means of exploiting women (men are rarely convicted of adultery even though the crime, by definition, requires two people to commit). Jealous husbands have used the zina laws to punish their wives, while angry fathers have used the laws to castigate their daughters.

And while global support and outrage seems to have stopped the Iranian government from stoning the mother of two to death this time, there are too many women who can’t garner that sort of attention. Women you will probably never hear about until it is too late.

Reza Aslan is author of the international bestseller No god but God and How to Win a Cosmic War (published in paperback as Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in a Globalized World). Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


Offline CKW

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Re: The Gory Truth About Stoning
« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2010, 12:18:17 pm »
"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

 There are 'spiritual police officers' in several countries who have the power to arrest, detain and brutalise people that they deem to have disrespected the faith. What angers me, is that these 'officers' don't even know their own religion.

And Christianity isn't getting off either, because women were burnt for being witches and 'strange fruits' were hung from trees, all in Jesus name.
« Last Edit: July 09, 2010, 01:53:37 pm by CKW »

Offline Battle

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Re: The Gory Truth About Stoning
« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2010, 06:56:25 am »
...And Christianity isn't getting off either, because women were burnt for being witches and 'strange fruits' were hung from trees, all in Jesus name...



...amen. ;D

Offline Kristopher

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Re: The Gory Truth About Stoning
« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2010, 09:03:40 am »
And Christianity isn't getting off either, because women were burnt for being witches and 'strange fruits' were hung from trees, all in Jesus name.
In opposition to what Jesus ACTUALLY taught and wanted from HIS followers.


AMEN :)

michaelintp

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Re: The Gory Truth About Stoning
« Reply #4 on: July 11, 2010, 11:11:14 pm »
I'm relieved that the Iranian leadership, as a result of international pressure, has decided not to stone Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. She was already given lashes, a vicious punishment, and was supposed to be released, then they took her back in (prompted by false charges) and reevaluated her penalty. Her son has been very active in international circles pushing for this suspension, and visits her frequently (for the brief visits allowed).

I certainly laud Reza Aslan for his article, drawing attention to this matter and condemning the practice of stoning. Of course what is or is not allowed under Islamic law is not an issue that I am qualified to address here, though it would appear that there are some "conservative" Muslims who disagree with Aslan, including the Iranian clerics (who are viewed as scholars in their own circles). Perhaps they are relying not on the literal words of the Qur'an but rather on some "hadith" (recordations of the words and deeds of Muhammad and his Companions, the traditions that in addition to the words of the Qur'an are taken into account in the formulation of Islamic jurisprudence). 

There is disagreement in Islamic circles as to which ahadith are authentic. But that is obviously a discussion for religious Muslims to engage in. This does make me curious, however, as to what sources the Iranian clerics and others in "conservative Muslim countries" are relying on, since they too are familiar with the Qur'an and the ahadith and the sharia (Islamic law).

And of course, no matter what source is relied upon, the practice is barbaric and disturbing beyond words.

Finally, I don't understand the knee-jerk reaction of some of you, when confronted with barbaric practices of extremists today, to bash Christianity; to look back to the practice of Christians hundreds of years ago, long abandoned and repudiated by Christians everywhere. As though there were any moral equivalence between contemporary Christians and contemporary "fundamentalist" Muslims (in "conservative Muslim countries" as the article states). For heaven's sake, we are talking about people being stoned to death in the 21st Century for sexual indiscretions. Must you find moral equivalence in everything? Your deflecting the focus onto Christianity is itself immoral. By so doing, you undermine moral outrage, where outrage is morally justified.

Added Later:

The fate of the woman is still in doubt

However, is Sakineh Mohammedie Ashtiani still subject to execution by some other means? It appears she may still be executed by hanging: 

http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/294445

It appears that, as demonstrated on video, senior Iranian clerics and officials have participated in stonings. The video below is a documentary recording of four individuals being stoned in one of the security centers in Tehran in the presence of high ranking officials of the regime's judiciary. The video shows the representative of the prosecutor reading out the verdicts. He declares that the verdicts were issued by Ali Razini, the head of Judicial Organization of the Military Forces. Razini can be seen in the video tape, and throws the first stone. The prosecutor of military forces, Niazi, is also present. Razini is currently the head of Tehran's Justice Department and also heads the "Special Clerical Court."  At a point in the video, you can see the picture of Ayatollah Khomeini hanging behind the above mentioned authorities of the regime on the stage:

http://www.iran-e-azad.org/stoning/video.html

It turns out I was correct in my speculation that there are ahadith that support stoning:

"While Sakineh Mohammedie Ashtiani has been granted a reprieve, she is not the only woman sentenced to be stoned for adultery in Iran. There have been at least six sentences carried out since 2006, says Ann Harrison, an Iran expert at Amnesty International in London." 

It only stands to reason that there has to be some theological justification for the practice, given that the Iranian Mullahs are well-versed in their own faith. "Stoning is based on sayings from the Prophet Mohammed, known collectively as the hadith, says Mohammed Ali Musawi, a research fellow at the Quilliam Foundation, which describes itself as an 'anti-extremist think tank.'"

See CNN Article with the above quotes: 
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/07/09/quran-doesnt-call-for-stoning-experts-insist/?hpt=C1
Apparently this article originally did not contain a reference to the ahadith, and wholly denied the existence of any source for stoning; it was later updated to include the brief reference above. (As an aside, the article is incorrect that stoning has only taken place in Iran.)  In any event, the article does now have the reference to the ahadith, and given that CNN cannot be accused of an anti-Muslim agenda, it is worth sharing with you.

Here is more that touches on the sources in the ahadith:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajm (references and brief quotes)

http://www.tafsir.com/default.asp?sid=24&tid=35488 (quotes ahadith)

http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/001-adultery_punishment.htm (This appears to be a Christian group's webpage, critical of Islam, but the references are linked to a collection of ahadith from a USC academic website so the references do appear to be accurate).

There are clearly moderate Muslims who disagree that the imposition of stoning is justified under Islamic law, as well as others who do not support the rigid imposition of Islamic law at all. It is encouraging to see moderate Muslims stand up to the fundamentalists and repudiate barbaric practices such as the stoning of women (and men) who are convicted of engaging in prohibited sexual activity. These are the voices in the Muslim world that are worthy of our praise and support. There certainly are traditions in Islamic thought that can and do support a humanistic approach. Which is why, of course, the moderates (as well as members of other faiths) are viciously targeted by the Jihadist extremists.

I am, however, left with a few questions regarding Reza Aslan's article. He must be familiar with the ahadith, even if he rejects them as unauthentic, or views them as misunderstood by the extremists, or views them as inapplicable to our times. He doesn't mention them at all. Who is he writing for? People in the West, to galvanize human rights activists against stoning? Or fellow Muslims? If the latter, he really needs to address his broader approach to Islam and how he deals with the ahadith. Because he is not going to convince people by omitting key traditions that they may view as important. Or, finally (and the most disturbing possibility) is his objective to mislead his non-Muslim readers into believing that there is no Islamic basis for the punishment of stoning, when in fact there is (even though, for unstated reasons, he rejects the application of the ahadith or rejects the extremists' understanding of them). I certainly hope his goal is not simply to engage in a whitewash, as in his article he does draw attention to this important issue, and for that his article serves a valuable purpose. It just seems odd that as a practicing Muslim he would wholly ignore these longstanding traditional sources in his article. The omission is glaring. It would have been more helpful had he provided some understanding of his view of these sources, rather than just acting as if they don't exist.

michaelintp

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Re: The Gory Truth About Stoning
« Reply #5 on: July 18, 2010, 03:02:03 pm »
Given that Reza Aslan's article prompted my curiosity, I contacted him.  From our email conversation my impression comports with what most readers would conclude from the tenor of his article ... that he is sincerely interested in reforming Islam "from the inside." He is a strong proponent of interpreting the Qur'an (and Islamic Law) through the lens of historical context, as the faith changed even during the life of Muhammad, as circumstances changed, and so too should evolve as circumstances change up to the present day. He believes this "change from within" will be a more effective approach than trying to impose Western values from the outside. Though, frankly, I don't see that one excludes the other.  He too makes reference to the positive effect of the pressure from Human Rights groups and so on.

As to my question regarding the ahadith that support stoning, his first response was that "Zina is a hadd punishment the Hadith play no role whatsoever."  In other words, for specific crimes enumerated in the Qur'an, including crimes of sexual immorality (like adultery), the punishment cannot be less, nor can it exceed, the Divinely mandated punishment (here, 100 lashes).  I responded with the question that, if the ahadith are correct and Muhammad ordered stoning, how can a later scholar contradict Muhammad, given Muhammad more than any other man knew how to interpret the Qur'an?  In response to this, he shared with me an article he wrote.

After stating the hadd punishment principle (above), he argues that it is unclear whether Muhammad endorsed stoning before, or after, he received the revelation that discusses the 100 lashes. Obviously, if the revelation came later that would supersede anything he may have said earlier (not based on prophetic revelation). There is a hadith that specifically states that one of his Companions (earlier followers) did not know whether the events recounted in the ahadith came before or after the revelation. On the other hand, there is another hadith quoting one of the close succeeding Caliphs that states that there was in fact a revelation mandating stoning, but it was lost (another version stated that it was written on a palm leaf and a goat ate it), and thus it was not included in the official text of the Qur'an. Reza disregards this hadith, on the legal ground that it reports the words of only one witness, and furthermore, were it true, it would raise questions about a part of the Qur'an not included in the official Holy Text.  I did find a reference to a hadith that in his final farewell speech, Muhammad did endorse the practice of stoning.  When I asked Reza about this, he did not directly respond, but rather said that I should read his book; that the ahadith are not as authoritative as I might think.

The truth is, there are textual sources going both ways. From this interchange, I believe we can understand why the "conservative" scholars take a hard-line approach, and why reformers like Reza Aslan are warranted in taking a more humanistic approach, on this issue.

You know which side of the debate I favor.

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Re: The Gory Truth About Stoning
« Reply #6 on: July 18, 2010, 09:10:57 pm »
I'm glad you reached out to him, and appreciate you sharing with us.

michaelintp

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Re: The Gory Truth About Stoning
« Reply #7 on: July 19, 2010, 08:07:59 am »
Oh, there is another thing worth sharing.

Another thing Reza said in his article, which I'm sure the "conservative" theologians would view as revolutionary, is that "circumstances" should even be taken into account in reversing the "abrogation" of verses reflected in traditional Islamic theology.

I need to give a little background for this point:

For those familiar with the Qur'an, there are a number of verses that, for lack of better words, one might call "humanistic" or "tolerant," that arose during Muhammad's proselytizing in Mecca, when he was reaching out not only to pagans but also to Jews and Christians, and expected many of them to willingly embrace his new faith. These revelations were received at a time when he wielded no temporal power, and was in fact persecuted by the pagan Meccans. (For example, during this period, he  prayed facing Jerusalem). Later, after the Muslim migration to Mecca (marking the beginning of the Muslim calendar) he found his new faith largely rebuffed by the Jews of Mecca. As his faith began to meaningfully transcend tribal boundaries, resulting in his becoming a ruler as well as a prophet, the nature of his prophecies became more harsh, and some of the earlier revelations were abrogated in favor of the harsher ones. (This is not necessarily evident in reading the Qur'an, as the book does not contain the verses in chronological order). Reza, and really all Islamic scholars, acknowledge the tenor of the earlier Meccan revelations vs. the tenor of the later revelations in Medina. The nature of the revelations changed as “historical circumstances” changed.

Now here is the concept that Reza is advocating. These are my words, not his, but I’ll try to convey as accurately as I can what I believe he is saying. In his view, circumstances continued to change after the death of Muhammad. The circumstances that exist today are not the same as those existing in 7th Century Arabia.  Therefore, in our time, the more tolerant Meccan verses resonate with more people and may serve as a more appropriate basis for the evolution of the faith. Accordingly, he sees a basis today for reversing the “abrogation” process that took place at the later part of Muhammad’s life, to once again give primacy to the revelations he received earlier in his Prophecy.  Reza is not advocating that Islam evolve into something entirely new, but rather, in light of the ethical evolution of the world as a whole, that it should reach back into itself and give precedence to the principles of tolerance and universalism that were the hallmark of Muhammad’s original message.  While Reza didn’t state it quite this way, he clearly is advocating a reversal of the “abrogation” process in light of changed “historical circumstances.”  So I do believe what I am describing accurately reflects his approach.

This is not truly “revolutionary” since throughout Islamic history there have been strains and movements that have emphasized a more humanistic, universalistic, and tolerant ethos.  However, I have never personally heard it articulated in quite this way before. This is a very interesting approach. Certain to engender intense opposition from the “conservative” elements that he describes in his article.

It is a rational approach, and quite worthy. I'm not sure what he would do in the case of express Qur'anic verses that are not internally contradicted and unambiguous, for example the imposition of certain kinds of punishments that most people today find unacceptable, though his article above gives a hint as to his approach (by creating legal hurdles that can almost never be satisfied before the punishment can be imposed).

Enough of my summary. Here are Reza's own words regarding the abrogation issue:

"The second faction – the Modernists/Reformers – also regards the Shariah as sacred and revealed. However, the proponents of this group reject the static interpretations of the Traditionalists who “construct their exclusionary and intolerant theology by reading Quranic verses in isolation … as if moral ideas and historical context were irrelevant to their interpretation.”  They point to the fact that, even as divine Revelation, the Quran was revealed in response to very specific historical situations, even while its message is eternal. Indeed, the Quran’s precepts sometimes alter greatly depending on where and when a verse was revealed: in Mecca or Medina; at the beginning or the end of the Prophet Muhammad’s ministry. The more the situation of the Muslim community changed, the more the Revelation altered to match the community’s needs. Occasionally, these changes led to what appear to be significant contradictions in the text. To overcome this problem, Islamic scholars developed a vital exegetical tool called naskh, which can best be understood as the purposeful abrogation (not cancellation) of one verse with another. For the vast majority of Muslims in the world, naskh signals the belief that the Quran is a living, evolving scripture that developed alongside the Muslim community.

More than anything else, however, naskh demonstrates the importance of historical context in Quranic interpretation. Even if, like Ahmad Hasan, one rejects naskh altogether, there is still no way of reconciling the apparent contradictions in the Quran without appealing to its historical context. At the very least, according to Abdullahi An-Na’im, naskh exposes the possibility that modern situations can allow the later Medinan texts of the Quran to be superseded by the more universal Meccan verses because, to quote the great Sudanese legal reformer, Mahmoud Mohamed Taha: “the Meccan and Medinese texts [of the Quran] differ, not because of the time and place of revelation, but essentially because of the audience to which they are addressed.” 

And while it is true that, with the Prophet Muhammad’s death, the Revelation ceased evolving, it would be ludicrous to think that the Muslim community has also ceased evolving over the past fifteen hundred years; quite the contrary. The contemporary Muslim community – over one billion strong – bears almost no resemblance whatsoever to the tiny community the Prophet Muhammad left behind in the 7th Century.  If the Meccan and Medinan verses should be understood as addressing different audiences, as Taha suggests, how much more different are either of those audiences from the one the Quran addresses today? In short, the Revelation may be over, but that does not negate the fact that the Quran is still a living text and should be interpreted as such."

Offline Princesa

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Re: The Gory Truth About Stoning
« Reply #8 on: July 19, 2010, 06:16:21 pm »
Anyone interested in the politics of stoning please check out a movie I reviewed 'The Stoning of Soraya M' which is based on a true story and available for viewing on Netflix.

michaelintp

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Re: The Gory Truth About Stoning
« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2010, 01:20:17 pm »
Yes, that movie, and the true story upon which it is based, exemplifies how accusations of adultery and stoning can and are used to oppress women in the most brutal way imaginable.

Here is more on the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. It has only garnered international attention because her son has been so outspoken worldwide. Now the Iranian authorities are after him.

There are other less publicized cases as well.

Stoned in Iran
Justice in the Islamic Republic.

The Wall Street Journal
July 17, 2010

If an Iranian prosecutor has his way, a 43-year-old mother of two will soon be taken from her cell in Tabriz prison, wrapped in a white shroud, buried up to her chest in a dirt pit, and stoned to death. In accordance with Iran’s penal code, the rocks pelted at her head will be big enough to inflict pain, but not large enough to kill her immediately. It will take time—maybe half an hour—for her to die.

Welcome to Iranian justice, where the testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man, and gays are hanged in the public square.

The Islamic Republic insists that the crimes of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani are manifold. A poor Azeri who speaks little Persian, Ms. Ashtiani was first found guilty by an East Azerbaijan court in May 2006 of having “illicit relationships” with two men. For this, she was lashed 99 times.

In another trial several months later, she was sentenced to stoning for alleged adultery with the man accused of murdering her husband. Last Sunday the head of the East Azerbaijan Judiciary told the Islamic Republic News Agency that, in addition to these sexual crimes, Ms. Ashtiani was also convicted of the murder itself.

Following a campaign by her two children, the Western press and various politicians and celebrities, the Iranian embassy in London issued a statement last week saying the stoning was suspended. Yet Ms. Ashtiani’s fate remains unclear. Her lawyer, Mohammad Mostafai, says that the stay is ambiguous and that there’s a “very serious chance” of execution by other means, like hanging.

The chief of the judiciary in her province confirmed that “whenever the respectable head of the judiciary [Sadeq Larijani] finds it expedient, the execution of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani will be carried out.” Tehran has banned newspapers and TV stations from reporting accurately on Ms. Ashtiani’s case. Most Iranians don’t even know her name. Meanwhile, we hear that her 22-year-old son Sajad has been summoned by the Tabriz intelligence ministry. Our calls to him went unanswered.

Ten other Iranians accused of adultery (seven women and three men) currently await the same medieval punishment for their “crime against God,” according to Amnesty International. The silver lining in all of this is that the public outcry is making a difference. If only the Obama Administration understood this lesson.