July 9th, 2010
12:05 PM ET

Quran doesn't call for stoning, experts insist

International outcry - and the pleas of a devoted son - seem to have saved an Iranian woman from being stoned to death for adultery.

But while Sakineh Mohammedie Ashitani 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.

Adultery is the only crime that carries such a penalty in Iranian law, she said.

Only a handful of countries have laws calling for stoning, and Iran is the only one that carries out executions that way, Amnesty International records suggest.

That is because Islam doesn't really want the punishment to be carried out, says Ziba Mir-Hosseini, an Iranian-born campaigner against the practice.

"Stoning is not a Quranic punishment, it is Islamic jurisprudence. It happened later," says Mir-Hosseini, an expert on Iranian family law at London's School of Oriental and African Studies. "The punishment for any kind of sexual relations (outside of marriage) in the Quran is 100 lashes," she says.

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."

Under the letter of Islamic law, it's nearly impossible to prove adultery, he says.

"How you prove adultery or fornication is to have four male witnesses - or two women for every male equivalent - all of them known to be upright, with no questions about their moral character, who witnessed the actual act of intercourse between the male and the female," he says.

"Basically, in normal life, this is next to impossible, to have four people testify that in the same place, at the same time, they saw the act of penetration," he argues.

False testimony can itself be punished with whipping, he says, because "it is such a severe sin."

"As you can imagine, if people were following these laws as they are stated, there would be next to no stonings," he says.

Even if someone confesses to serious sexual impropriety, they should be sent away three times to reconsider their confessions, he says, and only punished if they have admitted it four times, he adds.

But Iranian law is different, Mir-Hosseini says.

"In the case of this woman and other cases, the standard is 'the judge's knowledge,'" she says - in other words, whether the judges believe adultery has been committed.

She sees stoning as a way of putting pressure on women, she says, particularly in provincial areas.

"So far there have been no sentences of stoning in Tehran, only in the provinces. It happens when the judge has a grudge against the woman," she argues, although she notes that only the Iranian Ministry of Justice has full records of how many stonings there have been, and where.

Men, too, can be stoned for adultery in Iran, she says.

The practice was banned under the secularizing Iranian shahs of the early 20th century, she says, then reinstated after the Islamic revolution of 1979.

"After the revolution, one of the first things the clerics wanted to do was put aside the 1920 secular legal code," which was based on French law, she explains.

"In 1982, the parliament called for Islamic punishments," she says. There was some resistance from senior clerics, but the founder of the revolution, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, intervened to get it passed.

Stoning remained law in the updated 1992 penal code, she says, but in the first draft of a 2007 revision, it wasn't there.

"After the intervention of (hard-line President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, it was restored," she says.

That new legal code has not yet been approved, she says.

It's not clear who will win the battle over the code working its way through the system now, she says, but it does include a potentially face-saving way to keep stoning on the books without having to carry it out.

"There is a provision that, in cases where stoning causes harm to Islam, it can be substituted with other punishments," she says.

She thinks it's no accident that people are being stoned these days, amid political unrest in Iran.

"It has become a political matter," she contends. "Whenever there is a dispute between traditionalists and reformers in the judiciary," stonings increase.

"Stoning is one of those issues that has really (been problematic) for the Islamic republic because it is not accepted by society, including the judiciary," she claims. But there continue to be stonings, she says, because "like anywhere else, you have hardliners. You have radicals."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Iran • Islam • Violence

soundoff (594 Responses)
  1. Junaid

    This is what Quran says;

    (2:285) The messenger has full conviction in what is revealed to him from his Lord and so do the believers. Each one of them believes in God, His angels, His Books and His messengers. (They say), “We make no distinction between any of His messengers.” And they say, “We hear and we obey, so grant us the protection of forgiveness, our Lord. The final destination of all journeys is unto You.” [No distinction since all of them were sent by the same Creator and they were one in purpose.]

    There is no distinction between Moses, Jesus, Abraham, David, Muhammad and all other messengers (mentioned in Quran). All should be treated and respected alike. They all were one in purpose. What was the purpose?

    To do works that benefit humanity and nothing else is required.

    (2:62) Indeed, those who believe (in the Qur’an and call themselves Muslims), and those who are Jews, and Christians and the Sabians; whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day and does works that benefit humanity, their reward is with their Lord. For them shall be no fear from without, nor shall grief touch them from within.

    This is what Quran says and this is what Muslims should believe. I am unable to understand what these people are doing 🙁

    January 29, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  2. Dave

    It continues to amaze me that humans are so stupid that they have to delve into writings which originated 1400-2000 years ago to look for meaning in their lives.. Hmm.... is it ok to kill other people... I'm no rocket scientist and I know that is wrong. The bible was edited about 200 ad for content – many books were either added or thrown out.. I think that gives Holy – ala Holely a new meaning.. Those were men doing the editing guys.. people who had educations from the era of approximately 200 ad. God never admitted to writing anything.. 2000 years from now will Rush Limbaugh be looked upon as a Prophet? Hey he wrote a book also.. Come on people.. start using that thing that God put between your ears and stop following the written word of men from near pre-historic times.. People are suffering all around us... reach out a hand and help.. and stop looking for 1400-3000 year old books to tell you what to do.... You already know. This seriously can't be a debate about whether stoning is right nor not ... or can it be.. If God favors the stupid.. many of you are in very good shape for judgment day..

    August 15, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  3. Johanna

    I agree with Rhonda. If the woman is to be treated this way for adultery, then the man who she presumably had the affair with should also be punished. If not, let the woman go. That is what I find to be unjust in Iran and other Muslim countries: why is the woman treated unfairly? Men and women are EQUAL. I understand the religion but treating people unjustly is not right. The bibles (ie religious documents, whichever you use) were written by MAN not a god. This is ridiculous!

    August 5, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  4. Saddened

    Seems oddly like the witch trials and persecutions of centuries ago. If someone had a grudge against someone else (usually, but not always a woman) all they had to do was accuse them of witchcraft and the person they accused would be tortured until they confessed and then executed. As for AnotherBob's contention that FOX News reported that she had plotted to have her husband killed, I thought I had read and heard elsewhere that her son AND husband were begging the courts to spare her life. Does anyone know if there's a translation of a site from Iran with more facts on her case?

    August 4, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  5. wesley

    God didn`t ask for women to be put to death. Why waste a good looking female? Let her be and let her live the life that she want`s

    July 16, 2010 at 1:01 am |
    • wesley

      Thank you Gary. You nailed it

      July 16, 2010 at 1:02 am |
  6. Jake

    These books were written by men. These days it's often you hear from a minister...I talked with god last night. I guess they could say they're apostles too. I agree with the good intent of many parts of the bibles' but can you really believe if you have a ane mind the rest?

    July 14, 2010 at 11:02 am |
    • Gary

      Jake you are very correct. all religious texts were written by men not by a God. King James totally changed books in bible giving Anglo saxon names to Jesus diciples and characters in the bible....there were no Timothys,Matthew,Johns,running around middle east 2100 years ago. King James also dosnt Call Jesus by his real jewish name ... If religious folks choose to believe the quoran bible ect that is their right. They are going on faith not fact..........

      July 14, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • wesley

      Thank you Jake. You said it all.......

      July 16, 2010 at 1:04 am |
  7. Tyler

    @ All of the individuals debating the validity of stoning as a "Christian" punishment and in the broader sense the Old vs. New covenant.

    Allow me to set all of you straight by making a simple clarification. The law has NOT changed, however when grace was introduced through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the punishment was. Stoning was never the law, it was the consequence of breaking the law. So the law has not changed, do not commit adultery. However, Christ bore all sin on the cross for all those who would accept such grace. So the consequence has already been carried out on Jesus' body rather than our own.

    God Bless,


    July 14, 2010 at 10:40 am |
    • Adam

      Please provide a scriptural reference that shows that you may interpret the WORD OF GOD in the way you want to interpret it.

      1. The Bible is the Word of God (if you disagree with this part then I am not sure how you can call yourself a Christian)

      2. God says that if a woman is found to not be a virgin on her wedding night then "they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her fathers house and there her townsman shall stone her to death." Deuteronomy 22:20-21

      3. God also says "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." Deuteronomy 12:32

      4. THUS, if you do not stone women who are not virgins on their wedding night you are DISOBEYING THE WORD OF GOD.

      Anything else, I would argue, and you have merely used your own personal interpretation which NECESSARILY comes from outside the Bible, to amend your holy text to fit with what you would like to believe.

      July 14, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  8. GW

    Jim, so God's law changed after Christ died on the cross? So God's creation prior to Christ were worth less than I am? It is more barbarian to stone someone today than it was 3000 years ago? I'm confused.

    And as for your "prove it" mandate. I can't prove that I have cancer, but I can't prove that I don't either. So I am going to go ahead and start chemotherapy. By your argument, if I can't prove that God doesn't exist, I am compelled to believe that he does. If I follow that logic, if I can't prove that I don't have cancer, I am compelled to start tratment.

    July 14, 2010 at 3:21 am |
  9. IslamPeaceful?

    If it is only .01% of Islam that is "extremists", and the other 99.9% is peaceful... then where are the 99.9% that are standing against the extremists? Where are the muslim hospitals, cherities, relief efforts, etc...?

    July 13, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Helping hands, islamic relief are on the forefront of relief organizations across the globe.

      99.9 % peaceful people are the biggest victims of those 0.1 % extremists. Please don't blame the victims, they need kind words and support in this time of trial. Try to be american, read 3 cups of tea. There are people who are trying to help them educate and get rid of extremism and poverty.

      July 13, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  10. PaulC

    These laws were made by men so it is not surprising that men rule.
    Please know that Islam is the fastest growing group in the world and is expected to dominate every country in the future.
    Throughout history Christianity was guilty of many stupid and horrendous laws and acts but has significantly matured so that today, in most countries, Christianity does not rule the social and personal lives of the people.

    July 13, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  11. DK

    Those poor women in those god-foresaken countries. I don't understand why the men want to die and go to heaven to have 100 virgins (or however many). They don't even treasure the women they have here on earth. I am so thankful I live in the USA. At least our men are caring and loving.

    July 13, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  12. Mike P

    H E L P _ M E _ P L E A S E ! ! I am T R A P P E D on a F * * K I N G _ S T O N E _ A G E _ P L A N E T

    July 13, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  13. sarah

    The author states that the punishment of stoning is mandated not in the Quaran, but in the Hadith. Just to illuminate anyone who isn't familiar with Islam, most muslims put equal stock in the Hadith and Quaran. Both are seen as holy books.

    July 13, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Yes sarah. as Muslims we believe in both Quran and Hadeeth. Hadeeth is like practical implementation of Quran. Having said this, I will also like to point out that even when the Prophet (Pbuh) stoned a woman, it was only when he asked her to go home and seek forgiveness but she was the one who persisted. This Irani woman is not pleading guilty. They cannot stone her or even give her lashes. According to Quran and Hadeeth, either 4 people have to see them in the middle of the act or they confess for their crime. Only then can they be punished.
      Secondly there is no difference in man and woman. They both should be pardoned or punished equally. In this case they both should be pardoned.

      July 13, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
  14. Gary

    All muslims deserve to be stoned.....

    July 13, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
    • bstone

      They like violent punishments, don't they? The Quran is the holy book of muslims described by them as a miracle that cannot be altered or changed, yet we hear from muslims including poster Umme Omar that hadith is as good as the quran. On the other hand if the quran is the word of god and hadith is the words of mohammed and it is clear that some of mohammed's etchings are violating the quran then Is it possible that, assuming that the quran is the truth, the hadith is a bunch of fabricated lies by arabs and not mohammed based on arab traditions and hence it was given as high of importance as the quran the keep all nonsense traditions alive? I find muslims very conflicting by nature and they always insist that although it's not in the quran, it is the word of god because mohammed, supposedly, said so.

      December 17, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  15. Libby

    The stoning of Soraya is a movie and should be watched.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  16. QMAX1234

    The verse of stoning was omitted from the Quran. Muhammad knew about it until his death see here:


    July 13, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  17. Ruth

    And the hundreds of so called "honor killings" done by Muslims around the world each year, how do you explain away those? And the fact that in Muslim countries men who commit homor killings are not punished. Islam is a religion of violence.

    July 13, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Honor killing has no place in Islam. It came from the culture. Yesterday a non Muslim couple was tortured to death in India because the boy's family was of lower caste. This is called honor killing. Please look around the world, study Islam from authentic sources and then say these things on CNN. You know as an American, I feel very bad when we give ignorant comments on mainstream media. Everybody gets to read them across the globe and it does not leave a good impression.

      July 13, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.