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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. Eva

    Islam is like Christianity WAS.... 500 years ago!! Maybe more! these people are living in the dark ages.

    Maybe stoning women over adultery isn't condoned by the Quran but you have to consider that the Quran has spurred this type of violent and unforgiving society.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
    • john

      Eva, Islam is nothing like Christianity. I have this pet peave with people like you, you know the ones who talk about things they know nothing about, they ones who have never taken time to study the evidence, the biased people who just come up with anything or repeat false hoods they have heard from others, those people who just repeat talking points they heard from someone else, the ones who don't make a just argument based on facts. Those people, you Eva!!

      July 9, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  2. Bob

    This is proof that religion is no longer needed.....we are intelligent enough to think for ourselves......dissolve all religions and you'll see a peaceful planet..........

    July 9, 2010 at 9:22 pm |
    • john

      Well Bob if we dissolve all religions then where does that leave you seeing how it takes faith to believe in Secularism, atheism, and evolution. This gets old doesn't it? Islam has been a brutal Political ideology since it's conception. The Koran and Hadith with it's Sharia law tells these people to be murderous. That's not the case with other religions. Maybe if we do away with people who think like you we will have peace.

      July 9, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  3. readthebook

    that which is not a sin for some people is not a sin for all people – particularly when it comes to the abrahmic religions or the ahle-kitaab because they follow the same God and the same prophets.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
  4. Dave

    Why are we in the US so shockedl? You've just got to love the self-righteous, judgmental, "religious" right...we just executed a man in Utah via firing sqaud, for God's sake! I think it's high time the whole world rises out of the dark ages.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:17 pm |
  5. Jesus

    lol look at the man made bibles of the "christians"

    they are just as crazy.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
    • George

      yes, I suppose the extra biblilcal evidence by josephus, taticus, pliner the younger and others that corroborate 1st century Roman world makes the NT just as crazy .... why don't you read a little

      July 9, 2010 at 10:14 pm |
    • Kaylan

      I disagree. Christianity is true and given to us by God. Islam came around after the Jewish faith and Christianity. It is man-made, if you want to bring up the topic.

      July 9, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  6. Guest

    THUGOCRACY!

    July 9, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
  7. Brandi

    Does nobody understand what kind of guts it takes to stand up like this in a country so frought with injustice and the most severe kinds of punishments that can be meted out from one human to another? The kind of centuries old way of thinking they are challenging and taking a firm stand on? They are showing their faces to the world and risking everything- instead of looking down on their religion why on earth can't we take a moment to be in awe of their courageousness, and their willingness to put so much at risk for change and for what is right? How often in our lives are we challenged to do this and would we if we had to? Instead of seeking ways to be divisive we should stand with these women because they stand with truth and it is too easy to be on the wrong side of history. Right on, sisters! You have our attention and our respect

    July 9, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  8. John in Tampa

    Well, somethings rotten here and this isn't Denmark. The Prophet Mohammad said that and it did not get into the Koran. So did god mess up, or did the the Prophet mes up, or did other people control what got recorded and they messed up? Any way you look at it, you don't have a full deck, you do not have an infallible book.

    What I would hate to think though is that there are people alive today who are even more insane than the Prophet was. Who make laws more pointless and barbarous than even HE could think up. That's just so ef'd up, huh?

    July 9, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  9. Yassin

    Christians don't stone no the are worse the drop atomic bombs on women children killed them with white fosfor bombs

    July 9, 2010 at 9:07 pm |
    • Greg C.

      Yassin – we've improved our targeting; we use artificial intelligence with laser-guided precision to single out morons that view Iran's practice as "acceptable"...

      July 9, 2010 at 9:17 pm |
    • Tovah

      The difference is not everyone in the USA is christian, and if there are bombs dropped they aren't sanctioned by a neandrathalic God that loves violence (ie. allah)

      July 9, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
  10. ThorGoLucky

    It doesn't matter what the Quran says. Society progresses by abandoning quaint scriptures and their babblings.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  11. IslamIsNeat!

    More nonviolent humanitarianism from the religion of peace. Way to go Islam, you rock!

    July 9, 2010 at 9:02 pm |
  12. Proud Infidel

    Oh, phew, it doesn't call for stoning, just 100 lashes. No it's advanced from the 7th century to the 17th. Islam FAIL.

    July 9, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
  13. Prometheus

    Muslims must be confused..It IS the bible that orders stoning...

    July 9, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
  14. Rojas

    And should we care if the Koran DID call for stoning, or some other method of non-instantaneous execution? By scrambling to check "THE BOOK" we only validate the Iranian paradigm of blindly following the 1400 year old instructions of their less-than-egalitarian religion.

    July 9, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
  15. Floyd

    Why even participate in this theocratic charade? Put up our "experts" against Iran's "experts?"

    If it could be proved to everybody's satisfaction that the Quran _does_ in fact sanction stoning, does that make it okay?

    Let's quit pretending that the reason we object to ritual murder of another human being by an angry mob of stone-throwers is that it (may be) forbidden by the f-ing Quran! We object to it on humanist principals. We object to it because it is cruel and immoral.

    Religious texts are no reason to do (or not do) anything.

    July 9, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
  16. Miami

    This barbaric!!! We are in the 21st century. It shows how backward these people are

    July 9, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  17. hardright

    leave to CNN to sanitize the headline and get some experts together to comment on this atrocity. and you people making comments and discussing this like it's a legitimate discussion, SHAME ON YOU. let's all call a spade a spade. the gov of iran, sharia law, radical islam, heck, islam in general (by and large) are all just a bunch of animals, or evil, pick one...these people, the larger portion of the billion or so that exist are a BLIGHT on this planet and the sooner the apocolypse arrives and the sane on this planet can wipe them out, the better. ANIMALS!

    July 9, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  18. pj

    Let's all get korans and rub dog do do all over them

    July 9, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  19. Van Morrison

    .......and it stoned me to my soul.

    July 9, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  20. dave adams

    CNN has it wrong again...The "Issue" is not the stoning but the human rights of women...This kind of reporting factual as it is implies that the issue is the stoning.The issue my friends is the women get treated like slaves

    July 9, 2010 at 8:44 pm |
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About this blog

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.