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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. Chipotle

    Does anyone know whats the punsihment for adultry in US? Or is the socially engineered norm called 'girl friend/ boy friend' devised to quench the uncontrolable lust stemming from all the nudity around us makes it cool? Just three generations ago right here in the US adultry would have been looked down upon as a society and considered a moral flaw. Today if your daughter sleeps with half a dozen men before she gets marriage (if she ever does that is) in front of you, and calls them her 'boyfriend' does that make the parents and their children morally good? How did it come to this?
    According to Christ's law it seems the whole nation is supposed to be going to hell.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  2. Libby-o

    Just keep in mind people that the majority of Iranians do not support this woman being stoned. From what I understand 70% of the people in Iran are under the age of 35. (The older generations have been killed off in the many wars the have been fought over the past 30 plus years.) This younger generation is far more educated both academically and spiritually. Why do you think so many Iranians have spoken out against their own government during the last year and so many have been hurt or killed in speaking out against their own radical rulers..
    Anyways, I just think we ought to keep this in mind when we attempt to understand the unrest that is going on in Iran.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
    • suteki

      Good post.

      July 9, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
  3. Jim

    These apologists always bring the idea that Islam is not violent, or irrational. If it's not in Koran then it's in hadith, or if it's not in hadith then it's in Koran. These SOBs argue both ways. No reason to beat the dead horse.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:23 pm |
  4. Janaki

    There is no such thing as "symbolic lashing". It is just 100 lashes. That is as bad as stoning.
    It does not matter whether it is in the quran or not, stoning is mentioned in the hadiths and islam is a hodgepodge of the quran + the sunnah (sayings and practices of mohammad).
    Bringing in jewish laws that are no longer in practice is silly. True, mohammad may have copied jewish customs to attract jews, but the fact is, jews no longer practice such barbarities whereas muslims do. Two wrongs do not make it all right. Jews of ancient times were wrong, mohammad was wrong and modern day muslims who practice this are wrong.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  5. Sr america

    Most agree stoning and/or whipping is wrong, cruel or whatever. However, why the possible stoning for the woman without mentioned punishment for the involved man? This parallels with the Biblical story when Jesus said,"let he who is without sin cast the first stone..." to the crowd ready to stone the woman for adultry.... again, where was the man involved with the woman iin the illicit act? Was he too given a pass... no punishment? Takes two to tango and commit adultry.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
    • Jeff

      Do you cast the same scorn on the women who slept with Tiger and Jesse as you did on Tiger and Jesse themselves? The women knew they were married. Where's the equal outrage inthose two cases?

      July 9, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  6. Jeff

    Why aren't these people as upset about this type of thing happening to men?

    July 9, 2010 at 10:09 pm |
  7. AMH Carter

    To call it 'Islamic' Jurisprudence mirrors the traditional liberal split we Americans and some who claim Judeo Christian religious roots would call Racism. No doubt, I expect to be stoned for saying so by those Americans who hate WASP's for being part of a Global Conspiracy that they believe to be sucking their life blood, AND THEIR money. Those of us who have no family trust and who happen to have the wrong bloodline have more in common with the feminist woman stoned for 'adultery' than those haters of the Tea Party admit.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
  8. ALfred Hussein Neuman

    @neuron2003 – as usual, some islamic apologist (or rather a Jew/Christian hater) has to throw a red herring into the discussion. The news story is about Muslim sentencing a woman to death for adultery. Not what CHristians and Jews don't do.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:02 pm |
  9. european

    Only in one country to people start discussing this social issue with biblical references.

    Typical for America.

    Stoning or not stoning, this has nothing todo with the Quran.
    It is a social practice by a man ruled society.

    The problem is not what is written in the Quran – the problem is just how people act.
    Those are man made rules in favor of man. This is political and not religious.

    man man man use your brain.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  10. Baba Tunfe

    This is totally false as there is NO death penalty for adultery in Islam. The penalty of adultery is equal for both men and women, and involves symbolic lashing. Social pressure, i.e., public witnessing of the penalty, is the basic punishment

    July 9, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  11. colio

    This is nothing bur propaganda, look at human right abuses in Afghanista, Iraq and Pakistan, places where systems runs by our money and will. If we can not suppress abuse in areas under our control forget other places

    July 9, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  12. Mark

    I don't understand what the fuss is about. The people of Iran choose to have this => So let them have it.After all, it's justice in Iran. As far as I can see, there hasn't been a revolution in that aspect yet, so this is what the people what. You need to respect that.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
  13. Geezer

    Read "Nomad" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

    July 9, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
  14. Mohamed

    There are dire consequences for making the WRONG decision, i.e. if you believe in GOD/ALLAH. Didn't Islam say that the most punishable punishment is to take a life? These idiots need to think deeply when sentencing someone to death – they are infact taking a person's life. That's how much they value their religion.
    I always wonder, why in heavens's name did God send ALL his Prophets to the Arabs? Prophets are suppose to pass on messages,examples and teachings of Islam – go figure. They haven't listened to their Prophets, what make you think they woukld listen to the Western media.
    Good luck.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:44 pm |
    • Janaki

      Didn't Islam say that the most punishable punishment is to take a life?

      No such thing. Quran in fact adds exception clauses in most such verses. Take for example verse 17.33 –
      "Nor take life – which Allah has made sacred – except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law). "
      Thus one can take away another's life for a "just cause". Is punishing for adultery a " just cause"? Is killing a non believer a "just cause". Verses in the quran itself can be used to justify such acts as "just causes"

      July 9, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  15. Jon

    Really? Stoning? What year is this? 2010, that's right, we're in the 21st century. "If" a so called god gave us free will and is the same god in the quran, then how can a person be killed for free will? Ahh, they aren't killed for free will they are killed because someone else wants to control them and by doing so control other people. When the leaders are no longer leading, they must go.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:35 pm |
  16. SCOTO

    What on earth are we doing in the 21st centrury debating the nuances of barabaric "laws" set down by some desert society? As a rationalist/atheist I sometimes feel I'm living in a huge lunatic asylum.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:30 pm |
  17. veggiedude

    The Quran may not call for it, but the Bible does. In many places.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
  18. bwz

    Outlaw Islam, its clear this so called religion defies respect to all humans.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
  19. Jaxtarzan

    Religion, OMG people wake up. Religion was invented in a time when almost everyone was illiterate. Why are we still believing in the invisible man in the sky watching everything we do, please, spare me.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
  20. Peter Q. Wolfe

    A quick reply to G. I'll quote you buddy
    "G
    I am 44.I was raised Catholic.When i was old enough to see what was going on i denounced
    Catholic.I guess the concept is,you can do whatever you want until your last minute
    on Earth.As long as you ask for forgiveness and repent,you go to Heaven?I really
    don't think that's how it's supposed to work."
    note: this information is completely misleading of catholicism completely! Also, capitalize I next time and you denounced catholicism not catholic right! Dude why do we us precatholics convert each and every year from different branches and background? Look into purgatory if you don't believe the hard line edge to catholicism and it merely states to use the sacraments meaning all seven of them. Also, you look at the confessional that can deny you forgiveness dude by your local priest. It's hard for me to believe that you ever were catholic, let alone understood what you were believing in. You should turn away from what you are believin and go to your local parish man. You are flat wrong about what you believe in.
    As far as Islam, I'll remind everyone that this part of the world has only been freed of european domination for like 60 or so years from european colonial powers. It's just like in Africa or where literacy isn't florishing as much as it aught to. We saw this same ruthless behavior with enquisitions, Salem Witch Trials, Holy Crusades, WWI and WWII, Civl War, Frenh-Indian War, 100 years war, French Revolution and American Revolution, and etc. It's the wrong interpretation of the religious text and quite honestly I haven't read the book. We need more people to admit when they don't know something about things to accept humility with respect We need to question our religious figures and political officers with the same rigor of our own souls. We need to read more to listen not to speak to neglect other opposing views. We need to stop using our insecurities to throw the baby out with the bath water cause of some incidences of terrorism even of barbarian lethal horrid forms of death penalty. Looking into why people still think this way in a psychological, spiritual and emotional stand point will do much to increase debate through sympathy and empathy not fear and hate.
    I feel like christianity is the only true way into Heaven from my vantage point. I will not impose my beliefs more than once or against a certain philosophty that opposes my views like abortion, gay marriage in the church, death penalty, human rights, defending the poor and margainized, etc cause of these moral beliefs. I attribute my philosophy toward Greeko-roman judiac christian vaues that stretches in both good and bad waters in our learning process of literacy to illiteracy of our follies and greatness to standup againt the power hungry war mongers. We need to defend the ignorant and comdemm the wicked in all tribes and forge peace with the Middle East much mre than we do today without giving an inch on our founding principles of a judo-christian belief system. Thanks be to God and you and yours.

    God bless,
    Peter, AS

    July 9, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
    • readthebook

      dude, you are contradicting yourself all over the place. if religion is the answer, any religion, then you get what you have. at the very least, practice your religion but keep it to yourself. you don't know if Christianity is the only answer just as I don't know if ISlam is any answer at all.

      July 9, 2010 at 9:38 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.