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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. TTommy

    I'm with ya buddy. This religious nonsense is just so ridiculous. Come on people. I know it's been drilled into you since you could first form words, but do some thinking of your own.

    July 9, 2010 at 11:02 pm |
  2. TTommy

    And what if the Quran did call for stoning to death? Would it really matter? When are we all going to give up our voodoo religious beliefs and just start acting like good human beings?

    July 9, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  3. Teresa

    Thank God we have the rights over our body in the West; and much more. How dare anyone to treat us like a piece of meat or cattle they can dispose of. Iranian women, rise up! Rebell!

    July 9, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
  4. Matt

    If America had a similar law, I would bet that the divorce rate would not be anywhere close to the 50% that it is now at, and there would be a lot more morality within marriages.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
    • asrael

      Thats right: stoning results in "more morality". Who knew?

      July 10, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  5. Teresa

    Jesus said to the people who were to stone the adulterous woman: “He who has never sinned, may cast the first stone.” And no one dared. Jesus elevated women. He was the first one in a Jewish society which neither valued women nor children. Jesus, God almighty, come in the form of a man, taught us all the right things to do (upon which our Western society and laws have been built!) Glory be to Jesus. Jesus can look into the hearts of the evil men who pretend to be so good outside with their rules of stoning; but inside their hearts are dark, dirty, and cold. Only a cold heart can take a life outside of war. Lord, God, I pray that the international community comes to the rescue of this women. I can’t help but dispise Middle Eastern men.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:56 pm |
    • suteki

      Wow, Teresa, you managed to put down Judaism, Islam and in particular Islamic men all in one post. YOu might want to look at the part about being judgmental and about being loving that I understand are cornerstones in your religion. Seems they are missing from this post of yours.

      I also have to say, you don't know anything about Judaism. If what you know about Judaism comes from what you learned in a Christian church you don't know a THING about it! Sorry! It is FAR from what you learned. Can't say I agree with it all but it isn't what you seem to think from my reading your various posts.

      July 9, 2010 at 11:49 pm |
  6. Sashland

    If I am to believe the author, then I must believe that Sharia Law is not islamic...

    NOT believable!

    Sharia Law, as based on the coran and representative of its "morality" is vile, hateful, and barbarian, and, unfortunately, it is not a record of historic past, but a "perfect guide" for CURRENT action. That is why Sharia Law and the coran represent a threat to modern, civil society and human rights.

    This article is a deception.

    What is the rule about homosexuals? Throw them off of high buildings, although sometimes hanging is substituted. Not islamic either? Tell the dead gays the difference.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
  7. Jeff

    This religion stuff is a bunch of crap anyways...just like the Bible..the Quran was created by some guy (or guys) that were probably drunk one day and decided to come up with a bunch of nonsense and probably had a "truth or dare" moment thinking nobody would ever believe such "gobbly-gook" And for sure...wouldn't have carried this book for centuries.

    I will tell people who believe in the Quran the same thing I tell people that believe in the Bible...go worship an ant hill...you will get a much realistic response from the ants than you will from a fictitous charactor.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
  8. decredico

    Religion is the problem , never the solution.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:49 pm |
  9. francois

    What I find interesting, is that the media is attempting to engage in and support a thoughtful and reasonable discussion of the tenets of the faith. Supporting this discussion are many (apparently) faith leaders representing Islam. I want to ask, why don't we see similar discounting of the individuals who strap on bomb-vests and more importantly, the governments (Egypt, Iran, Lebanon and Syira) who are supporting them.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:49 pm |
  10. Libby-o

    Meanwhile (amid all this argueing) this woman may still face the stones. Perhaps all the argueing could stop and a real conversation about the subject at hand can commence???

    July 9, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
  11. Mark

    But Libby-o THAT"S THE ENTIRE POINT! If people weren't so prone to delusion (i.e. the existense of a supreme being) we wouldn't be having this discussion. Blind faith IS the problem.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:45 pm |
  12. Libby-o

    Distractions...Distractions people. What about this woman who maybe stoned in Iran? Care to share your opinion on that or do you want to argue about whose religion is true or not for the next eternity or two?

    July 9, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
    • IMJ

      The supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is still trying to show that he is in control. The riots of last year are still fresh in the mind of Khamenei and he is looking for any opportunity to punish some one. The reason for the punishment is unimportant so is the question of guilt or innocence. Iran is simply looking for people to use as examples.

      If they kill her then Iran will have spilt innocent blood.

      July 9, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
    • suteki

      I agree with IMJ.

      July 9, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
  13. Jangocat

    It's still a primitive bronze age way of thinking no matter how you try to spin it. Beware of fools who believe in supernatural fairy tales and base their life on these delusions....

    July 9, 2010 at 10:40 pm |
  14. Libby-o

    Ummm, can we maybe stay on the subject matter at hand...Perhaps a real understanding can be had then.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  15. kooldaddy

    this is a stupid religion. Im glad im christian. forget being muslim. dumb religion as I just said. if I was muslim I would just pray to god or budda. its safer and makes more sense

    July 9, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
  16. valwayne

    Its interesting to read that Islam doesn't support stoning, but 100 lashes. I guess in Iran they make an exception by giving you 99 lashes to make you confess and then stone you to death anyway. The heirs of the Great Persian Empire engaged in barbarism and led by the worst of barbarians. I don't know what Islam says about hell, but if the evil suffer in a fire like pit after they die in Islam, than the leaders of Iran are going to be roasting for all eternity, along with the people that aid and abet their evil!!!

    July 9, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
  17. John Lane

    Whew, only 100 lashes!

    July 9, 2010 at 10:36 pm |
  18. Kaylan

    The problem with Islam is there is NO central authority, so anyone can INTERPRET the Koran anyway they want. As a result, you get those who are extremists and treat women very badly and those who are more liberal and try to get along with non-Muslims.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  19. David

    Muhammed himself committed adultery. He should have been stoned!

    July 9, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  20. Panabiker

    Anyone trying to argue whether Quran says this or that is purely stupid. Bible doesn't call for lethal injection or electric chair, but certain "Christian country" is still doing it. Bible never says we can use internet and never says we can watch CNN.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:31 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.