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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. interesting

    It happened in all civilizations a long time ago. It wasn't even that long that they hung women/men in our country for being witches. That was out of pure jelousy and one person caused an entire town to accuse people of witch craft. Not only were people hung, the only person not to confess this crime was crushed to death by rocks. Now before you get all sensitive over my statement, just think about it. Muslems are not the only people in the world with strange ways of execution. Im just saying...

    July 9, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • YetAnotherBob

      You got a couple of things wrong there. You were talking about Salem Mass.

      The only people who were killed were those who did not confess. The ones who did confess were just jailed.
      As soon as the authorities in Boston heard about it, they came out and killed off the whole operation. The jailed folks were interviewed, and upon finding that they only confessed to avoid torture, were released. The whole thing was so distasteful that there was never another case like it in the US. there were others like it both before and after in Europe. Nobody seems to blame them.

      The leader of the authority delegates was Cotton Mather, the famous Puritan preacher. He said that they were taking testimony from the Devil, a known liar, and were only murdering innocents. His view won. Too bad he now gets blamed for the whole affair. It all started with stories from a preachers daughter.

      July 11, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
  2. DernFoley

    Only the book of Rastafari calls for a good stoning....

    July 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • Yep

      Word!

      July 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  3. JamesH11

    How do Iranian laws compare to Saudi ones?
    Do Iranians have it harder than Palestinians?

    Why is CNN fixated only on Iranian civil rights?

    Is it because they really care about the people there or are they standing beside our Lobbyist controlled government and leading the War Propaganda charge?

    July 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  4. Jim McTeigue

    Try Reuters.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  5. Lynne

    What a bunch of nonsense. This is why it is high time we abandoned "religion" on this planet and took up humanism. We have lots of human-made problems to fix, people to feed, medical care to spend money on, the list is almost endless.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • LogicalUS

      Bhahahhha... talk about fairy tales.

      Take up humanism? It is HUMANS who are doing the all the stoning, murder and mayhem, sure seems like a great idea to start worshipping the glorious humans. Nothing more idiotic that anti-religious bigots who show their stupidity with comments like this.

      Ever occurred to any of you anti-religious bigots who has been feeding the poor, providing healthcare and helping the misfortunate for centuries. Here is a clue it isn't the Athiest and anti-religious bigots. When is the last time you went to the the Athiest Memorial Hospital instead of Mission Hills, St Judes, St Lukes and so on.

      The fairy tales spewed by these anti-religious bigots is unparalleled. Like the idiotic religion = peace, tell that to the 200 million Russians and Chinese who were sent to their graves by these anti-religious bigots in just the last century. The Marxist, communist, maoist murdered more people in less than 50 years than the combined total of dead ever. And of course some idigit then piped up to claiim..."well they were't true communist, if we only had real communist.....", you fool, Communism is simply unworkable ever in a world filled with human nature.

      The simple question to the athiest and anti-religious bigots is: Why is the stoning of this woman "immoral"? Is adultery immoral? Based on what? What do you use to base your condemnation on? Feelings? What if the "human" next to you does not have those same feelings? Why are your "feelings" right and theirs wrong? Based on what?

      The Holy Bible accurately foretellsd humanity that man is sinful by nature and that he is prone to lust, murder, selfishness and dishonesty. Prove it wrong. The Bible so accurately describes the nature of man yet the athiest and anti-religious bigots want to hide themselves from the truth and believe in some fable of their own making.

      July 9, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
    • dajackg

      Methinks ya missed the point there, LogicalUS... but much love to ya anyhow.

      July 10, 2010 at 12:16 am |
  6. Robert

    The sad part is, it's the female half of Iranian society that allows this to happen. In fact, it's women who actually decide the direction of all humanity. From an evolutionary standpoint, if women across the world suddenly preferred to only mate with men who walked on their hands, all men in the world would be hand walkers within one generation!

    July 9, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • Jim McTeigue

      Preferred? LOL! Yeah, they TOTALLY have a choice in the matter...I mean, it's not like men are more inclined to and more capable of using violence to enforce their demands... If women in a male-dominated society suddenly started trying to assert their "right" to mate with whom they saw fit, in one generation there would be a society filled with compliant women. Why? Because all the ones looking for hand-walkers would be killed off as a threat to the stability of the community.

      July 9, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • keep ot up

      Jim condones compliance with violence

      July 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  7. righteous-in-Christ

    AMEN, Well said!!

    July 9, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  8. Aye

    Yeah, "He doesn't judge" ... he just depicts the rules and governs what is allowed or not allowed.... and then "judges" you in the afterlife at the pearly gates...no no no He does not judge

    July 9, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  9. walleye

    I could not agree more with the post below. These are not people, they are barbaric animals. We should get out of that God-forsaken part of the world and let these animals kill themselves.

    Randy
    The Iranians, and in my opinion all of the Middle Eastern countries, are a bunch of barbaric, uncivilized animals. America is seriously deluded if we think we can change these people. We need to pull all our troops and embassy personnel out of the middle east and just let them kill each other off. Or maybe Israel will kill them off.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • JamesH11

      I don't think they are animals, but I agree with you that we should get out of there and let them handle their own problems.

      That goes for severing all political ties with Israel as well, who acts every bit as barbaric as any other country in the region.

      July 9, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
    • Jennifer

      Ah yes. Reducing your enemies to something less than human. It's the first necessary step to be able to sleep at night after committing genocide. Good job!

      July 9, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  10. commandreax

    Quran is one thing. The hadiths (the 'interpretation' of the prophets life and sayings that have been skewed for power and political reasons, a la 'the bible') are another beast altogether. Either educate yourselves or please please please just shhhhhhh.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  11. Joan

    Barbaric. And they wonder why the prejudices exist.. animals don't even treat each other this way.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  12. Mark Palmer

    THESE people in the Iranian 'Government' SEEM to Feel they are Better than GOD or their Allah...why not let GOD decide your sins? God will Judge you in the end...EVEN you Mullahs will be Judged on ALL those you have Judged to be Killed...NO 99 Virgins anywhere...recall...'Knashing of teeth'?

    July 9, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  13. Aye

    It's ok as long as there are not 4 male witnesses...or 2 women for each man

    July 9, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
    • Jerry

      What punishment do they get for 'watching'?

      July 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  14. look at christianity people!!

    does anyone EVER think about all of the pieces in christianity and judaism that are so similar to islam?! i mean just because this religion is getting completely picked apart by paranoid idiots who have nothing better to do with their time, doesn't mean they can't stop for a second and look at their own religion. correct me if i'm wrong but wasn't jesus the one to say "ye who are without sin may cast the first stone"??? and for everyone out there talking about how they're all pedophile freaks, LOOK AT CATHOLIC PRIESTS YOU IDIOTS! that has to be the most embarrassing religion in modern times! what sick weirdos commit such crimes??? at the end of the day, all three religions are so similar it's surprising, but no one takes the time to look at the other two because islam happens to be under a microscope right now; so don't just sick there and think of yourselves as so much better because you're an "american christian". this country has no religion left in it, no one even really knows anymore what it means to be christian because the christianity they practice is so far off from what the bible actually says.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
    • 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.

      July 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • Dan

      G

      I think you meaan you "renounced Catholicism."

      July 10, 2010 at 12:01 am |
  15. An Onymous

    "Stoning is based on sayings from the Prophet Mohammed, known collectively as the hadith"
    So the alleged pedophile, the Prophet Mohammed, came up with stoning to death as a just punishment for a woman who commits adultery? He has how many followers?

    July 9, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  16. Mark Wright

    Is there a planet out there with rational and civilized people as the norm? I want to get off of this one.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  17. Captain Obvious

    Welcome to the Stone Age

    July 9, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  18. wyominguy

    And Muslims wonder why they are thought of as radical maniacs! MMMMM....Cant imagine!

    July 9, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  19. Arglebargle

    So, Bill....if it's not news, then why are you bothering to read it, let alone comment on it?

    Just because it doesn't fit YOUR definition of "news" doesn't mean it won't fit the definition of "news" to other, more broad-minded folk. When you pony up the bucks and buy CNN for your very own news source, then you can have them dish it to you just like you want it. Till then, if you don't like it, don't read it.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  20. wanderella

    i agree with randy...i also think all the worlds religions are used as propoganda to oppress segments of their respective societies...i was led to believe that god was about love....all i see is hatred in all the world's religions.....if these are the people in heaven, then go ahead and send me to hell...pull our troops out and let them do what they want....who cares.....

    July 9, 2010 at 1:01 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.