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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. Guy

    ALL RELIGIONS ARE A SCAM. Just give me 10% and You'll go to heaven. Hello?

    July 9, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
  2. LilRdvet@

    No, we should have nuked them while Carter was in office...we wouldn't be having these problems now...and I seriously doubt 9-11 would have ever happened...and we wouldn't be in Iraq nor Afgahanistan...for that matter...

    July 9, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
    • Villon

      You are a piece of excrement for suggesting that Carter should have nuked them. You're no better than the terrorists.

      November 17, 2010 at 12:12 am |
  3. bobby

    The Quran doesn't call for car bombs and suicide bombing but that doesn't seem to stop them either.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
    • G

      those ones are the probably less than 0.1% who use an interpretation similar to david koresh interpreting the Bible.Are all Christians killing and brainwashing?or just less than 0.1%?do a little research instead of talking it over with your buddies having wings and beers all weekend.you might actually find out the TRUTH of Islam.

      July 9, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  4. SCOTO

    Well, I'm glad that's cleared up. Only 100 lashes ? Bring on the babes!

    July 9, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  5. George

    Why does it take an "expert" to cite the obvious. By the way "ex" is for unknown and "s"pert (the "s" is silent) for a little drip.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  6. Mary P

    "his book that contains every thing you've done in your life" for everyone in this world, that is some BIG book...maybe 100 terabit flashdrive would be more efficient

    July 9, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  7. Spike

    The Quran also does not call for genital mutilations, honor killings or the burqa, but Muslims do these too.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • Linda

      The Bible doesn't call for dropping nuclear bombs on cities but Christians have done this. We must separate the religion from the people who say they follow it.

      July 9, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
    • Mary

      I'd like to see an atheist President in my lifetime

      July 9, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  8. clintmac77

    Ooo, Ooo... I know!!! Persia. Can I get a cookie????

    July 9, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  9. JR

    Of course the Koran does not ordain death by stoning. It's the Holy Bible that ordains death by stoning. Thank God for our superior culture.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  10. Jim McTeigue

    Aye, you have no idea what you are talking about. If you're referencing the 'pearly gates' then you should be aware that according to that particular faith, it's St. Peter who determines entrance to heaven. Even then, he doesn't "judge" you, he simply checks his book that contains every thing you've done in your life. If you've met the criteria, you're in. If not, you're not. It's a matter of fact-checking, not judgment. In other versions, it's not God judging you that prevents you from entering heaven, the stain of sin on your soul makes entry into a place of perfection impossible. Think of it like having an RFID tag on you that causes the entrance to close when you set off the sensors.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  11. james

    ISLAM = evil. Just look around.The extremist idea is the correct view of islam.Stop making excuse for islam. Muhammad was molesting a 9 year old.He is the ultimate child predator.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  12. Christopher

    It wouldn't matter if the Quran/Koran/whatever DID say that. Anyone with a brain would know that any 'god' who suggested that was DAMNED WELL EVIL! Though actually, these 'holy books' were written by MEN, not 'gods' because the latter don't exist!

    July 9, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • Jim McTeigue

      Prove it.

      July 9, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
    • mother

      i think the ball is in Jim's court to prove that God does exist. It is harder to prove the non-existance of something that not exist then to prove the existance of something that does exist. Go Jim go.

      July 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
    • Mary

      Chris, yes the books were written by "men" which means everything in them is subjective

      July 9, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  13. HelpMe

    Quest – No mention of Arabs or states in the post. You might want to look in the mirror for the bigot here.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  14. Dawn

    Maybe the Quran doesn't say so...

    But the Bible says we should stone LOTS of people!

    July 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  15. interesting

    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 1:23 pm |
  16. Russ

    I also agree with Randy and I am thankful for his service in reducing their numbers. The less foaming-at-the-mouth fanatics there are, the better. Hopefully Israel will speed the process up a bit.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
    • Jennifer

      Snort. Yup, no "foaming at the mouth fanatics" in Israel at all! RME

      July 9, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  17. Michael

    No the Quran doesn't call for stoning. But, ironically, the Bible does.
    So, who exactly is against what they're doing – Christians, Catholics...read the old testament lately?

    July 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  18. Lennybob

    Yup, right after we drop you RIGHT in the middle of them! moron

    July 9, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  19. Wzrd1

    The sons of Ali at their best.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  20. JPT

    Surprised the various Sunni nations are not openly condemning what the Shi'a of Iran are up to....

    July 9, 2010 at 1:19 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.