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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. Clif Evans

    Helpme: Your 'cast the first stone' quote isn't even from Jesus. That story was added to the Bible centuries later by some un-named scribe. So much for using myths and legends for the basis of your argument. Maybe if we all used reality there would be fewer stonings and less injustice.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
    • HelpMe

      Clif, not sure the point of your post. Even if what you say is true, and I'd love to see your proof on that, it doesn't change the mainstream Christian understanding of the point which is what I was trying to illustrate.

      July 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  2. Shaji

    This people are mentally sick and retarded to believe in these kind of law. This is a uncivilized act in a civilized era of this world. Their god will be laughing on their stupidity.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  3. Marx

    Jim, why do you u keep spelling judgement wit' out the 'e' ?

    July 9, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
    • bostonjim

      Marx, I think he's doing it because that's how judgment is spelled.

      July 9, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
  4. Mike

    Sounds like another rogue Justice making legislative decisions from the bench, overturning the people's laws.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  5. ac

    I think that CNN is alright. Although, there are some moderators at CNN who sometimes seems to be biassed and plot against your comments. Otherwise, I think that CNN is trying to do the best they can within some limitations.
    And do not get me wrong, because FOX does the same things.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  6. glossolalia

    "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.

    Mr. Musawi must be going to the wrong parties.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  7. glossolalia

    So Brad, does that mean it's okay to be gay?

    July 9, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  8. ac

    The real root of the problem with the Quran is that millions of Muslims are reading it and are going back mentally by thousands of years. It is like they are living in the 1000's yet.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  9. George

    ... does the same punishment apply to Muslim men who "wonder."

    July 9, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  10. Russ

    I've read them all ..... fairy tales, fairy tales, fairy tales... for the weak-minded and gullible. Please grow up.... soon.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • Tony

      Right on Russ. 🙂

      July 9, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
    • blondegeisha

      another right on from me Russ. My imaginary friend is better than your imaginary friend.

      July 9, 2010 at 8:42 pm |
  11. ac

    It doesn't matter. It calls for your head.
    I mean, it doesn't make any difference if someone stone you if you have been previously beheaded.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  12. Phineas

    No, we don't get most of our oil from the Middle East. The U.S. imports most of its crude from Canada and Mexico, in that order. Saudi Arabia is sometimes third, depending on the month, and only fractionally. Venezuela and Nigeria round out the list.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  13. Jim McTeigue

    Sorry hmmm, but if one is approaching the matter from a divine perspective, it is NOT judgment. There's no "evidence to weigh". Evidence is incomplete bits of information that is used to try to piece together an objective truth that cannot be known in totality. This would not be the case for a god or an agent of said god who knew the absolute truth. There's nothing to "decide"- the absolute truth would be known. You must be a terrible chess player...

    July 9, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  14. Shoos

    That's just silly. It's the ones in power that abuse their power to oppress and create these sadistic punishments. Blame the hardline clerics creating this crap and shoving it on the population. It is used to oppress and control, not get you to heaven. Don't blame the whole civilization. You forget that many Iranians are protesting alleged corruption in their own government. We are really lucky to be living in the USA, regardless of what life's unfairness brings you.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  15. Lynda

    We are not getting the full story.

    Her punishment for adultery was 99 lashes. The stoning is for murdering her husband. The two men who helped her have already been executed. When stonings are handed down in Iran USUALLY the person is hanged.

    I personally am against the death penalty...but the twisted way we are getting this story is wrong too.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  16. truth

    HAHA! The bible is the one that says the earth is flat, and the quran literally says the earth is round! While the rest of the world thought it was flat during the dark ages, muslims knew it was round all along!

    the verses you are probably thinking of are the ones that are discussing a chronological shift of the earth's shape and formation in order for it to become livable. but the quran recognizes to current shape of the earth today. it even discusses the orbit of the earth and sun!! AMAZING, THIS, OVER 1400 YEARS AGO!

    "It is He who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon, all (the celestial bodies) swim along, each in its orbit with its own motion. (The Noble Quran, 21:33)

    "He created the heavens and the earth in true (proportions): He makes the Night overlap the Day, and the Day overlap the Night: He has subjected the sun and the moon (to His law): Each one follows a course for a time appointed. Is not He the Exalted in Power – He Who forgives again and again? (The Noble Quran, 39:5)"

    all of the science in the quran has been provend correctly. look into it. even teh fact that all life originates from water!

    "Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe? (The Noble Quran, 21:30)"

    "And God has created every animal from water: of them there are some that creep on their bellies; some that walk on two legs; and some that walk on four. God creates what He wills for verily God has power over all things. (The Noble Quran, 24:45)"

    July 9, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • May me

      I could have appreciated your comment more if you had included the passages from the Bible saying the Earth is flat. otherwise you statement seems biased

      July 9, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
    • WilliamTeller

      Does this really matter.... As the Bible was used in the past to justify killings.. the Quran is now more then any other religious text being used to justify Mass killings.... I do not see Christians roaming the world with bomb vest killing in the name of God..

      -+- -+-

      July 10, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  17. Brad

    Michael,
    Yes, I have read the Bible lately, you? Have you read the Bible enough to understand what you were reading when it talks about stoning? The facts are that the old testament is the old covenant. The new covenant, starting with the death of Christ, and because of the death of Christ, does not call for stoning. So, you tell me which faith, today, still calls for barbaric punishments that do not fit the crime? Please, please stop regurgitating talking points you hear or read from sources who have an agenda. Read the Bible for yourself, and you determine what the truth is, and thus whom you will serve.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • Mary

      Brad, "please stop regurgitating talking points you hear or read from sources who have an agenda" well, isn't the Bible a "source" that has an agenda?

      July 9, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
  18. HelpMe

    Michael – In Christen doctrine the teachings of Jesus takes precedence over the Old Testament – 'He who is without sin cast the first stone' ring a bell? So no, Christians don't believe in stoning. Also Catholics are Christians.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  19. Me

    Does it call for the slaughter of anyone, women and children included, not belonging to one's own sect of Islam? No? That doesn't seem to stop them.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  20. Hmmm

    sorry Jim, fact-checking IS judgement ... based on the weight of evidence (such as the big book you refer to) ....in other words judgement is a decision based on the facts of the case ....check and mate

    July 9, 2010 at 1:40 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.