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. Mary

    seems like iran is going backward. the secularized sheikhs had the right idea. this is the problem with a religious government. it is always corrupt.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  2. johnrj08

    Since when does anything that Iran does have anything at all to do with what is in the Qur'an? Tehran is a theocratic dictatorship with a facade government designed to fool its people into believing that they live in a democracy. Based on events in Iran over the last year, more and more Iranians are waking up to the reality that they are an oppressed people ruled by tyrants.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  3. johnnyhouse

    Takes two to tango or is it like our politicians where the laws they make do not apply to them.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  4. BebeKashmir

    I’m so glad that the clarification and semantic babble of the article allowed Iran to appear more reasonable. (Yeah right!) Lets see here so we know that she won’t be stoned to death for adultery BUT she will be put to death by some other means. FOR ADULTERY! We know that the Quran doesn’t call for the stoning but another great book of Islam DOES. We know that although the federalized “secular” government in Iran doesn’t allow stoning they apparently have such little control of their own country that it happens anyway. We learned that it’s almost impossible to find her guilty of adultery because (duh) it would take 4 men or 8 women to witness the penetration. Or at least they’d have to find that many people to lie and say they did. We know that could never happen. Oh wait, she’s been found guilty and is being held for adultery? Without the witnesses?

    I don’t know what I’ve been thinking, Islam and Iran sound so reasonable now. All I needed was some education on the subject.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  5. Linda

    I am an American woman Muslim convert and the only Muslim in my family. I've taught my children to respect their non-Muslim grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and I do also. There are many misconceptions about Islam. I recommend go to more trustworthy sources for your information, if you really want to know. Read a book by a Muslim or, better yet, read the Qur'an. Look for the mistakes. That's what I did the first time I read it.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  6. Truth

    Fool me once, shame on you, Fool me twice shame on me.

    Deuteronomy 22:23-24
    If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
    • katincal

      Well Truth – when was the last time a Christian was stoned to death?

      July 9, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  7. Thorrsman

    Come to that, a favorite line of fundamentalist Christians was ADDED to the King James bible. That bit about "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" was changed to appeal to the paranoia King James felt about witches. Originally, it was "Thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live", meaing, in the sense of the time, what we would call an assasin today.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
  8. HiloBob

    Unfortunately, they still have the rope which Iran seems to use without reservation.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
    • johnnyhouse

      It would work well here also and cut the appeal process to 1 month.

      July 9, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  9. Unsetus

    that really depends on your stance.. but there are several alternatives – i read at least 3 reports of any single incident and find surprising amounts of details that are left out. Huffingtonpost is probably a good start (if you found yourself on cnn/msnbc.com) otherwise there are several conservative alternatives, but i think cnn might be mad if i list them here. Also a lot of the news coming from cnn.com is associated press – its not impossible to look it up. If your looking for real news often times it has to be first hand. So another good source is ireport.com... anyway happy hunting!

    July 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  10. bakerd97

    Of course stoning is not in the Quran...this isn't news to those of us who know better. However, this is man's nature no matter what religion to ad-lib, makeup, add, delete, twists and distort things as he sees fit.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  11. jeff

    All religions are based on stone age concepts and fairy tales,Religion,all man made and nothing to do with reality,will be the downfall of mankind

    July 9, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
    • johnnyhouse

      Religion has nothing to do with God either. No true God would let someone cut a man's head off in the name of religion or blow up the trade center in his name and expect everlasting life.

      July 9, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  12. Pam

    The fact remains... we have an Iranian woman living under Iranian law who deviated from what is acceptable in Iranian society, namely adultery. She breaks the law, she gets the punishment. All these bleeding-heart liberals who are outraged don't make any sense. Where is the personal responsibility and the common sense of knowing the consequences of behavior that is clearly stated by law?

    July 9, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
    • JJ

      You are exactly right......

      Its like the case of that kid... think it was in Singapore and was on vacation....he stole or something like that... they caught him and lashed him.... Everyone was saying OMG how can a country do this... Well its there laws and this is the punishment...Just don't break their laws

      July 9, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  13. Jeremy McKenna

    The act of even trying and convicting a woman for adultery is the barbaric act. Stoning is merely a side note.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
    • Mary

      women do not commit adultery...they are just forced to pursue other options

      July 9, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  14. Jim McTeigue

    1. There's no e in judgment. Didn't you find it strange that red line showed up when you typed judgement?
    2. If I had to guess, I'd say St. Peter is there to make sure that sinners don't just walk on in. St. Peter himself, not being God, would not have the ability to instantly know the absolute truth himself. So, instead of troubling God with it each time, he uses a book God provided that contains the absolute truth within it. I guess you could say that St. Peter, having a subjective perspective, would have to "judge" the contents of the book, but the book, containing a purely objective truth, would not be judging the person involved. To be honest, I don't really believe in St. Peter, I'm just trying to relay the story as I learned it. If there's contradictions involved, take it up with the Pope 😉

    July 9, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
    • mother

      "Judgement (or judgment[1]) is the evaluation of evidence in the making of a decision"...i guess that's like "grey or gray" and color or colour" from where Jim's from

      July 9, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
    • mother

      St. Peter is the doorman of the night club called Heaven

      July 9, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
    • keep ot up

      he's there to keep the riffraff out

      July 9, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
    • keep ot up

      Jim, this is the problem i see with religion...ppl take what they are "taught" and live it off as thier own beliefs... i was telling my kid that blue was green for years and he was one screwed up kid for a while until we discovered that i was colorblind myself. haha never saw that coming to bite me!

      July 9, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  15. Mary

    I like Russ...and his comments

    July 9, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  16. Kathy

    and the men that commit adultery? what happens to them? hmm?
    Iran is doing what every other country does, use fear to intimidate people. Fear boxes you in. but fear is an illusion.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  17. Kathy

    My questions is; "what happens to men who commit adultery?" why is it always the women that have to suffer????!!!

    other than this, Iran does what any other country would do to "keep people in their place" (its how we all supported a rush to war in Iraq when there were no WMD's) FEAR!

    Living with fear boxes you in and fear is a lie.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  18. Mary P

    Jim, The idea is then contradictory....If "There's nothing to "decide"- (and) the absolute truth would be known .... what is St. Peter's role ?

    July 9, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  19. Beasterdamas

    Neither does it call for attempts at world domination...Jihad is a medieval concept that was taken out of context by extremists who do nothing but hate the world...

    July 9, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  20. Steve

    Whilst she is unlikely to be stoned, the Iranian Government implied that she would still be executed in some way. This is not a religious issue its more about Iran adhering to a medieval and barbaric Sharia Law system. Which seems more geared to keep the Mullahs in power and the people suppressed.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:09 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.