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. Tony

    "Quran doesn't call for stoning, experts insist"

    LOL, it doesn't matter what "experts" say. Just like the religious nut jobs here in the states, they are going to twist their religion to justify whatever hate or abuse they want to inflict. It could flat out say "NO STONING" and anyone determined enough will cook up what ever faulty logic they can to find an exception.

    July 9, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  2. chicagoK

    This story sure doesn't paint Islam in a civilized light! It actually paints Islam into 7th century civilization or to barbaric inhuman existence. But that's just the facts. The media doesn't want to tell the true story!

    July 9, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
  3. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    The Quran does not call for suicide bombing either, for all the good it does.

    July 9, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  4. Henry Miller

    Islam has sunk a long, long, way since the height of its civilisation a thousand years ago. It was once a civilised religion of a civilised, tolerant, culture that it epitomised everything a civilisation can be. Somehow, over the centuries, it has descended into barbarism, and that's sad.

    July 9, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
  5. Scott

    The Bible and the Torah call for stoning.

    July 9, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  6. Jon

    Look, all we hear is that the Koran or the Quram, or whatever the crap these psychotic muslims call it, doesn't espouse violence and that islam is a religion of peace. After seeing through the years what these islamic SOBs are capable of, I don't think, even for a minute, that they pay one iota of attention to anything except their own, overblown, psychotic and murderous clerics and mullahs and for my part...I don't want peace with them. I want them wiped off the face of the earth, down to the last man, woman and child and every remnant of their culture ground into dust. No mercy for any of them. They are the most offensive plague that humanity has ever been exposed to and all of them are Satan's children.

    July 9, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • StopTheHate

      Have you ever met a Muslim? Or had a conversation with a Muslim? There are over 1 billion muslims in this world – do you really believe each one of them is a blood thirsty monster? Your call for the complete annihilation of Muslims falls in the same mindset of the terrorists themselves.

      July 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  7. james hotz

    He who is with out sin should cast the first stone.

    July 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
    • Mark

      ***watching out for stones from above ***

      July 9, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  8. Lilarose in Bandon, OR

    On the page opposite the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament is a story about a slave girl. Apparently the folks back then didn't think twice about having slaves, yet we honor the Old Testament as God's word. Very very strange to me.

    July 9, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
    • Mary

      u can have a slve as long as u didn't STEAL or COVET thy neighbors slave

      July 9, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  9. Love thy neighbor(s).....

    Well played. Why don’t you have your tryst by the fire and fuel it with the Quran, Bible (old and new), Veda, Upanishads….ummm what else? Any other religious junk you can get your hands on-and there is PLEANTY.

    July 9, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  10. TruthMan

    Seems like if there is a court in heaven, the western white judaeochristian folks will end up in some big jail (maybe called hell), for constantly making up stuff and lying about the religion of others, especially Islam. I've lived in Islamic countries for years, never heard about ANY stoning carried out. The concept may have actually been introduced into Islam by non-Muslims, and must have been a practice before Islam, which the Muhammad tried hard to STOP. Just like he REDUCED the number of wives a man could have to 4, not increased it, while advocating a strong preference for having ONE; he advocated forgiveness, forgave his blood-thirsty enemies after victory at Mecca. He forbade inflicting pain even upon animals – for instance, he discouraged the common practice of using a branding iron to mark animals, stressing that if they absolutely had to do it, to not do it on the animals faces. So stop all this dirty propaganda about Islam. Put your own houses in order first. Holier-than-thou BIGOTS.

    July 9, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  11. relians

    i have never read the "quran", i have read "the satanic verses" though, and after that i didn't want to read any more from that source...

    July 9, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
  12. katincal

    What can you expect from a country like Iran – they live in the dark ages and have no respect for human life unless you are male. These nut jobs just make up things as they go. That's why they are called radicals!

    July 9, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  13. Doug NYC

    How much more daily proof do we all need
    about the sickness of the world's biggest death cult, Islam?

    July 9, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  14. LANDO

    Hello its 2010! No 1000 BC. We dont stone people...PEOPLE! No wonder noone wants to live in IRAN. Its still in the STONE AGES!

    July 9, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  15. a.

    wow, religion really is for morons

    July 9, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  16. lisa

    It takes 2 to tango

    July 9, 2010 at 2:56 pm |

    It is quite amazing to read these comments.
    What sticks out is how "religion" polarizes the world and individuals, how that causes so much grief and how unneccesary
    this all is!!
    Why not use a common denominator most, if not all of humanity, can understand.
    It will serve all people, won't discriminate, inflame no one and won't make anybody powerful and rich.
    It is bizarr to accept in the 21st century that "religious" mythology has this type of death grip on the planet.
    Think about it!
    Greek gods, Mayan gods and many more are now long forgotten.
    It points out that "the gods" of any name are a development of a time period.
    Your current gods go the same path; what remains is HUMANITY.
    Do something smart!
    Go with what's right for ALL Humanity.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  18. Michael

    P.S. The same word has a number of spellings: Christianity, Judaism, etc., etc..

    July 9, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  19. j

    anyone remember the short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson? google it and (re-)read it...

    July 9, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  20. Michael

    Islam is just another word for complete ignorance coupled with evil.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:49 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.