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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. secular

    @Flush1, Nice idea, good for environment and saves some wood, not sure what would mullah say?

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

    Anyone knows what Islam consider a witness who is an infidel and watched the penetration? Weather they stone him or behead him for being an innocent victim in wrong place and happen to see the act? I bet they will behead him hmm...

    July 9, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  3. Ynotliberty

    Sure, it doesn't say to kill "infidels" either, yeah right...

    July 9, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  4. S

    Islam is garbage. Muhammad himself had a woman stoned for adultry. You'll find it in Sahih Muslim's hadith (17:4209)

    July 9, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  5. secular

    We in democratic society ignore such lunatics, but in Islamic world they are great satanic saints worth to be elevated to head of a state.

    July 9, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  6. secular

    What could Ayatollah achieve at his best, define west secular, democratic, productive society as evil and his narrow bigot, unproductive evil interpretation of Islam as good. He would have been under influence of some kind of morphine to arrive at this conclusion. Believers of Islam is full such people who think differently and sanctify evil as divine. What a pity when they call themselves believers and practice and preach such evil virtue.

    July 9, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  7. Jim

    My question is who has the right to impose their belief system on another? People seldom choose a belief on their own. Most are conditioned, even beaten, into them by others.

    Churches, Mosques, Synagogues and Temples have always served money and power over others through fear rather than serving God as they claim to do. God doesn't need anything from us. God is not a person with all our ego driven flaws and insecurities. God is all that there is, both seen and unseen. God is within everything that has been or ever will be created.

    If there is an "Original Sin" it is the mistaken belief that God, or whatever you want to call "the force, eternal life or source of creation" is somehow sitting separate from us, somewhere out there in some place. No one needs to pay for any organized religion to connect with God for you. God doesn't have an ego, humans do.

    It's time for people to cut off the parasite businesses selling salvation and controlling you in exchange for your money in the basket. It is time to tax them all, preferably out of existence. Find God within yourself, within others and within all of creation. When you realize you are not separate from the whole your life will automatically change. You will not fear or hate diversity and in that there is love and salvation

    July 9, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
  8. AKS

    Great article! The explanation sorrounding stoning from the classical Islamic interpretation makes a lot more sense. Seems like some Muslims misinterpret the religion to their own advantage, but, then again, that exists in every religion.

    July 9, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
  9. Me

    It's a shame how people use this to make outrageously false claims about other religions. And I mean that both in the sense of claims about Islam as well as those about Christianity. Religious ignorance is frustrating. Religious intolerance is worse.

    July 9, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
  10. me

    And you insist on believing that your God will come back to save you. Would you save you?

    What a waste.
    You get lost on every word from every God.
    You focus on what you want to see and nothing else.

    Every one of you, myself included, are a waste of talent.

    Good luck.

    July 9, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  11. Mike

    This lady committed a crime and must be punished. The punishment suits the crime

    July 9, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
    • mike in va

      Killing someone for adultery is not suitable. Forgiveness is more suitable.

      July 9, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  12. neuron2003

    Earth to Christians and Jews: Read Leviticus. If you are a Christian or Jew, you should condone stoning for adultery. Period. End of discussion. If you are not a Christian or Jew, (i.e., cherry pick what you want from the Gospels), then you can do whatever you want but don't call yourself a Christian or Jew.
    I would be interested to hear comments from people who identify themselves as True Christians or devout Jews.
    Ken

    July 9, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
    • Jim

      Real Christians try to follow the teaching of Christ. He challenged many old testament teachings. That is what got him crucified by those in charge of Judaism of the day. True Christians try to refute the hate of the old testament and replace it with the love and forgiveness of the new. Most of those professing to be Christian can't really make up their minds if they are Christians or Reformed Jews who fall back on the Old Testament when i suits them to hate or judge someone. At least that is my observation.

      July 9, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  13. Amadea

    Steve: People who live in scary cultures have all kinds of rituals they believe in. That doesn't mean that God has called men to perpetuate them. Jesus Christ intervened in a stoning session, picking up a stone and offering it to the first one to admit to never having sinned. Of course, because all of us are sinners, none of the accusers took the stone and the stoning was averted. So ... contrary to the Bible calling for stoning, in the Bible Jesus calls for common sense, compassion, and most of all love.

    July 9, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  14. Rray

    This is nonsense!!! whoever wrote this is trying to defend islam and iran .... islam and islamic countries are no where close to be nice, let alone this nice!!! every cleric is qualified to interpret quran, islam, and hadith the way he wants to, and evey single muslim must have a cleric to follow his 'resaleh', which is HIS bible of the laws and practices of islam the way he sees it, and his followers MUST believe and do accordingly .......

    July 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  15. JJ

    Whether these laws are based on religion or not it is irrelevant. It is a countires laws if you want to tlive there then you must abide by them.

    July 9, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
    • Mike Johnson

      So by the same token ... slavery is also OK ... if it is the law of the land.
      Crap like this is not OK whether it is the law or not.

      July 9, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
  16. s16popesaysrealty

    And even if they could prove it, then so what? I am not totally convinced this woman will not be executed in some other grisly manner. Death for adultry?

    July 9, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • May me

      yes, actually she still will probably be put to death, most likely at the end of a rope

      July 9, 2010 at 8:16 pm |
  17. Mike Johnson

    These people are nuts. I am proud to be from the superior Western culture.

    July 9, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
    • AKS

      Man, it's scary when people say stuff like what you just did ("superior western culture"). I mean, I'm from the west too, but I distinctly remember that's the gyst of what other arrogant superpowers had said (e.g. Greeks, Romans, Soviets) before their downfall. Let's hope the level-headed and tolerant outweigh this kinda thinking!

      July 9, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
  18. marie

    These crazy people are part of the mass migration to the USA. I wonder how long it will take for one of these raving lunatics to achieve an office in our government and attempt to introduce such atrocities into our judiciary system? Another thought...do adulterous men ever receive punishment? I have an idea: we can lop off the protruding parts of their bodies.

    July 9, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  19. KBinMN

    The sad part is that it required 'experts' to determine the Koran didn't require stoning.

    July 9, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  20. s16popesaysrealty

    Let the poor lady go. 99 lashes for adultry that cannot be proven short of a hunch of a bunch of old fart men? Please, the woman has children.

    July 9, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
    • Mike Johnson

      They are upset because they can't get up any more

      July 9, 2010 at 4:56 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.