Summary of the Issue

Current Issues: Stoning

Berlin, Germany. 2010. A woman attends a protest against stoning in Iran. Poster at left reads: 'Rescue Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.' Photo Credit: Markus Schreiber/AP Images.

The practice of stoning has long existed before Islam’s arrival and has been prescribed as a means of punishment to adulterers in the Greek and Jewish culture.1 Now, this practice is associated with Islam, more specifically with punishment in Muslim communities of sex between at least one married individual. Yet, there is no consensus among Muslims about the issue. Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shrin Ebadi, uses a human rights framework to call for the abolition of stoning and gives religious arguments for why it should be banned. According to Ebadi, not only is stoning not compatible with United Nations Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but there is also no direct mention of stoning as a punishment for adultery in the Quran.2

However, there is public opinion in some Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan that favor the practice. In fact, Pew Global Attitudes Project conducted a survey in 2009 in Pakistan that found that 83 percent of Pakistanis believe that adulterers should be stoned. Stoning is a legal form of punishment for the adultery of married people in Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates.3 However, Muslim-majority countries such as Malaysia, Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, and Algeria ban this practice.

There is no agreement within the global Muslim community over the validity of the practice under Islamic jurisprudence. Supporters of stoning cite Hadith, or sayings of Prophet Muhammad, when discussing the legitimacy of the practice.4 They also state that it was proclaimed by other prophets and found in the Old Testament. However, there is no mention of stoning in the Quran. Instead, a lesser punishment of lashing is given for those proven guilty of adultery and fornication outside marriage. Furthermore, there is a great burden of proof on those accusing someone of such a crime. According to the Quran, the offense of adultery must be proven through voluntary confession or by testimony of four witnesses of good moral character who state under oath that they have witnessed the crime itself take place. It makes it near impossible to have four people of good morals testify that in the same place, at the same time, they saw the act of penetration.

Interestingly, although Islamic jurisprudence does not establish pregnancy as legal evidence of adultery, pregnancy is often used as grounds for accusing a woman of the crime. For example in Iran, the Islamic penal code allows a single judge to rule according to his personal opinion and does not always require the testimony of four witnesses.5 Ziba Mir-Hosseini, an expert on Iranian family law at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, said the standard in some cases is "'the judge's knowledge.'” She thinks it is no accident that stoning has increased in Iran in the midst of political unrest. She states: “it has become a political matter … Whenever there is a dispute between traditionalists and reformers in the judiciary stoning increases.”6

[1] Deuteronomy 22:22, Leviticus 20:10
[2] Practice of the Stoning Is in Our Laws; Interview with Shirin Ebadi
[3] The Pew Global Attitudes Project: Pakistani Public Opinion
[4] Adultery and Fornication
[5] Violence is not our Culture-the Global Campaign to stop Killing and stoning women
[6] CNN: Quran doesn’t call for stoning, experts insist.

Related Current Issue

Legal Sentencing

Stigmitization of Rape & Honor Killings

Organizations Active on this Issue

Arab Women Organisation

Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights

Rahima: Center for Education and Information on Islam and Women's Rights Issues

Sisters in Islam

Muslim Women's Reseach and Action Forum

Meydaan Women

Stop Stoning Forever Campaign

Newspaper/Magazine Articles

Violence is not our Culture-the Global Campaign to stop Killing and stoning women.

Saudi Arabia: Imprisonment and Whipping of 75 year old Woman.

Adultery and Fornication.

Ilan Berman. "Iran's Medieval Justice System. " Wall Street Journal 16 Jul 2010, Europe: ProQuest Newsstand, ProQuest. Web. 16 Jul. 2010.

Scholarly Articles

The Pew Global Attitudes Project: Pakistani Public Opinion

Tariq, Ramadan: An International Call for Moratorium on Corporal punishment, stoning and the death Penalty in the Islamic World, 2005.

Abusing Women, Abusing Islam: Re-Examining Sharia Court Rulings in Contemporary Times

Amina Wadud. Islam Beyond Patriarchy Through Gender Inclusive Qur’anic Analysis

Relevant Books

Freidoune, Sahebjam. “The Stoning of Soray M.” Arcade Publishing. 1994.

Asma, Barlas. “Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretation of Qur’an “. University of Texas Press. 2001.” 2007.

Laws

Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993)

Fourth World Conference on Women [FWCW]: Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995)

World Conference on Human Rights: Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993)

WISE Women Active on Issue

Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh