Let him who is without sin cast the first stone ...
In the first half of 2002, four stoning verdicts against women in Islamic states were announced: two in Nigeria, one in Sudan and one in Pakistan. Each woman had been charged with adultery and sentenced to stoning, "the ultimate form of torture” as it has been called by Amnesty International.
One of the most incomprehensible aspects of this stoning business reported in the various papers is, that in every case of adultery mentioned, it is invariably the woman who is to be stoned to death. The man on the other hand does not get as much as a reprimand. Doesn’t it always require two? This has happened in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and now in Nigeria. Let’s take a look at where this came from and whether Islam stipulates this atrocious punishment or not and if it differentiates between men and women.
Does religion prescribe the punishment of stoning for adultery? The Jewish answer to this question would be 'yes'. The Old Testament describes various adulterous acts and stipulates that those indulging in them should be "put to death" (Leviticus 20:10-21).
The Christian answer to this question was more compassionate and merciful. According to John 8:1-11, it was only for those who were free of sin themselves, resulting in that it did not take place.
But how does Islam deal with it? Obviously we have to consider that in Islam all three Abrahamic religions are to be viewed as a continuation of each other, so it is not logical to reverse a formerly allowed leniency once it was established, is it? There are different stipulations about stoning in Islam. Hadith (the collection of the prophet’s sayings) has one, Sharia (the body of doctrines regulating the lives of all Muslims and arrived at from two principal sources, the Koran and Sunna) has another and the Koran has yet a third.
It is an acknowledged rule in reading Hadiths, that if a reported Hadith records something which is contrary to the Koran, it should be disregarded, since the Prophet did not act contrary to the revelations. Having said that, looking at the Hadiths, we find two instances dealing with stoning for adultery.
In the case of Maiz bin Malik, according to Hadith Number 4205, Book 017 of al-Bukhari, Maiz went to the Prophet and asked to be purified from the sin of committing adultery. The Prophet advised him to repent and ask Allah for forgiveness, then sent him away. Maiz came back three more times, only to have the same advice repeated. After the fourth time the Prophet asked him if he was insane. Maiz attested to his sound mind. The Prophet tried again and asked him if he was perhaps drunk. Maiz denied it. This started a bit of a controversy. Some of the Prophet’s companions concluded that his confession as well as his request to die were enough to show his repentance. Others argued that he should be granted his wish to die. The Prophet is reported to have asked all of them to pray for forgiveness for Maiz. Yet Maiz insisted on being stoned and ultimately he was. Unlike the practices in Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia today, he was not buried up to his waist nor tied to anything. He stood there receiving the stones. In the middle of the stoning he ran away, but he was brought back and then stoned to death. Upon hearing this the Prophet reprimanded the men saying : "if you had let him go, then it would have been entirely possible that Allah would have granted him forgiveness".
The woman’s story is similar. She went to the Prophet and confessed her sin and asked for punishment. He also turned away from her. She told him she was pregnant with the consequence of her sin, so he then sent her away asking her to come back after giving birth. She didn’t take the hint and came back saying that she has given birth and wanted to be absolved of her sin. The Prophet sent her away again asking her to go nurse her child for the prescribed two years and then come back. And she did yet again miss the hint and came back. After her fourth confession she was stoned to death too.
What both stories have in common is not only the reluctance of the Prophet to hear the confession and sending them both away so many times, but that the Prophet read their funeral prayer and prayed for both of them. One of his companions was reported to have asked in disbelief why he would bestow such honour in praying himself for such worthless sinners. Hadith reports that the Prophet then said that “the person had sought such profound forgiveness that if it was spread over the entire community its blessing would be enough for all“.
So we have only two cases mentioned in all of the many recorded Hadith. Both were used as examples of extreme penitence and amends and can hardly be used to illustrate a tradition prescribing stoning. Furthermore these incidents have also not been fixed in time, so it is not only possible, but highly likely that these incidents took place before the verses ordaining the Koranic punishment for adultery were revealed, after all the revelation of the Koran took 23 years.
In Sharia law stoning “married” adulterers and adulteresses to death is part of the group of severe punishments called as ‘Hadd’. Stoning to death has been emphasized time and again as law, yet we find different versions. For example, the Maliki School accepts evidence of pregnancy as proof that a single (widowed, unmarried or divorced) woman has either committed adultery or been raped. The other schools, namely Shafi, Hanbali, Hanafi and even the Shia do not recognize evidence of pregnancy as proof of adultery. So which one should be applied? The only thing all schools agree upon is that a conviction requires a minimum of four male pious witnesses with a good and solid reputation, who openly observed the act at the same time, or a freely-given confession by the accused, repeated four times without any coercion. Sharia has been translated to be harsh extreme treatment. It isn’t. After all Sharia is only to be used in Islamic societies that have eliminated poverty and corruption. Neither condition has yet been achieved in any of the countries where stoning is still practiced or any other country for that matter.
But what does the Koran say? The Koran actually does not prescribe stoning as the punishment for adultery at all, neither for married nor for single Muslims of both genders. There is not a single verse to this effect. Not a single one. However there are many dealing with adultery. Let’s look at some:
004.015 : And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them.
004.016 And as for the two who are guilty of indecency from among you, give them both a punishment; then if they repent and amend, turn aside from them; surely Allah is Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.
004.025 ……and when they are taken in marriage, then if they are guilty of indecency, they shall suffer half the punishment which is (inflicted) upon free women…..
024.002 (As for) the adulterer and the adulteress, flog each of them, (giving) a hundred stripes, and let not pity for them detain you in the matter of obedience to Allah, if you believe in Allah and the last day, and let a party of believers witness their chastisement.
024.003: The adulterer shall not marry any but a adulteress or idolatress, and (as for) the adulteress, none shall marry her but a adulterer or an idolater; and it is forbidden to the believers.
So what does this tell us then? According to the Koran, adultery has to be proven with absolute certainty before any penalty can be imposed. If and only if four witnesses of a good and solid reputation can testify to having seen the act simultaneously, then and only then can the charge be sustained. False accusations should be punished. Adulterous men and women should be flogged. Guilty women should be placed under house arrest until death or until they repent. Adulterers should marry each other.
In other verses If there are no witnesses and a husband accuses his wife of adultery he has to repeat his testimony four times. The punishment is averted if the wife similarly swears four times. (24:8-9). Therefore the Koran here places greater reliance on the testimony of the woman. She gets the final say in that matter.
Now looking at all of the verses, at Sharia and Hadith as well, we can logically conclude that the Koran makes no distinction whatsoever between married or single persons. “Zina”, adultery is sex outside of a marriage and that’s that. The idea of flogging the guilty couple in public is to disgrace them for the shameful act they committed - and not to inflict physical damage. And thinking about it logically it is actually only a deterrent and not a real punishment, because it is next to impossible to prove the crime. Who would invite witnesses to this most private act, be it legal or illicit? And looking at the verses it becomes even more apparent that stoning to death is actually not to be done. The punishment for a slave girl is half that of a free woman. How can one halve a death sentence? Adulterers are to marry each other. The question is: how on earth can they ever do that if they are dead? One should think that in order for marriage to take place, both partners have to be alive. Women should be confined to their homes. Who would like to keep a decaying corpse at home?
This, of course, indicates absolutely, and without the slightest shadow of a doubt whatsoever, that God never prescribed stoning as punishment for adultery. Hadith and Sharia are man made, and therefore fallible. Should we place our total confidence on man’s deductions and conjecture or hold on solidly to the commands of God in the Koran? Furthermore the Koran says : 004.171 "O followers of the Book! do not exceed the limits in your religion …", hence increasing any punishment over that which has been prescribed in the Koran would be exceeding a limit, wouldn’t it? God’s law on punishment for adultery is clear. Once adultery is proven with absolute certainty, punishment is to be 100 lashes for both and that is that. Punishments can be reduced but not exceeded. The Prophet is reported to have said "Avert the infliction of prescribed penalties on Muslims as much as you can, if there is any way out let a man go, for it is better for a leader to make a mistake in forgiving than to make a mistake in punishing."
For those who take it upon themselves to rewrite the ordained rules, I can only quote the Koran : 004.105 "Surely We have revealed the Book to you with the truth that you may judge between people by means of that which Allah has taught you; and be not an advocate on behalf of the treacherous."