Muslim Women Challenge Stoning

Sakineh Ashtiani’s name is now well known across the world. The 42-year-old mother of two who was convicted of murder and adultery has been on Iranian death row since 2006, awaiting her sentence. Despite campaigns by western celebrities, international human rights organizations and even her children, a spokesperson for the Iranian government said last week that a sentence of death by stoning remains a possibility.

Perhaps one reason that this medley of vociferous condemnations has not succeeded in freeing Ashtiani is the ideology behind it. While many have spoken out, including many Muslims, the anti-stoning arguments they employ remain couched in Western human rights principles rather than incorporating Islamic theology.

This paradigm is now being shifted by an emerging movement led by Muslim women. The Musawah movement challenges the idea that stoning is an integral part of Islamic law, instead drawing a sharp distinction between Sharia itself and the subsequent, scholar-created pronouncements called fiqh. Initiated in March 2007 by the Malaysian NGO Sisters in Islam, the Musawah movement includes women activists from Iran, Nigeria, the U.S. and other countries. Its guiding principle:

We as Muslims declare that equality and justice in the family are both necessary and possible. We hold the principles of Islam to be a source of justice and equality, fairness and dignity for all human beings. The time for realizing these values in our laws and practices is now.

In a 2009 conference, Musawah founder Zainah Anwar said:

Very often Muslim women who demand justice and want to change discriminatory laws are told ‘This is God’s law’ and therefore not open to negotiation and change.

She asserted that justice is a central and intrinsic principle in Islam, and that Muslim women would no longer be silenced in their quest to achieve justice and equality.

Prominent Islamic feminist scholar Ziba Mir-Hosseini published a critique of stoning laws based on Islamic theology. She argues that practices like stoning must be challenged on a variety of theological and legal levels, including the larger conception of women as property and laws that require women to acquiesce to male guardians. Several of these precepts emanate from fiqh, juristic pronouncements made by legal scholars that are nevertheless considered divine and unassailable.

Asifa Quraishi creates another theological argument against stoning in her paper “Who Says Sharia demands Stoning of Women?” Quraishi asserts that proponents of stoning rely on the incorrect presumption that all of Sharia is divinely ordained. According to Quraishi, differences of opinion–particularly in legislative fiqh such as the laws governing stoning–are an essential part of Islamic jurisprudence.  According to Quraishi, the argument that one must support stoning to be a believing Muslim is a gross misrepresentation – as incorrect as the idea that one must oppose Sharia in order to support women’s rights. Based on these arguments made by brave Muslim women, stoning can be denounced as un-Islamic and a distortion of its principles.

The presence of stoning punishments for sexual crimes on the law books of Muslim countries, and the lack of challenges posed to them from within Islam, are a cause of urgent concern for all Muslims. Not only does the predominant, existing discussion promote misperceptions about Islamic law, but they also promote using law as a basis for political theater rather than as a tool of justice.  Movements like Musawah and the work of emerging Muslims scholars like Tariq Ramadan, Khaled Abou El Fadl and Abdullah an Naim provide Muslims with the tools to distinguish between faith and propaganda.

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Photo by Flickr user Juanedc under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. Lord Andrew Barham says:

    My understanding of Islam is that it is based on the writings of the Prophet, Muhamed, as dictated (so he believed) by the archangel Gabriel. IN everything I have read about the religion, one thing shines out, and that is the genuine respect the Prophet had for women. Example: "If ye be kind unto women and fear to wrong them, God is acquainted with what ye do." A reading of the 1000 Nights and a Night certainly does not give the impression that women were inferior to men; quite the contrary, women are shown as being, in many instances, wiser and more sensible than the menfolk. (Interestingly also, nowhere in the Nights is there any mention of alcohol being forbidden, and many of the stories mention wine being drunk.) Presumably, the stories would never have dared violate anything sacred.

  2. Assalamu Alaikum RAFIA ZAKARIA,

    I just read a very well written called "Sakineh’s case & beyond" on altmuslim. Thank you for sharing the piece. I would like to share a couple of comments.

    1) The example of stoning for adultery is from our religion, Islam. It is part of the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) and there are many authentic hadiths that record this practice. This was a verse in the Quran, the wording had been abrogated from the Quran but not the ruling. The study of "abrogation" of the Quran is part of the Quranic Sciences also known as Uloomul Quran. The study of Uloomul Quran is a must to understand the laws of Islam and their implementations.

    Evidences from the Sunnah:

    ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (may Allaah be pleased with him) said, when he was sitting on the minbar of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): “Allaah sent Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) with the truth, and revealed to him the Book. One of the things that He revealed was the verse of stoning, which we have read and understood. The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) carried out the punishment of stoning and we did so after him. I fear that as time goes by, people will say, ‘We do not find any mention of stoning in the Book of Allaah,’ so they will go astray by forsaking an obligation that was revealed by Allaah. In the Book of Allaah, stoning is the punishment deserved by any previously-married person, man or woman, who commits adultery, if proof is established, or pregnancy results, or he or she confesses.”
    (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 2462; Muslim, 1691)

    ‘Ubaadah ibn al-Saamit, who narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Receive (teaching) from me. Allah has ordained a way for those (women). When an unmarried male commits adultery with an unmarried female (they should receive) one hundred lashes and banishment for one year. And in the case of a married male committing adultery with a married female, they shall receive one hundred lashes and be stoned to death.”
    (Narrated by Muslim, 1690).


    Read more:

    2) The sound proof needed is four witnesses:

    "Why did they [who slandered] not produce for it four witnesses? And when they do not produce the witnesses, then it is they, in the sight of Allah, who are the liars." (An-Nur, 24:13) Translation from Saheeh International

    There is a punishment for those who accuse without proof:

    "And those who accuse chaste women and then do not produce four witnesses – lash them with eighty lashes and do not accept from them testimony ever after. And those are the defiantly disobedient, Except for those who repent thereafter and reform, for indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful." (An-Nur, 24:4-5) Translation from Saheeh International

    There are certain Islamic laws that can only be implemented by the Islamic Leader, the Islamic Government and not by individuals. We are currently living as minorities in Western lands, so no one is allowed to implement these Hudood laws without the consent of the Governing body over the land. Such Islamic laws as cutting the hand of the thief, stoning, lashings, etc.

    3) When the Messenger of Allah (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) made the hijrah, the migration from Mecca to Medina, the Islamic state was established in Medina. This Islamic state gave freedoms and rights to the minorities that resided and the polytheists who did not accept Islam. The Messenger of Allah (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) was the leader of the Islamic state and through him, the Hudood or the Laws of Islam were conducted and implemented.

    Please feel free to respond to my points.

    Afifa Darabuddin

    • First of all, the requirement for “proof” pretty much ensures that you can never lawfully convict anyone of this crime. Few, if any, will commit the act of adultery in front of four witnesses. In the case of Sakinah, there were no witnesses to the act and indeed most of the time when these perverted sadistic men who try to inflict this punishment on women there is no burden of proof. The testimony of any male who seeks revenge is usually enough even if the woman swears she is innocent. There is some kind of sick, sadistic nature shared among men who choose to ignore all of the examples of the Prophet, to whom they can never compare themselves, his compassion, his kindness, his example of avoiding being told of the sins of others. These men do not hold the level of piety or ethics that should be required of someone seeking to pass judgment on others. Their disgusting thirst to impose upon women (whom they use to make themselves feel superior)this tormented, barbaric act, is in itself, outside the nature of Islam. The Quran, which is the word of Allah, tells us that there is no compulsion in religion.

      • So are you trying to imply commiting adultery is ok? Please tell that what you think should happen if someone commits adultery?


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