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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Adultery... Punishable by Death?

"At least eight women and one man are reported to have been sentenced to death by stoning in Iran.The group, convicted of adultery and sex offences, could be executed at any time, lawyers defending them say."

See the BBC article.

I heard about this on the drive to Beirut this morning. Not much was said, and I barely caught it on the radio so I wasn't sure what I had heard.
Now I'm reading about it and the more I read the more disgusted I am. I find it so difficult to believe that in the 21st century, we still hear about these sorts of things. Here are a few things I came across here and there while trying to satisfy my curiosity.

What is it?
Stoning, or lapidation, is a form of capital punishment that sees a group of people throw stones at the convicted person until he or she dies. Stoning was practiced by many cultures, before it was abolished in all but one, the Islamic Shari'a. In Islam, stoning, known as Rajm, is the penalty for adultery only.

The Procedure
According to Islamic Law, the adulterer is to be buried in a ditch, up to the waist or the chest for a man or woman, respectively, and then be stoned to death. Also under Law, the individual stones that are used must not be large enough to inflict a fatal injury immediately, so the convicted person must remain alive for a certain period of time whilst receiving punishment, or, as it turns out to be in this case, torture. If he or she manages to escape before dying, he or she is allowed to live (more on this below).

Conviction of the act of adultery requires the presence of a number of witnesses, who MUST witness sexual intercourse, including the act of penetration, in order for their testimony to be considered valid in the prosecution's request for the sentence of death by stoning. A person can also bear witness against herself or himself.

There is disagreement among Muslim scholars concerning the legality and legitimacy of lapidation. Some argue that no mention of it can be found in the Quran. In fact, the Quran reportedly does not mention stoning as a punishment for any crime, including adultery, and legitimates lashing as a punishment for it. Traditionalists have found ways around this, through law dictated by the Hadith, which I will not discuss here.

My Personal Opinion
I am aware that the practice of stoning has been around for a while. But reading about it in detail has brought up many questions in my mind about what governs it. (1) It seems to me that the laws that govern the conviction of a person of the crime of adultery are shaky at best. Conviction is based on witness testimony alone. The witnesses are sworn to tell the truth or risk punishment themselves. Granted. But what's to determine if they are indeed telling the truth? What exactly did they witness, and does it warrant the sentence given? many more questions and no time... (2) Does it sound fair to you that a woman is supposed to be buried chest-high, while a man is buried only waist high? Wouldn't this make it much easier for a man to escape and be allowed to live? Not to mention the man's probably superior physical strength! Something's wrong with this picture! (3) Fine. Let's set all that aside for a second. Let's assume that there is a perfect judicial system where no one is ever wrongfully accused of anything, and where woman and man are treated equally. This brings me to the essence of what I want to say. I really believe that there is not, or I cannot imagine, a single instance of 'legal' human behavior at its worst, that can seem even remotely as barbaric and primitive as this. I started reading about an hour ago, and I couldn't believe my eyes. Just think about it for a second. What it boils down to is this. You're in a ditch, you cannot move, and people around you are having a party knocking you around with stones that are deliberately chosen to be of just small enough size to kill you slowly and brutally. I believe that compared to lapidation, hanging and the electric chair seem like a day at the spa. The insanity of the matter, for me, is that some countries still practice this form of punishment (I am completely against all forms of capital punishment but this is not what I'm talking about now). I am hoping that most of you will agree with me on this, because I simply cannot see how someone can advocate this kind of violence. No matter what the crime, no matter which Prophet, Messiah, Sheikh, Mishna, no matter which judge, governor, president, dictator, king, or any sort of religious or judicial figure advocates it, the mere thought of someone dying this way is of such repugnance to me that I cannot describe it, and I simply cannot bring myself to try and tolerate that people can believe what they want to believe, as far as this issue is concerned, and leave the matter alone. I just cannot. The fact that it was written some hundreds of years ago in some holy book, be it the Bible or the Quran, does not, in my humble opinion, justify its existence in a 21st century global society. To me this is the worst imaginable blow flying in the face of all efforts put forth by mankind as a whole in the quest for enlightenment, civility, and sophistication, and it needs to be abolished as soon as possible.

Related Video

Read some more on Stoning and Rajm.