Islam and stoning: A historical perspective

Many critics of Islam allege that Islam is barbaric because it legislates the capital punishment for offenses like rape, apostasy, heresy, blasphemy etc. etc. This is not a new allegation on Islam, many critics have been using the same rhetoric for a long time now. This perception of Islam (that it condones stoning to death) is built on the historic events that occurred during the life of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him), where he suggested stoning of people.

If you study the Holy Quran, you will be astonished to know that there is no mentioning of this punishment in the entire scripture. There is punishment but death (no matter in what shape or form) is not even remotely mentioned for this offense. In the hadith (sayings / biography of the Prophet (Peace be upon Him)) we find certain accounts for when the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) ordained the stoning of death for adulterers. These rare events should be viewed in the historical perspective of that time. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) had migrated from Mecca towards Yathrib (which was later to be known as Medina), He was made head of state by an agreement between the dwellers of Medina and the surrounding (Jewish) tribes. It is important to remember that the Prophet’s (Peace be upon Him) reputation as a shroud and honest judge had perpetrated throughout entire Arabian peninsula. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) served as an arbitrator towards the community and people of all cast, creed and religion brought their feuds and conflicts to him and returned satisfied.

Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice. And surely excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you! Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. (Chapter 4, Verse 59)

Having established his reputation as an unprejudiced, wise and honest judge, the people of Medina (and those of the surrounding Jewish tribes) brought their conflicts to Him in pursuit of justice. When the cases of murders, adultery and harassment, the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) inquired from the people what was the punishment ordained amongst them for these offenses. And the same punishment (according to the religion of the parties) was ordained for the accused. In simple words, the ‘stoning to death’ did not originate in Islam. Let us briefly explore the origins of this punishment.

Stoning to death: History

While the origins of stoning may be unknown outside the Abrahamic religions, what is known that Aztecs used to stone the adulterers to death. The first account of stoning to death in Abrahamic religions come from Torah, which is a part of the Old testament.

12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death.

13 They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain.”

(Exodus 19)

Here the bible is commanding the followers to kill those who touch the Holy Mountain without touching them. In Numbers we find texts which ordain the similar punishment but for another crime.

32 While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day.

33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly,

34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him.

35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.”

36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses.

These are two of many examples where the bible commands for spiritual crimes be met with physical (and absolute) punishment. Even sleeping or lying with an engaged woman (who is engaged to another man and not violating the woman or abusing her) is punishable by stoning. Other crimes include: blasphemy, witchcraft, adultery, Overtime however the Jewish priests enacted some doctrines in order to prevent innocent from receiving capital punishment.

The Islamic link

As stated earlier, there is no account of stoning to death mentioned in the Quran. However, we find certain judgements during the time of Prophet (peace be upon him) that certain people were killed by stoning to death. Why? well the following Hadith sheds some light on the issue:

The Jews brought to the Prophet a man and a woman from among them who had committed illegal sexual intercourse. The Prophet said to them, “How do you usually punish the one amongst you who has committed illegal sexual intercourse?” They replied, “We blacken their faces with coal and beat them.” He said, “Don’t you find the order of Ar-Rajm (i.e. stoning to death) in the Torah?” They replied, “We do not find anything in it.” ‘Abdullah bin Salam (after hearing this conversation) said to them, “You have told a lie! Bring here the Torah and recite it if you are truthful.” (So the Jews brought the Torah). And the religious teacher who was teaching it to them, put his hand over the Verse of Ar-Rajm and started reading what was written above and below the place hidden with his hand, but he did not read the Verse of Ar-Rajm. ‘Abdullah bin Salam removed his (i.e. the teacher’s) hand from the Verse of Ar-Rajm and said, “What is this?” So when the Jews saw that Verse, they said, “This is the Verse of Ar-Rajm.” So the Prophet ordered the two adulterers to be stoned to death, and they were stoned to death near the place where biers used to be placed near the Mosque. I saw her companion (i.e. the adulterer) bowing over her so as to protect her from the stones. (Sahih Bukhari 6.79, Narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar)

As you can see from the above account, the Prophet (peace be upon him) judged between the two parties on the basis of Torah (their religious scriptures). It was never sanctioned into Islam as far as history goes. This tradition spread through the Muslims, some of them spread the news without proper context, which was that the punishment was legislated within Torah and not Quran. Therefore after the death of Prophet (peace be upon Him) this false tradition was taken up by Muslims.

The punishment for adultery in Islam is for the perpetrator to be lashed out (which can be changed based on the culture), not put to death. This is evident from the following Hadith:

Narrated Abu Huraira and Zaid bin Khalid Al-Juhani: A bedouin came to Allah’s Apostle and said, “O Allah’s apostle! I ask you by Allah to judge My case according to Allah’s Laws.” His opponent, who was more learned than he, said, “Yes, judge between us according to Allah’s Laws, and allow me to speak.” Allah’s Apostle said, “Speak.” He (i .e. the bedouin or the other man) said, “My son was working as a laborer for this (man) and he committed illegal sexual intercourse with his wife. The people told me that it was obligatory that my son should be stoned to death, so in lieu of that I ransomed my son by paying one hundred sheep and a slave girl. Then I asked the religious scholars about it, and they informed me that my son must be lashed one hundred lashes, and be exiled for one year, and the wife of this (man) must be stoned to death.” Allah’s Apostle said, “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, I will judge between you according to Allah’s Laws. The slave-girl and the sheep are to be returned to you, your son is to receive a hundred lashes and be exiled for one year. You, Unais, go to the wife of this (man) and if she confesses her guilt, stone her to death.” Unais went to that woman next morning and she confessed. Allah’s Apostle ordered that she be stoned to death.The stoning was done to the woman because she was a jew and according to torah punishment is stoning.The son got 100 lashes because its the punishment for zina in quran.

(Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 50: Conditions, Number 885)

So it is safe to say that it is not Islamic law which dictates barbaric punishment, the fact is that these have nothing to do with Islam at all. Therefore all those out Islamophobes out there, when you talk about stoning, be prepared to criticize the Jews and the Christians for this cruelty not Islam. If you are curious to learn the status of capital punishments in Islam, please follow the link here.

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Islam: Religion of Peace (Part 9: Khomenism)

PreviousPart 8

There is a long history of growing Iranian consciousness of its exploitation and enslavement by foreign powers of one type or another. Despite the fact that a very large majority of Iranians are Muslims.  One cannot ignore the fact that Iranians have never been able to forget or forgive the conquest by Arabs of their homelands. Although the wounds appeared to have been healed long ago and many potent factors such as commonality of religion and common enmity against other countries have played an important role in cementing the Iranians to the Arabs, it cannot be denied that there is still an undercurrent of dissatisfaction at the Arab domination of Iran for the past few centuries. One must also bear in mind that in the pre-Islamic era, Iran could boast one of the most powerful and illustrious civilizations ever to have influenced mankind anywhere in the world. At the inception of Islam, the Arabs knew of only two worlds—that in the West, dominated by the Roman Empire, and that in the East, commanded and governed by the Chosroes of Iran. The memories of that remote and glorious past, though subdued to some extent by the strong influence of Islamic brotherhood, could not entirely be wiped out. There always has been along and lingering shadow of the great Iranian civilization in the hearts of Iranian intellectuals.

The long history of Iranian-Arab feuds and Iranian punitive excursions into Arabia also left ugly and irritating scars on the Arab minds which even the great healer, time, could not obliterate. This is only human. People throughout the world may sometimes find it difficult to dissociate themselves from the past or to forget injuries and insults to their honor. Such chapters of history are never permanently closed but are opened again and again.

Let us now turn to more modern times It is not against the Arabs alone that the Iranians have been nursing their grievances. During the Second World War, the Iranians were subjected to a worse kind of domination by predominantly British forces. Whilst in the Arab case there had at least been the redeeming factor of a common cultural and religious bond, in the case of the British the chasm between the ruler and the ruled, rather than narrowing grew wider. Nor could it be bridged by any social, cultural or religious similarities.

After the decline of British influence there followed an era of indirect control and subjugation of Third World countries by the major powers through stooges and puppet regimes. It was in this period of neoimperialism that the Iranian protégé was transferred from the British lap to the American lap. The Shah of Iran thus became a symbol of American imperialism which supported conflicting ideologies to its own as it does today, for example, in Poland, Nicaragua, Israel and South Africa.

The fuel of hatred which was ultimately sparked off by the Khomeinian revolution was not only a product of American oppression but had been accumulating for centuries, like the subterranean reserves of oil and gas. The important point to note is that this hatred was not essentially religious in origin. If Khomeini had not exploited the hatred in the name of Islam, some communist leader would certainly have exploited it in the name of social justice. Whatever religious or irreligious name was given to the revolution, the underlying forces and factors would remain the same.

I have pointed out many times to those who regard excesses committed by Khomeini against some of his own people, and acts of revenge perpetrated in other countries, as Islamic in character that Islam as a religion has nothing to do with the expression of Iranian dissatisfaction. In a manner of speaking, the West should treat Ayatollah Khomeini as their benefactor rather than as their enemy. I say this because I am quite positive that if Khomeini had not exploited the situation and given it an Islamic face in order to support and perpetuate a junta of Muslim ‘clergy’, the situation would most certainly have been exploited by Iranian leaders of leftist inclination. The same Iran which we see as green sprinkled with red today would have instead appeared to us entirely red. It would be naive to say that the communist leadership created and trained by Dr Mossadeq had been weakened and enfeebled to such a degree at the time of the Shah’s overthrow that it could not have played an effective and revolutionary role at this epoch-making juncture of Iranian history. In fact, the communist leadership was well supported and trained. It was entirely ready to seize an opportunity. But for Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran could well have ended up as a radical Marxist regime. Such an event would have had disastrous consequences for the oil-rich but militarily weak Middle East. So even Khomeinian Islam—however gory and loathsome it may appear to the West—could be seen as a blessing in disguise. The role of Ayatollah Khomeini should be seen in this perspective.

It would be naive to say that the communist leadership created and trained by Dr Mossadeq had been weakened and enfeebled to such a degree at the time of the Shah’s overthrow that it could not have played an effective and revolutionary role at this epoch-making juncture of Iranian history. In fact, the communist leadership was well supported and trained. It was entirely ready to seize an opportunity. But for Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran could well have ended up as a radical Marxist regime. Such an event would have had disastrous consequences for the oil-rich but militarily weak Middle East. So even Khomeinian Islam—however gory and loathsome it may appear —could be seen politically as a blessing in disguise. The role of Ayatollah Khomeini should be seen in political perspective.

NextPart 10

Gazing at the edge of the Universe

Astronomers recently managed to look at the edge of the universe. It is a special moment in the history of the universe, because the light which have been spotted is claimed to travel for 13 billion years. It is when the universe was just about a billion years old. Quite a breakthrough!

While human kind across the world celebrates this remarkable event, Pakistanis are celebrating the ruling of judiciary over the 18th Amendment. To be fair to the people of Pakistan, many of them don’t even know what a light year is. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they think Earth is the center of this universe. That’s not their immediate problem though. People effected by the flood haven’t been rehabilitated yet, infrastructure across the country is devastated, blood rivers are flowing across the landscape of Pakistan and corruption continues as per tradition and there is no power and will to control this. Political leaders as usual are in a blame game, once again leading the nation into the darkness of ignorance, intolerance and rage.

The world has reached the edge of this Universe and it seems like Pakistan has gone back in time to the age where ‘civilization’ was just a concept.

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