Global Campaign to Stop Killing
& Stoning Women
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is stoning?
Stoning, or lapidation, refers to a method of execution in which an
organized group throws stones or rocks at the person they wish to execute.
Although it takes many different forms, stoning has been used throughout
history and in many religious and cultural traditions as a kind of
community justice or capital punishment. For instance, the practice has
been documented among the ancient Greeks to punish people judged to be
prostitutes, adulterers or murderers. It is also documented in the Jewish
Tradition via the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and the
Talmud, or Jewish Oral Law. In the Old Testament of the Bible, stoning is
prescribed a method of execution for crimes such as murder, blasphemy or
apostasy. Although there is no mention of stoning in the Quran, the
practice has since grown to be associated with Islam and Muslim culture.
- Is stoning still
practiced? In which countries?
Yes. Stoning to death has been introduced as a legal form of punishment
for the "adultery of married persons" (zina al-mohsena)
in Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria (about one-third of the 36 states),
Pakistan, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. Some of these countries
have since repealed the law of stoning. While the penalty has never been
carried out in Nigeria, or by the state in either Pakistan or Iraq,
incidents of stoning have been carried out by communities, seemingly
encouraged by the existence of the punishment in law.
- For what crime is
Stoning is largely prescribed, either by law or by custom/practice in
particular communities, for the crime of "adultery of married
persons" (zina al-mohsena). Adultery here applies to a
sexual act where at least one of the parties is married to a third party.
It does not include premarital sex or homosexual acts, although this too
is illegal under most interpretations of Muslim laws.
- How is “adultery”
proven, before a stoning sentence is passed in the courtroom?
In states where stoning is codified in law (Iran, Nigeria, and the Sudan)
adultery must be proven in court. According to many interpretations of
Islamic Law (including the Iranian Penal Code), proving adultery is very
difficult, and a guilty sentence is nearly impossible to obtain through
hard evidence. Adultery punishable by stoning must be proven by the
eye-witness testimony of either four just men (or three just men and two
just women) or through four separate confessions by the defendant before a
judge. But in fact, most stoning sentences in Iran are issued not on the
basis of testimony or confession but on the judge’s “knowledge” or
“intuition.” Article 105 of the Islamic Penal code of Iran allows a single
judge to rule according to his personal opinion instead of hard evidence.
As a result, most if not all adultery cases are unfairly tried. In
Nigeria, pregnancy outside of a subsisting marraige has been taken as
evidence of adultery by the woman -- however, since the acquittal of Amina
Lawal, this is no longer the case.
- Is stoning not already
banned in Iran?
In 2002, the Head of the Judiciary of Iran, Ayatollah Shahroudi, mandated
that stoning would no longer be practiced in Iran; but the laws were never
officially removed from the penal code. As such, stoning sentences
continue to be handed down by lower judges today, because all judges in
Iran are obliged to follow the law over the order of a higher judge.
Hence, Iran allows individual judges to pass a stoning sentence without
checks and balances or the burden of proof. Only a change in law will stop
- How is stoning carried out?
The Islamic Penal Code of Iran is very specific regarding the details of
how stoning should be executed. Article 102 states that men shall be
buried up to their waists and women up to their breasts for the execution.
Article 104 states, referring to the penalty for adultery, that the stones
used should “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes;
nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones
(pebbles).” In some cases, if a victim can escape from the ditch during
the stoning, they will be freed. However, because women are buried up to
their breasts and men only at their waists, women will have a smaller
chance of escaping than men.
- Is stoning a tenet of
Stoning is a highly debated issue among Muslim religious clerics, and
there is no consensus within the global Muslim community over the validity
of the practice as “Islamic Law.” Although there is no mention of stoning
in the Quran, many Muslim clerics cite instances in the Hadith, the acts
and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, when discussing the legitimacy of the
practice of stoning in Islam. Although the Quran (Surah al-Nur 24:2-9)
only stipulates 100 lashes for adultery, the Prophet Muhammad reportedly
had a number of men and women stoned in his time, which is taken as
evidence for those who argue for the codifying of this punishment as
Shariah, or Islamic Law. However, it is unclear whether these punishments
were carried out before or after the revelation of the part of the Quran
that mentions the punishment of adultery (Surah al-Nur). After the Prophet
Muhammad’s death, the first generation of Muslim legal scholars included
adultery as one of the six major offences in Islamic law for which the
penalty is fixed by God and Quran (hudud). However, because the
justification for stoning relies completely on the Hadith and not on the
Quran, many scholars question its label as hudud, the very
definition of such being “punishments mandated by God.” Such
inconsistencies between the Hadith and Quran have been a source of
confusion and remain controversial to this day.
- Have Muslim authorities
spoken out against stoning?
Many Muslim clerics, religious scholars, and political leaders have spoken
out against the practice of stoning, deeming it “un-Islamic.” Just in
Iran, Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, Ayatollah Yousef Saneii and
Ayatollah Seyyed Mohamamd Mousavi Bojnourdi have all spoken out against
the practice, among many others. Some Muslim clerics such as Ayatollah
Hussein Mousavi Tabrizi argued that stoning should be stopped as a
response to the demands of modern age. Others decry that any punishment,
including stoning, that defames, embarrasses or depicts a bad picture of
Islam is harmful to the religion and should be discontinued. Nobel Peace
Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, in her discussion of the practice, point out
that many religious leaders see stoning as an “endorsement” law that can
be changed, as opposed to a “constitutional” law; and that many other
Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Tunisia, Morocco, and
Algeria do not condone stoning.
- What is the relationship
between stoning and human rights?
Stoning is a grave and serious violation of International Human Rights
Law. Stoning breeches the International Convention of Civil and Political
Rights (1966), to which Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, and the Sudan
are party signatories. Article 6 of the ICCPR states that “in countries
which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be
imposed only for the most serious crimes”, of which adultery is not one.
Article 7 of the ICCPR states that "No one shall be subjected to
torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
This last injunction is the content of a whole Convention: the Convention
Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment (1987), which is widely considered to have reached the level of
customary law due to its strong international acceptance by more than
fifty nations, including many Muslim nations.
- What is the relationship
between stoning and women’s rights?
Women are far more likely to become victims of stoning. For example, of
the ten cases of individuals awaiting punishment by stoning in Iran, nine
are women. Similarly, all but one of those sentenced to stoning in Nigeria
were women. Even though there is no article in law that mandates
punishment by stoning exclusively for women, misogynist and discriminatory
practices, interpretations and policies, make women far more likely than
men to be found guilty of “adultery." In the Iranian Penal Code, a
married woman has no right to divorce, a privilege which is reserved for
the husband. Women have no custody rights of their children after age
seven; as a result, women who can obtain a divorce by proving their husbands
are either abusive or an addict, choose not to do so fearing the loss of
their children. A man can marry up to four wives simultaneously, and may
establish a sexual relationship with any other single woman through a
temporary marriage without the requirements of marriage registration,
ceremony, or obligation to any possible child that may result. In
addition, a woman is legally obliged to submit to her husband’s sexual
demands and do her best to satisfy him sexually. Hence if a man is
sexually unsatisfied or in an unhappy relationship, he has many avenues
open to him to dissolve the marriage and/or satisfy his sexual needs in a
temporary “marriage.” However, these legal options are denied to Iranian
women, and a woman seeking alternative intimate relationships is, in the
eyes of the law, “committing adultery.” In Nigeria prior to 2003, the
assumption that non-marital pregnancy is prima facie evidence of adultery
by the women, without requiring any other form of evidence, was also
discriminatory against women, since male partners were acquitted by simply
taking oath that they were not guilty. Many similar discriminatory laws
and regulations exist in other countries and communities where stoning is
- Shouldn’t we just accept
stoning as part of someone’s culture and their right to freedom of belief?
There is no excuse for the killing of women in the name of any ‘religion’,
‘culture’ or ‘tradition’. ‘Religion’ and ‘culture’ cannot and must not be
invoked as excuse for the killing of women, because religion and the laws
which derive from it are always subjective interpretations. Culture is not
static, but constantly re-created and re-defined by the various interests
of groups in positions of power in a society at any given time. There is
no excuse for the killing of women. Murder is a brutal violation of the
most basic human right – the right to life – and any practice which harms
women or impinges upon their agency and autonomy contradicts fundamental
rights, such as the right to security; the right to freedom from violence;
from inhuman, degrading treatment and punishment; from terror; the right
to choose a marriage partner; and the right to not face discrimination
under the law. As long as impunity exists, the misappropriation of culture
and religion will continue to threaten women’s safety. No ‘culture’ has
the right to kill and harm women based on their perceptions of morality or
honour. The freedom of belief does not mean freedom to kill. Stoning is a
brutal example of how culture and religion are being misused to perpetuate
violence against women.
For more information on stoning, see:
Stoning and Islam
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