Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality & Equality - WISE

The Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE) is a global program, social network and grassroots social justice movement led by Muslim women. WISE is empowering Muslim women to fully participate in their communities and nations and amplifying their collective voices.


Current Issues: Stoning

Berlin, Germany. 2010. A woman attends a protest against stoning in Iran. Poster at left reads: 'Rescue Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.' Photo Credit: Markus Schreiber/AP Images.


The practice of stoning has long existed before Islam’s arrival and has been prescribed as a means of punishment to adulterers in the Greek and Jewish culture.1 Now, this practice is associated with Islam, more specifically with punishment in Muslim communities of sex between at least one married individual. Yet, there is no consensus among Muslims about the issue. Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shrin Ebadi, uses a human rights framework to call for the abolition of stoning and gives religious arguments for why it should be banned. According to Ebadi, not only is stoning not compatible with United Nations Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but there is also no direct mention of stoning as a punishment for adultery in the Quran.2


However, there is public opinion in some Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan that favor the practice. In fact, Pew Global Attitudes Project conducted a survey in 2009 in Pakistan that found that 83 percent of Pakistanis believe that adulterers should be stoned. Stoning is a legal form of punishment for the adultery of married people in Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates.3 However, Muslim-majority countries such as Malaysia, Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, and Algeria ban this practice.


There is no agreement within the global Muslim community over the validity of the practice under Islamic jurisprudence. Supporters of stoning cite Hadith, or sayings of Prophet Muhammad, when discussing the legitimacy of the practice.4 They also state that it was proclaimed by other prophets and found in the Old Testament. However, there is no mention of stoning in the Quran. Instead, a lesser punishment of lashing is given for those proven guilty of adultery and fornication outside marriage. Furthermore, there is a great burden of proof on those accusing someone of such a crime. According to the Quran, the offense of adultery must be proven through voluntary confession or by testimony of four witnesses of good moral character who state under oath that they have witnessed the crime itself take place. It makes it near impossible to have four people of good morals testify that in the same place, at the same time, they saw the act of penetration.


Interestingly, although Islamic jurisprudence does not establish pregnancy as legal evidence of adultery, pregnancy is often used as grounds for accusing a woman of the crime. For example in Iran, the Islamic penal code allows a single judge to rule according to his personal opinion and does not always require the testimony of four witnesses.5 Ziba Mir-Hosseini, an expert on Iranian family law at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, said the standard in some cases is "'the judge's knowledge.'” She thinks it is no accident that stoning has increased in Iran in the midst of political unrest. She states: “it has become a political matter … Whenever there is a dispute between traditionalists and reformers in the judiciary, stoning increases.”6


[1] Deuteronomy 22:22, Leviticus 20:10
[2] Practice of the Stoning Is in Our Laws; Interview with Shirin Ebadi
[3] The Pew Global Attitudes Project: Pakistani Public Opinion
[4] Adultery and Fornication
[5] Violence is not our Culture-the Global Campaign to stop Killing and stoning women
[6] CNN: Quran doesn’t call for stoning, experts insist.