Stoning 101: Is it part of Islamic Law?

Malaysia wants to implement Hudud and enforce death by stoning, but is this form of punishment truly part of Islamic law?

With all the fuss going about regarding the implementation of Hudud law in Malaysia, it would seem that one of the biggest concerns of humanists is the act of stoning. Under both Kelantan and Terengganu Shariah Criminal Code enactments, whoever that is married that commits the offence of zina (even if she was impregnated through rape and does not have four witnesses to defend her) shall be punished with the punishment of rajm (stoning to death) with stones of medium size.

The act in itself is barbaric and regressive, regardless of who is on the receiving end, but then of course you also have many Muslims rejoicing at the enforcement of this punishment above the reasoning “It’s God’s law.” Which brings us to the main question: Is stoning an Islamic injuction?

What is zina?

Zina under Islamic Law is unlawful sexual intercourse. This encompasses both extramarital sex and premarital sex, which means it does not differentiate between the English definitions of adultery (sexual intercourse between a married man and another woman or vice versa) and fornication (sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons). In Islam, zina is considered one of the major sins.

Commentary by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi:

“The Arabic word zanaa denotes sexual intercourse between any man and woman, whether married or not, who do not stand to each other in the relation of husband and wife; and, as such, has no single word equivalent in English language. It includes both adultery (i.e. illicit sexual intercourse of two persons either of whom is married to a third person) and fornication (i.e. illicit sexual intercourse of unmarried persons).”

Commentary by Muhammad Asad:

“The term zina signifies voluntary sexual intercourse between a man and a woman not married to one another, irrespective of whether one or both of them are married to other persons or not: hence, it does not — in contrast with the usage prevalent in most Western languages — differentiate between the concepts of “adultery” (i.e., sexual intercourse of a married man with a woman other than his wife, or of a married woman with a man other than her husband) and “fornication” (i.e., sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons).”

Below is a verse prescribing the punishment for zina:

“The adulteress or adulterer found guilty of sexual intercourse – lash each one of them with a hundred lashes, and do not be taken by pity for them in the religion of Allah, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a group of the believers witness their punishment.” [24:2]

Although zina covers both adultery and fornication, the consensus of Muslim jurists state that the above verse only applies to unmarried persons, and that the punishment for adultery according to the Prophet (PBUH) is stoning to death.

The Qur’an also states the punishment for slaves who have committed adultery after being freed and married. Their punishment is half of what fornicators receive, which is fifty lashes. The verse prescribing this punishment is as followed:

“And whoever among you who can afford to marry the protected and believing women, then (marry) of those whom your oaths possess from among your believing young women; and Allah knows best your oaths: you are one from another; so marry them with the permission of their families, and give them their dowries in kindness if they are seeking protection, not fornicating, nor receiving paramours if they protected themselves, and if they commit an indecency, then on them is half the suffering which should be upon the protected women. This is for him who fears the sin from among you; and if you are patient is better for you, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. “ [4:25]

The Qur’an also states a specific case of adultery is regards to the Prophet’s (PBUH) wives. Should they commit adultery, their punishment was double-fold of what is prescribed in [24:2], which is two hundred lashes:

“O wives of the Prophet, whoever of you should commit a clear immorality – for her the punishment would be doubled two fold, and ever is that, for Allah, easy.” [33:30]

Does this not make you wonder, if the punishment for adultery is stoning to death, how could the punishment of the freed, married slaves and Prophet’s (PBUH) wives be halved or doubled the stoning respectively? Is it possible to half-stone someone, or double-stone someone? Or if married women who commit adultery are punished by stoning to death, is this not inconsistent or unfair with the comparison that freed, married slaves and the Prophet’s (PBUH) wives are only subject to flogging?

محصنات (muhsanat)

The common mistake people make in interpreting the term “muhsanat” is thinking it means “married women”. The Arabic term for “married” is متزوج (mutazawij) which literally means “becomes a pair”. The Qur’an uses the term in its plural form, ازواج (azwaj) many times to refer to married couples.

So what does “muhsanat” mean?

“Muhsanat” is in a feminine plural form, whereas its feminine singular form is محصنة (muhsanah). The masculine singular form of the word is محصن (muhsan). This means “protected” or “protection”. The word can also be applied to non-human objects such as villages. The word derives from the three Arabic letters حصن (Ha Sa Na) which means “to protect” This word has been many times in the Qur’an as shown:

لَا يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ جَمِيعًا إِلَّا فِي قُرًى مُّحَصَّنَةٍ أَوْ مِن وَرَاء جُدُرٍ بَأْسُهُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ شَدِيدٌ تَحْسَبُهُمْ جَمِيعًا وَقُلُوبُهُمْ شَتَّى ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَوْمٌ لَّا يَعْقِلُونَ

“They will not fight against you in a body save in fortified towns or from behind walls; their fighting between them is severe, you may think them as one body, and their hearts are disunited; that is because they are a people who have no sense.” [59:14]

وَمَرْيَمَ ابْنَتَ عِمْرَانَ الَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ الْقَانِتِينَ

“And [the example of] Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We blew into [her garment] through Our angel, and she believed in the words of her Lord and His scriptures and was of the devoutly obedient.” [66:12]

وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ صَنْعَةَ لَبُوسٍ لَّكُمْ لِتُحْصِنَكُم مِّن بَأْسِكُمْ فَهَلْ أَنتُمْ شَاكِرُونَ

“And We taught him the fashioning of coats of armor to protect you from your [enemy in] battle. So will you then be grateful?” [21:80]

ثُمَّ يَأْتِي مِن بَعْدِ ذَلِكَ سَبْعٌ شِدَادٌ يَأْكُلْنَ مَا قَدَّمْتُمْ لَهُنَّ إِلاَّ قَلِيلاً مِّمَّا تُحْصِنُونَ

“Then there shall come after that seven years of hardship which shall eat away all that you have beforehand laid up in store for them, except a little of what you shall have preserved. “ [12:48]

وَلْيَسْتَعْفِفِ الَّذِينَ لَا يَجِدُونَ نِكَاحًا حَتَّى يُغْنِيَهُمْ اللَّهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ وَالَّذِينَ يَبْتَغُونَ الْكِتَابَ مِمَّا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ فَكَاتِبُوهُمْ إِنْ عَلِمْتُمْ فِيهِمْ خَيْرًا وَآتُوهُم مِّن مَّالِ اللَّهِ الَّذِي آتَاكُمْ وَلَا تُكْرِهُوا فَتَيَاتِكُمْ عَلَى الْبِغَاء إِنْ أَرَدْنَ تَحَصُّنًا لِّتَبْتَغُوا عَرَضَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَمَن يُكْرِههُّنَّ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ مِن بَعْدِ إِكْرَاهِهِنَّ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“But let them who find not [the means for] marriage abstain [from sexual relations] until Allah enriches them from His bounty. And those who seek a contract [for eventual emancipation] from among whom your right hands possess – then make a contract with them if you know there is within them goodness and give them from the wealth of Allah which He has given you. And do not compel your slave girls to prostitution, if they desire to keep chaste, to seek [thereby] the temporary interests of worldly life. And if someone should compel them, then indeed, Allah is [to them], after their compulsion, Forgiving and Merciful.” [24:33]

As we have seen so far, use of the word “Ha Sa Na” in the Qur’an shows:

  • Seeking protection
  • Offering protection
  • Already protected

How about the use of “muhsanah” for women? In the Qur’an, there are verses that refer to some women as الْمُحْصَنَات (Al-Muhsanat).

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ الْغَافِلَاتِ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ لُعِنُوا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

“Indeed, those who [falsely] accuse chaste, unaware and believing women are cursed in this world and the Hereafter; and they will have a great punishment.” [24:23]

The above verse shows that those who accuse protected believing women of evil shall be cursed in this life and the Hereafter. It would be ignorant to say that “Al-Muhsanat” in this verse means “married women” as that would mean it would perfectly fine to accuse unmarried women. The term refers to chaste believing women, married or unmarried.

وَالَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَأْتُوا بِأَرْبَعَةِ شُهَدَاء فَاجْلِدُوهُمْ ثَمَانِينَ جَلْدَةً وَلَا تَقْبَلُوا لَهُمْ شَهَادَةً أَبَدًا وَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ

“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,” [24:4]

The above verse shows to flog those who accuse chaste women without producing four sound witnesses. This verse is to protect those women who protect their private parts regardless if they were married or not.

الْيَوْمَ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ وَطَعَامُ الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَابَ حِلٌّ لَّكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلُّ لَّهُمْ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ إِذَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ مُحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحِينَ وَلاَ مُتَّخِذِي أَخْدَانٍ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالإِيمَانِ فَقَدْ حَبِطَ عَمَلُهُ وَهُوَ فِي الآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

“This day the good (of all food) is made lawful for you; and the food of those who were given the book is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them; and the protected from among the believing women and from among the protected women of those who were given the book before you; that is, you give them their dowries seeking to protect (them), not fornicating nor taking them in secret; and whoever rejects the faith, indeed his work has become vain, and in the hereafter he shall be among the losers.” [5:5]

The above verse is allowing the marrying of protected women from among the believers. Clearly, these women have to be unmarried in order to get married, thus the term “muhsanat” is used to mean “protected”, which in this case can mean the same as how Mary protected her chastity or it could also mean seeking protection from a family home. The verse also shows believing men who want to marry protected women from among the believing women or from among the women of the people of the book. This verse describes the believing men as مُحْصِنِينَ (muhseneen), which means the men are seeking to provide protection for the women or the means for them to protect themselves.

وَمَن لَّمْ يَسْتَطِعْ مِنكُمْ طَوْلاً أَن يَنكِحَ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ فَمِن مِّا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُم مِّن فَتَيَاتِكُمُ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَاللّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِإِيمَانِكُمْ بَعْضُكُم مِّن بَعْضٍ فَانكِحُوهُنَّ بِإِذْنِ أَهْلِهِنَّ وَآتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ مُحْصَنَاتٍ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحَاتٍ وَلاَ مُتَّخِذَاتِ أَخْدَانٍ فَإِذَا أُحْصِنَّ فَإِنْ أَتَيْنَ بِفَاحِشَةٍ فَعَلَيْهِنَّ نِصْفُ مَا عَلَى الْمُحْصَنَاتِ مِنَ الْعَذَابِ ذَلِكَ لِمَنْ خَشِيَ الْعَنَتَ مِنْكُمْ وَأَن تَصْبِرُواْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ وَاللّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“And whoever among you who cannot afford to marry the protected and believing women, then (marry) of those whom your oaths possess from among your believing young women; and Allah knows best your oaths: you are one from another; so marry them with the permission of their families, and give them their dowries in kindness if they are seeking protection, not fornicating, nor receiving paramours if they protected themselves, and if they commit an indecency, then on them is half the suffering which should be upon the protected women. This is for him who fears the sin from among you; and if you are patient is better for you, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” [4:25]

Notice how in this verse, the single believing women are referred to as “Al Muhsanat Al Muminat”. This can only mean that they are protected on their own or are protected, thus ruling out the possibility that “muhsanat” means “married”. The verse also shows that high demands were asked for the marriage of such women but the man simply cannot afford it, so the verse provides a solution to the problem by asking the men to marry those who are not protected. These women will not be involved in any illicit indecency, but if they do, the verse tells us that they should receive half the punishment prescribed in [24:2].

وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ النِّسَاء إِلاَّ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ كِتَابَ اللّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأُحِلَّ لَكُم مَّا وَرَاء ذَلِكُمْ أَن تَبْتَغُواْ بِأَمْوَالِكُم مُّحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحِينَ فَمَا اسْتَمْتَعْتُم بِهِ مِنْهُنَّ فَآتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ فَرِيضَةً وَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِيمَا تَرَاضَيْتُم بِهِ مِن بَعْدِ الْفَرِيضَةِ إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا

“And the protected from among the women, except those whom your oaths possess, (this is) Allah’s decree upon you, and lawful for you are all others beyond those, that is, you seek with your money to protect (them) not fornicating. Then for those whom you enjoyed (their company) from among them, give them their dowries, a provision; and there should be no blame on you about what you mutually agreed on after the provision; surely Allah is all-Knowing, all-Wise.” [4:24]

Many people would use this verse to justify that “muhsanat” means “married”. Although true, “muhsanat” is referred to as “married” only in the context of the above verse, thus for consistency, it is best to say and understand it by “protected through marriage”. The verse continues by excluding a group of women from those protected (through marriage) women, and these are the women who have no one protecting them. The believing men may offer protection through marriage to all women except those mentioned in [4:23] as well the women who are already married.

From the above, it can be derived that “muhsanat” means “protected women” who:

  • are not married and is protected against sexual perversity in her family home
  • are not married and is protecting herself against sexual perversity on her own
  • are married and is protected against sexual perversity in her husband’s home

The word may also describe

  • the men by using the plural masculine of it which is “muhseneen” (providing whatever means for a woman to protect the self against sexual perversity) [5:5] and [4:24]
  • other objects other than humans, and it still means “protected”, like a protected village [59:14]

What does this have to do with the punishment of stoning to death?

According to some Muslim jurists, flogging is only applicable to fornicators (unmarried) whereas adulterers (married) are subject to stoning to death. However, it states in the Qur’an that married slaves who commit illicit indecency are subject to half the punishment prescribed for “Al-Muhsanat”. If “muhsanat” specifically meant “married”, that would mean that they would be subject to half-stoning, which is an impossibility. The Prophet’s (PBUH) wives were also married, this would mean that they too would be subject to the act of stoning to death, but this time doubled. That too is an impossibility.

It is clear in the Qur’an that the punishment for “Al-Muhsanat” who commit indecency is a hundred lashes. Some would argue that married persons who commit zina are punished with death by stoning, but the slaves and Prophet’s (PBUH) wives were an exception to this rule. How would this fit into Islam’s essence of justice by subjecting common married people who commit adultery to death by stoning, but slaves and the Prophet’s (PBUH) wives are subject to the much less severe punishment of flogging even though they too are married?

So does اَلزَّانِيَةُ (azzaniyatu) and الزَّانِىۡ (azzani) in the Qur’an only refer to unmarried persons, or does it refer to a more generic term?

Qur’anic revelations often deal with significant events that take place during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) to give guidance around the confusion that arises. [24:2] is just one of the many verses in Surah An-Nur that was revealed in connection to false accusations made against Aisha (RA). This particular incident is named “Hadith Al-Ifk” which means “Story of the Slander”. Verses in Surah An-Nur answer such questions at the time of ifk against Aisha (RA) such as:

  • How to deal with accusations of zina?
  • How can the truth of such accusations be established?
  • What to do with the false accusers?
  • What to do with the accused if accusation is proven true?

In this case, would it be logical for the Qur’an, the most authentic source of God’s words, leave out the most serious case of zina, which is one committed by a married person, and the most serious punishment, which is death by stoning? God does not run out of words, and every Muslim knows that the Qur’an is complete. Aisha (RA), ultimately, was a married woman, thus the revelations would have been decreed to give guidelines on how to handle with accusations of zina made against a married person. In the view of the married status of Aisha (RA), one would expect that the Qur’an covers the case of zina done by a married person, if not focus on it. The verse below shows a case of an accusation made by a husband:

“And those who accuse their wives [of adultery] and have no witnesses except themselves – then the witness of one of them [shall be] four testimonies [swearing] by Allah that indeed, he is of the truthful. And the fifth [oath will be] that the curse of Allah be upon him if he should be among the liars. But it will prevent punishment from her if she gives four testimonies [swearing] by Allah that indeed, he is of the liars.” [24:6-9]

If we read it in this context, it becomes clear that the punishment that will be averted from the wife is that which is mentioned in [24:2] which is hundred lashes. Muslims in support of stoning would say that the punishment averted in this verse is stoning, however, from passages [24:1-34], God began and ended that he revealed in this surah “ayat bayyanat” (clear signs or statements). Can we describe these verses as clear if the punishment that was supposed to happen is not hinted in any way at all in the Qur’an?

If married slaves are subject to half the punishment of “muhsanat” and the Prophet’s (PBUH) wives are subject to double the punishment, then it is clear that the punishment for unlawful sexual intercouse, be it fornication (unmarried) or adultery (married), is a hundred lashes and not death by stoning, as the latter cannot be halved or doubled.

Also, it is worth noting that the Qur’anic legislation describes the punishment for zina as a torture or suffering. This would mean that the victims should stay alive, and not be given a death penalty.

Punishment can only be executed on the offenders if four trustworthy witnesses are produced against them. In this case, it would mean that the act of adultery or fornication has to be done in public view in order for someone to get caught. Anything done in the premises of one’s own home is absolutely between yourself and God, and surely God, being the Merciful that He is, is giving you a chance to repent.

“If a person commits a sin and Allah conceals it for him, I prefer for him to conceal it too and to repent,” (Fath al-Baari, 12/1124, 125)

Stoning in the Qur’an

Is stoning in the Qur’an? To say no would be a lie. Stoning is indeed in the Qur’an, but it does not come as a form of punishment for adulterers. Stoning in the Qur’an is shown in forms of infidels threatening believers and prophet.

They said, “O Shu’ayb, we do not understand much of what you say, and indeed, we consider you among us as weak. And if not for your family, we would have stoned you [to death]; and you are not to us one respected.”[11:91]

Indeed, if they come to know of you, they will stone you or return you to their religion. And never would you succeed, then – ever.” [18:20]

[His father] said, “Have you no desire for my gods, O Abraham? If you do not desist, I will surely stone you, so avoid me a prolonged time.” [19:46]

They said, “If you do not desist, O Noah, you will surely be of those who are stoned.” [26:116]

They said, “Indeed, we consider you a bad omen. If you do not desist, we will surely stone you, and there will surely touch you, from us, a painful punishment.” [36:18]

And indeed, I have sought refuge in my Lord and your Lord, lest you stone me. [44:20]

However, stoning as a punishment can be found in the Torah .

Stoning in the Torah

The crimes that were punishable by stoning to death are as follows:

  • Touching Mount Sinai while God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments

    “And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments, and be ready by the third day; for on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set bounds for the people round about, saying, `Take heed that you do not go up into the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death; no hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.‘ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” [Exodus 19:10-13]

    “For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,” [Hebrews 12:20-22]

  • An ox that gores someone to death should be stoned

    “When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be clear. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is laid on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is laid upon him. If it gores a man’s son or daughter, he shall be dealt with according to this same rule. If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. [Exodus 21:28-32]

  • Breaking Sabbath

    “While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made plain what should be done to him. And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp, and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses.” [Numbers 15:32-36]

  • Sexual misconduct

    “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and then spurns her, and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings an evil name upon her, saying, `I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her the tokens of virginity,’ then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the tokens of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate; and the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, `I gave my daughter to this man to wife, and he spurns her; and lo, he has made shameful charges against her, saying, “I did not find in your daughter the tokens of virginity.” And yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him; and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver, and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought an evil name upon a virgin of Israel; and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. But if the thing is true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has wrought folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you. “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall purge the evil from Israel. “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you. “But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But to the young woman you shall do nothing; in the young woman there is no offense punishable by death, for this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor; because he came upon her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her. “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her; he may not put her away all his days.” [Deuteronomy 22:13-29]

    “…but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple; all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” [John 8: 1-11]

  • Giving one’s “seed” (presumably one’s offspring) to Molech

    “The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, Any man of the people of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, who gives any of his children to Molech shall be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. I myself will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name. And if the people of the land do at all hide their eyes from that man, when he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, then I will set my face against that man and against his family, and will cut them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in playing the harlot after Molech.” [Leviticus 20:1-5]

  • For being a medium or a wizard

    “A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned with stones, their blood shall be upon them.”[Leviticus 20:27]

  • Cursing God and the king

    “Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Sama’ria. And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food. But Jez’ebel his wife came to him, and said to him, “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?” And he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite, and said to him, `Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it please you, I will give you another vineyard for it’; and he answered, `I will not give you my vineyard.’” And Jez’ebel his wife said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise, and eat bread, and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.” So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who dwelt with Naboth in his city. And she wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people; and set two base fellows opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, `You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.” And the men of his city, the elders and the nobles who dwelt in his city, did as Jez’ebel had sent word to them. As it was written in the letters which she had sent to them, they proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people. And the two base fellows came in and sat opposite him; and the base fellows brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death with stones. Then they sent to Jez’ebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.” As soon as Jez’ebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jez’ebel said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” And as soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.” [1 Kings 21:1-16]

  • Engaging in idolatry or seducing others to do so

    “You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever; for that is an abomination to the LORD your God. “If there is found among you, within any of your towns which the LORD your God gives you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it; then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abominable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring forth to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses he that is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.”[Deuteronomy 17:1-7]

    “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, entices you secretly, saying, `Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples that are round about you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him; but you shall kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.” [Deuteronomy 13:6-11]

  • Rebellion against parents

    “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they chastise him, will not give heed to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, `This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” [Deuteronomy 21:18-21]

As far as Muslims are concerned, it would seem that stoning was the punishment the Jews has prescribed for themselves. I also find it extremely touching how in [John 8: 1-11], even though Jesus was the one without sin and is able to cast a stone at the adulteress, he pardoned her. The fact that stoning in the Qur’an only came in a form of threats by infidels to believers and prophets says a lot about the implementation of the punishment. It was a punishment carried out commonly by infidels, and not the believers or the prophets.

Stoning in Hadith

When one has already justified that stoning is not a form of punishment found in the Qur’an, many Muslims will then rely on hadith to back up their claim. According to one Muslim scholar, Mirza Basheer-ud-Din Mahmood Ahmad, he states: “The misconception seems to be due to a few cases recorded in hadith where married persons, guilty of adultery, were stoned to death by the order of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). One of the few cases was that a Jew and Jewess who were stoned to death in accordance with the Mosaic Law.”

Narrated By Ash-Shaibani : I asked ‘Abdullah bin Abi ‘Aufa about the Rajam (stoning somebody to death for committing illegal sexual intercourse). He replied, “The Prophet carried out the penalty of Rajam,” I asked, “Was that before or after the revelation of Surat-an-Nur?” He replied, “I do not know.” (Bukhari Vol. 8 No. 824)

Narrated By Abdullah bin Umar : The Jews came to Allah’s Apostle and mentioned to him that a man and a lady among them had committed illegal sexual intercourse. Allah’s Apostle said to them, “What do you find in the Torah regarding the Rajam?” They replied, “We only disgrace and flog them with stripes.” ‘Abdullah bin Salam said to them, ‘You have told a lie the penalty of Rajam is in the Torah.’ They brought the Torah and opened it. One of them put his hand over the verse of the Rajam and read what was before and after it. Abdullah bin Salam said to him, “Lift up your hand.” Where he lifted it there appeared the verse of the Rajam. So they said, “O Muhammad! He has said the truth, the verse of the Rajam is in it (Torah).” Then Allah’s Apostle ordered that the two persons (guilty of illegal sexual intercourse) be stoned to death, and so they were stoned, and I saw the man bending over the woman so as to protect her from the stones. (Bukhari Vol 8 No. 825)

This report of the stoning of a Jew and Jewess was in accordance to [5:46-47] where Jews were judged based on the laws of their Book. This was before the revelation of the verse of hundred lashes. This is enough to prove that it was not Islamic law that was carried out:

“And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the defiantly disobedient.” [5:46-47]

There is however, a hadith in which Omar (RA) is recorded saying that a verse revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) but was omitted from the Qur’an. This narration started as: Malik told us that Yahya Ibn Saeed heard Saeed Ibn Mossayyab said: When Omar Ibn Al-Khattab came from Mina…

Hadhrat Umar (Radiyallahu Anhu) said, “Verily, Allah Ta’ala sent Muhammad (Sallallahu Alayhi wa sallam) with the truth, and revealed the Quran upon him. The verse regarding the stoning of the adulterer/ess was from amongst the verses revealed (in the Quran). We read it, understood it and memorized it. Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) stoned and we stoned after him. I fear that with the passage of time a person may say, ‘We do not find mention of stoning in the Book of Allah and thereby lead astray by leaving out an obligation revealed by Allah. Verily, the stoning of the adulterer/ress is found in the Quran and is the truth, if the witnesses are met or there is a pregnancy or confession.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari Vol. 2 pg. 1009 /Sahih Muslim Vol. 2 pg. 65)

This would mean that the original narrator of the anecdote is Saeed Ibn Mossayyab. He said that Omar (RA) claimed the existence of a stoning verse in the Qur’an, but it was omitted. However, Ibn Mossayyab was only two years old at the time of Omar’s (RA) death, so how can a crawling baby tell stories of Omar (RA)? Thus, it is impossible for Ibn Mossayyab to be the narrator. Also, it is impossible for Omar (RA) to say such a thing as that would mean Omar (RA) accused the Qur’an of being forged. That would be blasphemy. This, if true, would put the authenticity of the whole Qur’an at stake. Every Muslim knows that the Qur’an is timeless, and to say that there has been a verse in the Qur’an that got omitted over time would prove the Qur’an untrustworthy. Besides, how could it be that if a verse was no longer part of the Qur’an, its ruling still counts? Ultimately, if this was true, the verse must have been omitted for a reason.

God’s words are forever preserved. If there was once a verse in the Qur’an that commanded stoning, the fact that it is no longer in the Qur’an clearly means that the author did not wish to preserve it. So where did the idea of its ruling still being applicable come from? Clearly from man, and not from God.

“The fornicator does not marry except a [female] fornicator or polytheist, and none marries her except a fornicator or a polytheist, and that has been made unlawful to the believers.” [24:3]

If it was true that the punishment for illicit indecency was stoning, that would also deem the above verse useless as people who have been stoned to death cannot get married.

God has already decreed that He will safeguard the contents of the Qur’an and that everything is made clear. Nothing has been left out of it. If there was a verse omitted from it, does this mean that God has failed to preserve the Holy Book?

“Falsehood cannot approach it from before it or from behind it; [it is] a revelation from a [Lord who is] Wise and Praiseworthy.” [41:42]

“Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.” [15:9]

“And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered.” [6:38]

“And [mention] the Day when We will resurrect among every nation a witness over them from themselves. And We will bring you, [O Muhammad], as a witness over your nation. And We have sent down to you the Book as clarification for all things and as guidance and mercy and good tidings for the Muslims.” [16:89]

“And We have certainly diversified for the people in this Qur’an from every [kind] of example, but most of the people refused [anything] except disbelief.” [17:89]

There are hadiths citing instances where the Prophet (PBUH) did order stoning to be executed onto an offender. However, these hadiths also tell of how merciful the Prophet (PBUH) was, and would not have stoned these people if they had not pushed for it.

One such famous story is that of when Ma’ez Ibn Malik Aslami was being stoned, he became agitated and tried to break free, asking to be brought back to the Prophet. Unfortunately, the people continued to stone him. When the Prophet (PBUH) heard about the news, he was upset and said. “Why did you not bring him to me? May be he would have repented, and God might have accepted his repentance.”

So the question right now is, should we believe in the Qur’an or hadith?

Qur’an vs. Hadith

***DISCLAIMER: First and foremost, I would like to clarify that I am not anti-hadith, neither am I a Quranist. However, as a Muslim, I take deep importance in determining the authenticity of a hadith and I firmly believe that the Qur’an should always take precedence above all else.

Many Muslims would tell me that if I am willing to reject something that is “mutawatir” then it would be equivalent to me rejecting the authenticity of the Qur’an and Sunnah. My response? They are absolutely not the same thing. Qur’an are words from God, whereas hadith are narrations by fallible men. This is the reason why study of the authenticity is extremely important. A lot of Muslims like to hide behind the term “mutawatir” instead of paying attention to other people’s arguments or presenting their case in a logical and rational manner.

A question: If the penalty of stoning was “mutawatir”, why is it that the oldest document of the Islamic law does not mention it at all, and also, already explicitly states what the punishment should be?

Have we not all agreed that the Qur’an is the most authentic source of Islam? Is it not also agreed that Islam is “based” on the Qur’an? So does this not mean we also agree that any other sources besides the Qur’an can be questioned, as they have not been promised preservation by God? This would mean that other sources of Islam have to be examined within the Qur’anic parameters.

The order of Shariah is to go from the Qur’an –> Sunnah –> Hadith –> Rulings of Muslim jurists over the past 1400 years. However, we see a lot of people go from Rulings of Muslim jurists over the past 1400 years –> Hadith –> Sunnah –> Qur’an, or Rulings –> Sunnah –> Hadith –> Qur’an. It is important to never put Qur’an last. It should always be given precedence.

Qur’an is the base of Islamic law, and it already has imparted clear directives regarding the moral crime of zina as shown in [24:2] and [4:25]. Surely, God speaks the truth. When God gives a decree as clear as the injunction written in [24:2-4], there is no need to go to any other authority as those are already the words of the Almighty. Hadith is consulted on Qur’anic citations that are not clear or evident. Those which are obvious and clear need no support. Any hadith in conflict with Qur’anic injuctions, or that which does not have any spirit of the Qur’an should be regarded as pseudo. God has warned us in the Qur’an against false hadith:

“And of the people is he who buys the amusement of speech to mislead [others] from the way of Allah without knowledge and who takes it in ridicule. Those will have a humiliating punishment. And when our verses are recited to him, he turns away arrogantly as if he had not heard them, as if there was in his ears deafness. So give him tidings of a painful punishment.” [31:6-7]

If there was no possibility of mistakes, we would not have seen the invention of hadith methodologies that was created because people started fabricating hadiths and associating them to the Prophet (PBUH). It became important and necessary to devise a methodology to authenticate these hadiths. It is time we do critical examinations of hadiths and not be discouraged by those who call critical examiners of hadiths deviants, or even worse, kafir.

It is time Muslims stop saying “But hadith says…” and start accepting that God is incapable of mistakes, and God never runs out of words. If He meant to include a verse on stoning in the Qur’an, surely it would still be preserved till this day. Even the Prophet (PBUH) acknowledged that there will come a time where people will forsake the Qur’an. Let that not be us. There is no law above the law of the creator.

“And the Messenger has said, “O my Lord, indeed my people have taken this Qur’an as [a thing] abandoned.” [25:30]

The barbaric practice of stoning goes all the way back to the 8th century, which Islam has abrogated with the punishment of a hundred lashes in the Qur’an. It needs to be discussed properly between Muslims as majority of Muslims are under the impression that penalties from earlier eras are still valid today. Wherever “Islamists” take control, one of the first things they do is implement stoning as part of the law, and claim that allegiance to this law proves loyalty to faith.

In no way am I suggesting we need to “modernize” or “refine” Islam. All that we need are healthy debates and discussions in which different interpretations are presented in a rational and logical manner. A lot of Muslims however, resort to vulgar attacks whenever presented with an opinion that differs from what they believe in.

Someone told me that Islam is a religion of peace and mercy, and that if we were told to slaughter animals mercifully, what else when executing a punishment on another human being? Not forgetting that Islam is also a religion of repentance, but how is one supposed to repent if one has been stoned to death? If our God is All-Compassionate and All-Merciful, would He contradict Himself by establishing a merciless and cruel form of punishment? Stoning is not a punishment for adultery, what else for apostasy and homosexuality?

I appreciate any insightful comments or criticism regarding this post, however I stand firm by my belief that stoning is not a Qur’anic revelation and not part of Islamic law. As Muslims, we are free to differ with each other. The Qur’an has stated that if we disagree over anything, leave it in the hands of Allah and the Messenger.

May Allah bless us all with faith and guidance, and place in our hearts the mercy that the Prophet (PBUH) upheld to all mankind. I hope this article was taken with a light heart. I have tried my very best to also make this post easy to understand and read. However, if one is too lazy to read through carefully, feel free to watch this video on stoning which was shared with me by a Twitter friend. Assalamualaikum.

14 May 2014