The collaborative series, Part I authored by Saadia Haq
On 11 July 2013, Arifa Bibi, a young mother of two, was sentenced by a tribal court in Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab Province to be stoned to death. The local a tribal court, known as “panchayat” in Urdu found Arifa Bibi guilty of a grave crime demanding such a harsh penalization.
Her crime: possession of a mobile phone.
No wait seriously? Yes, the tribal court opined that a married woman in possession of a mobile phone was the greatest sign of her “adulterous nature” that needed to be nipped into the bud, immediately.
So came that fateful day, when Arifa Bibi was taken to a spot, worthy of this punishment. And so arrived the most virtuous brigade; her blood relations including an uncle, cousins and others to hurl stones and bricks until she succumbed. Later, they buried her body anonymously without any proper funeral.
The police registered a case against the culprits and members of the tribal court, but justice is yet to be served. Such news is not unique to the Islamic State of Pakistan or Islam itself.
According to the research “MAPPING STONING IN MUSLIM CONTEXTS” the use of stoning is legal or practiced in at least 15 countries or regions. It has spread in either theory or practice, or both, in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Indonesia (Province of Aceh), Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nigeria (12 northern states), Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, UAE and Yemen. The research also highlighted that data gathering of cases of stoning in the Muslim world proved to be a huge challenge and the pervasiveness of such accounts was beyond the research team’s expectations.
On a global scale, women rights campaigners fear this barbaric form of execution may be on the rise within Muslim communities. The connection of stoning with Islam and Muslim communities is covered well in the upcoming part II by my coauthor Papatia Feauxzar.
It is interesting to note that while women get stoned in the backyard, most Muslim scholars are still arguing the semantics on whether Quran prescribes stoning and why so through Sharia. In the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence including Shafii, Hanbali, Hanafi and Shia schools the proof required to convict an adulterer is so stringent that the smallest doubt or lack of evidence should prevent a stoning sentence from taking effect.
Although several countries have codified laws on stoning, the punishment remains a point of disagreement between Islamic scholars. Execution by stoning is still carried out in various parts of the Muslim world (either by state or non-state actors) as a punishment for zina (adultery and fornication). The legal punishment of stoning was revived with political Islam during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. However, stoning also occurs in contexts where there is no legal precedent for the practice. For example, in Iran, zina “crimes” and punishments are outlined in the Penal Code; in Afghanistan, on the other hand, stoning occurs extra-judiciously – it is more of a “cultural” or “traditional” punishment that members of the community implement themselves. Although there are few documented instances of stoning, this form of punishment is still a serious threat to both women and men living in Muslim contexts.
Other notable examples include African countries including Nigeria and Sudan where non-state actors practice stoning under the guise of being culturally authentic.
The Case of Pakistan: Legal Background of Stoning
For example in Pakistan, Shari’a law in Pakistan was implemented shortly after Genral Zia ul-Haq came into power in 1979 (Ordinance No. VII of 1979) and began to Islamize the legal system. Through this legal conversion, hudood offences were included in the law, which prescribed hadd sentences for certain offences. Zina was among these hudood crimes. Under these laws, for a married Muslim (Muhsan) the punishment of death by stoning was introduced for cases of zina and rape.
In 2006, the Pakistani parliament passed the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act62, which amended the Zina Ordinance of 1979 and removed rape from its ambit. One can only be charged with zina if four adult male Muslims witness the act and testify this before the court. The punishment of stoning for a married Muslim offender has been retained in law; however, to date, no such punishment has been carried out within the legal system.
However, women continue to be stoned inside the country, the pervasiveness of the crime is noted most in Punjab, followed by North West and Balochistan by non state factors including tribal system and patriarchal customs. Most noticeable is the fact that, on a larger part more women get killed by stoning as compared to men. However, there are notable cases like a Pakistani army officer being stoned for having an alleged affair with a girl.
Being a Muslim alone, it is hard to cope with the disheartening reality that most Muslim communities living inside Islamic countries or in the west also approve of this gory form of punishment. Most people seek refugee behind the straight-laced and rigid interpretation of Allah’s message and the Quran.
Yet it is the same Quran that speaks of forgiveness, humanity and compassion. And my understanding of Islam has made my belief strong in Allah The Most Merciful. In writing this series, both Papatia and I have spent several weeks laboring the whole issue. During my research one very interesting reference caught my attention, a fatwa by s recipient of the award “One of The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World”, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, who states,
“It is not true or correct to say that those who have been guilty of adultery can only be forgiven by Allah if they submit themselves to be stoned to death. The Qur’an and the Sunnah are replete with texts that make it abundantly clear that adulterers can be fully forgiven provided they repent and change and amend their evil ways. There is no doubt adultery has been described by Allah as a most heinous sin and despicable way; therefore, the faithful are not only ordered to shun it altogether but also told not even to “go near it”. This means they are to stay away from all circumstances, incentives, and associations that may lead to adultery. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “No one commits adultery while doing so remaining a believer.”
Moreover, Allah tells us in the Quran that severe punishment in the Hereafter is awaiting those who commit adultery. Nevertheless Allah teaches us in the Qur’an that His mercy is limitless.”
In conclusion, I must say that I agree with Papatia who will highlight in part II her argument that forgiveness is divine and Allah expects us to use our minds sanely and wisely. Stoning as a form of punishment contradicts the very spirit of Islam, contradicts the Holy Quran, and is against Allah’s will; therefore it is a profound humiliation to human life that was granted to us by our Creator Allah the Almighty.
Stay tuned to The Human Lens for part II of this series is coming soon!
Research “MAPPING STONING IN MUSLIM CONTEXTS” and The Dawn, Pakistan.
Note: The Written vs. NOT Written Stuff is joint online initiative of two Muslimah writers, Saadia Haq and Papatia Feauxzar. Copyrights @2015