Stoning to death: Zia's legacy - By Qazi Faez Isa Back   Home  
Does religion prescribe the punishment of stoning for adultery? The Jewish answer to this question would be 'yes'. The Old Testament, explicitly depicts various adulterous sexual acts, and prescribes that those indulging in them be "put to death" (Leviticus 20:10-21).

If a husband accuses his wife that she was not a virgin when he married her "and no proof of the girl's virginity is found, then they shall bring her out to the door of her father's house and the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has committed an outrage in Israel by playing the prostitute in her father's house: you shall rid yourself of this wickedness."

If, however, the accusation turns out to be false "they shall fine him a hundred pieces of silver because he has given a bad name to a virgin of Israel, and hand them to the girl's father" (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). "When a man is discovered lying with a married woman, they shall both die, the woman as well as the man who lay with her: you shall rid Israel of this wickedness".

The Christian answer to this question is found in the amazing and touching story narrated by the Apostle John. One day when Jesus Christ was teaching in the Temple, "the doctors of Law (Rabbis) and Pharisees brought in a woman caught committing adultery. Making her stand out in the middle they said to him, 'Master, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. In the Law Moses has laid down that such women are to be stoned. What do you say about it?'...

"Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they continued to press their question he sat up straight and said, 'That one of you who is faultless shall throw the first stone.' Then once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard what he said, one by one they went away, the eldest first; and Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing there. Jesus again sat up and said to the woman, 'Where are they? Has no one condemned you? She answered, 'No, one sir.' Jesus said, 'Nor do I condemn you. You may go; do not sin again' " (John 8:1-11).

The aforesaid is the only reference in the Bible (New Testament) to adultery and stoning. The Bible does, however, have other references to stoning, all of which mention Jews stoning the prophets or the apostles of Jesus (Luke 13:34, 20:6; John 8:59, 10-31, 11-8; Acts of Apostles 7:58, 14:5, 14:19 and the 2nd Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 11:25). The Bible records the propensity of the Jews to stoning.

The anguish of Jesus Christ is heart rending. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that murders the prophets and stones the messengers sent to her! How often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings; but you would not let me. Look, look! There is your temple forsaken by God. And I tell you, you shall never see me until the time comes, when you say, 'Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord!' " (Luke 13:34).

The holy Quran does not prescribe stoning as the punishment for adultery. There is not a single verse to this effect. The Holy Quran stipulates the punishment of "a hundred stripes" for the act of adultery, zina (24:2). If a particular sentence is prescribed in the Holy Quran a harsher one cannot be imposed. The holy Quran also requires the fulfilment of an almost impossible condition before conviction can result. Four eye- witnesses have to testify to sustain the charge (24:4).

And if those who accuse a woman and fail to "produce four witnesses", they are then to be flogged eighty times. If there are no witnesses and a husband accuses his wife of adultery he has to repeat his testimony and on the fifth invoke the "Curse of Allah" on himself if he is lying (24:6-7). The punishment is averted if the wife similarly swears (24:8-9). Therefore, the Holy Quran here places greater reliance on the testimony of a woman.

In none of the verses pertaining to adultery in the holy Quran the term stoning (rajama / rajim) is used. 'Rajim' means 'stoned', 'accursed' or 'damned' and is used as an epithet of Satan (3:36, 15:17, 16:98 Shaitan nir rajim, Satan the stoned or accursed). The verb which derives from rajim is rajama, and it means 'to stone', 'the act of stoning', 'a missile', 'something to stone with', 'guesswork', 'guessing' or 'stoned' (11:91, 18:20, 19:46, 36:18, 44:20, 18:22, 67:5 and 26:116). However, none of the verses refer to adultery. The Arabic word rajim / rajama is similar to the Hebrew word ragam, which means 'to collect or cast stones'.

How is it then that some Muslims followed the Jewish practice and prescribed stoning as the punishment for the sin of adultery?

General Muhammad Ziaul Haq discovered 'Islamic law' to secure his tenuous position. He enacted a 'law' which for the first time in the history of Pakistan ordained that "whoever is guilty of zina shall ... be stoned to death at a public place." Zia gathered around him semi-literate and self-styled ulema, legal and other sycophant advisers and introduced laws which purported to be Islamic.

Every legal enactment is or ought to be preceded by an open debate. There was no debate when any of the Hudood laws were enacted. The one in which stoning was prescribed, The Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hadd) Ordinance, 1979, was enacted overnight. The arrogance of the lawmakers knew no bounds. Since the Hudood laws claimed to be implementing God's intent, it was expected that every care would be taken to ensure against the possibility of any mistake, but none was taken.

The sycophants surrounding Zia had the audacity to refer to him as a modern day Ameer-ul-Momineen (Leader of the Faithful). Any opposition to such a ruler was it not opposition to Islam itself? The craftily drafted question in Zia's referendum suggested as much.

Twenty-three years have passed since the law prescribed the punishment of stoning and we have seen governments of democrats, technocrats and autocrats, but not one has been able to undo Zia's legacy. No one is apparently prepared to seek the truth, if it entails being perceived as assailing 'mazhab'.

The facts of the Zafran Bibi case have shocked the nation. A judge has sentenced her to death by stoning relying upon Zia's law. Zia enacted the stoning legislation contending it to be a Hadd law. Hadd is a legal term for the offences and punishments which are defined in the Quran. The fact that the punishment of stoning for adultery does not find mention in the Holy Quran did not deter Zia's Zina enactment.

The propagators of stoning support their contention by relying on reports attributed to Hazrat Umar; that certain verses prescribing stoning had been revealed but had been left out from the Holy Quran when it was compiled. This effectively calls into question the very infallibility and sanctity of the holy Quran as contained in the texts handed down over fourteen hundred years and is anathema to believers and is to be rejected. We are then left with certain traditions attributed to the Prophet reported in the recognized works of hadith literature.

The most famous collectors of the Sunni Hadith were al-Bukhari (Sahih), Muslim (Muslim), Abu Dawud, at Tirmidhi, an-Nasai and ibn Maja. All these compilers died between 256 to 303 years after the Hijrah (or between 870 to 915 AD). The Shiah collections of hadith are called khabar and were compiled even later, between 320 to 454 after the Hijrah (or between 932 to 1062 AD). The five recognized Shiah compilers were Abu Jafar (Kafi), Saykh Ali (Man la yastihzau-hu al Faqih), Shaykh Abu Jafar (Tahdhib and Istibsar) and Sayyid al-Razi (Nahj al-Balaghah).

It is an acknowledged rule in reading hadith literature that if a reported hadith purports to record that which is contrary to the Quran, it should be disregarded since the Prophet (pbuh) did not act contrary to Allah's revelation.

But even if one examines the hadith recorded by the compilers of hadith which purport to prescribe stoning there is no instance when the Holy Prophet ordered stoning of a Muslim who was caught committing adultery or against whom a charge had been levelled.

The instances that have been recorded by the hadith compilers are of Maaz bin Malik and of the woman from the tribe of Azd Gaib. The two are separate instances but the stories are similar. It is reported that they voluntarily appeared before the Holy Prophet and without being confronted with a charge, accusation or being coerced confessed their own guilt. Then too the holy Prophet is reported to have been extremely reluctant to hear them.

In both these instances it is reported that the Holy Prophet upon hearing the confessions turned his face away, this he did no less than four times, but the persons persevered and repeatedly confessed before him. Thereafter he questioned whether they were mad or drunk. Only then stoning was ordered. The Holy Prophet then read their funeral prayer (namaz-i-janaza) which was a singular honour and prayed for them. The hadith reports that the Holy Prophet then said that the person stoned had sought such profound forgiveness that if it was spread over the entire community (ummat) its blessing (sawab) would be enough for all.

Some hadith compilers record that once the stoning had commenced the person being stoned ran away and was brought back. When this was reported to the holy Prophet he said "if you had let him go then it is entirely possible that he would have sought forgiveness and Allah would have accepted his forgiveness" (Muslim, transmitted through Abu Huraira).

The hadith which are relied by the propagators of stoning are really examples of extreme atonement and expiation and can hardly be used to expound a tradition (hadith) prescribing stoning. These incidents have also not been fixed in time. It is possible that these incidents took place before the verses ordaining the punishment of whipping for adultery were revealed (the revelation of the Holy Quran having taken 23 years).

On such slender facts Zia prescribed that a person who commits adultery, "be stoned to death", forgetting the tradition reported by Hazrat Ayesha, that, "if the Imam (ruler) wrongly forgives it is better than if there is a mistake in sentencing" (Tirmidhi).

By relying upon the Holy Quran it cannot be contended that adultery is a hadd for which the punishment is stoning, but this could be contended if reliance were placed upon Jewish scriptures. Ibn Khladun had noted just such a tendency in the ignorant, "They turned for information to the followers of the Book, the Jews ... so when these people embraced Islam, they retained their stories which had no connection with the commandments of the Islamic law ... commentaries on the Holy Quran were soon filled with these stories of theirs" (Ulum al-Quran, Muqaddamah).
Published in Pakistan daily Dawn, dated June 06, 2002