The Stoning of Women: Quranic Prescription or Barefaced Misogyny?

Islamic punishments for "adultery" have been in the news a lot lately, but it looks to me like the real crime is nothing but barefaced misogyny.
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Islamic punishments for "adultery" have been in the news a lot lately, but it looks to me like the real crime is nothing but barefaced misogyny.

First off, it's always the women being punished, which begs the question, "Where are the men?" But then, if you ask how stoning became part of the Islamic punishment for adultery in the first place, that opens a whole different kettle of fish entirely.

Strangely enough, stoning for adultery isn't even mentioned in the Quran. The practice was common in the Middle East because it is the prescribed punishment in both the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible in Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22.

Modern day Christians like to pretend otherwise, but Jesus didn't change that, either. In fact, he told his followers that every law on the books would remain there until the end of time.

However, what Jesus did was command, "Let he who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her," which made executing the punishment problematic. But then, Mohammad did him one better.

The Quran is quite clear. From the Surah called An-Nur, meaning, "The Light," verse 2 states: "The woman and the man guilty of fornication, flog each of them with a hundred stripes: let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day: and let a party of Believers witness their punishment."

That means Muslims should have stepped it down a notch. However, they actually stepped it down all the way, because two verses later came the command, "And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses, flog them with eighty stripes: and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors."

That's right. The Islamic punishment for accusing a woman of adultery without proof is almost as bad as the punishment for the crime. Factor in Islamic rules of evidence: you need four witnesses to the actual act, not circumstantial evidence, not hearsay, not coerced confessions, but actual witnesses, and you get the situation in Medina after An-Nur was revealed.

A story from those days recalls a man complaining to Muhammad, "If a man were to find a man with his wife and if he were to talk about it, you would lash him; and if he killed, you would kill him, and if he were to keep quiet, then he has to consume his anger." In Muhammad's final years, not a single case of adultery was tried and convicted, and the level of gossip fell to almost zero.

So what happened? It's simple: Muslim scholars report that according to Caliph Umar, Caliph Abu Bakr chose to reinstate the earlier punishment because before An-Nur was revealed, Muhammad accepted it, too. Then apparently Caliph Ali went even further and combined both flogging and stoning, which remains the practice in Iran today.

But even given that, in the following 1,000 years scholars also report that only 14 transgressors were ever stoned. What's truly disgusting to me is that today, it seems like Muslims are stoning that many women every other month.

I've read the stories recounting times when Muhammad permitted stoning, and to me one thing is very clear: Muhammad did everything he could to prevent it, short of changing God's laws himself. Two of the tales tell of transgressors obsessively confessing, and Muhammad doing everything he could to prevent them from making their confessions!

There are also scholarly references to a "Verse of Stoning" that was initially part of the Quran. However, others record that Muhammad considered it superseded by An-Nur and prevented it from being written down. Some sources even claim that the verse of stoning miraculously disappeared! Whatever happened, it certainly wasn't there when Muhammad gave his final instructions and the Quran was compiled.

No matter what happened, I think that's where today's Muslims should take our lead, because all those stories make one thing very clear, at least to me: whatever the Judeo-Christian precedent, after Islam was perfected under Muhammad, neither God nor Muhammad wanted adulterers to be stoned anymore.

It's horrifying. In the Muslim world, women are being flogged, stoned and killed for being raped, for being pregnant, or even simply for being caught out without their headscarves because men have "tweaked" the laws so far away from Allah's intent and the earliest Muslims' practice that they do the opposite of what those laws were meant to do -- this from the religion that first declared men and women equal before God, and first created a society that truly had equal justice for all!

There is a reason why we have the Quran and the Sunnah. The Quran is a complete book, but it was revealed into a changing world. To understand the message, you need a deep knowledge of history, context and exactly what any particular Ayah did to the first Muslims the day it came. If you don't have that, then for God's sake, ask someone who does before you go killing someone! Because what some Muslims are doing out of ignorance today is nothing less than an abomination.

My solution? Non-Muslims and disaffected Muslim "reformers" are calling for Muslims to change Islam forward, so that it's more like the modern world. Instead, we need to change Islam back, so it's more like it was the day it began.

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