One of our readers Jeffery Anderson sent us an article on a recent death-by-stoning in Somalia. The article is written by Prof Sumbul Ali-Karamali from his book, The Muslim Next Door.

The views in this article are of the author himself and do not in any way represent the opinion of The Social Blog.

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Stoning to Death for Rape is Barbaric, Uncivilized, and Un-Islamic

By Sumbul Ali-Karamali,
Author of The Muslim Next Door

A few days ago, I read that a 13-year-old Somali girl had been stoned to death for being raped by three men. I could hardly bear to read it, as sickened as I was, and as revolted that the criminals carrying out such a barbarous act – the stoning, I mean, though the rape was barbarous, too – would call themselves “Islamic.” They might have been Muslim, but they certainly weren’t “Islamic,” because murder is condemned by Islam.

The militants claimed the girl was twenty-three, but even if she had been 90, her death would still be murder.

Implicit in this news story, the unmentioned elephant in the room, was the assumption that that this Somali stoning had something to do with the ancient punishment of stoning for adultery. Contrary to popular belief, the 1400-year-old Qur’anic punishment for extra-marital sex, for both men and women, is 100 lashes, not execution. Nevertheless, in the man-made books of Islamic jurisprudence, the penalty for adultery by unmarried persons remained 100 lashes, but that for married persons became execution – but only according to some early Muslim scholars, not all. No one knows quite how this happened. It’s possible that it came from Judaism, under which stoning was the punishment for adultery in the 7th century; Muslims have always considered themselves to be religious brethren to the Jews, and a story relating to the Prophet implies influence from Judaic law.

But rape is not adultery. Rape is a violent “taking” crime, more akin to the violent taking of life or the violent taking of property than to consensual sexual relations. The victim is not punished when she has suffered a violent taking crime. Rape, therefore, should never even have been associated with the Islamic law of adultery.

And even if this child did have consensual sex, there is no possible way she could have been guilty under any form of Islamic law.

Why? First of all, no one can be punished, under Islam, without a trial.

Even more significantly, for a conviction of adultery for either a man or a woman, Islamic law requires the unimpeachable testimony of four eyewitnesses to the act of intercourse itself. And, they must witness the actual unlawful penetration, mind you; two people under a blanket does not qualify.

Moreover, under the selfsame classical Islamic law, a court can dismiss a conviction of adultery if the defendant (this applies to men and women both, remember) can show duress, fraud, decreased mental or physical capacity, mistake, or repentance. Duress is clearly present in a case of rape.

And even if the prosecution can produce those four eyewitnesses and prove that they’re reliable – the penalty for perjury is 80 lashes – and still the defendant cannot show any of the defenses (anyone should be able to show repentance, surely?), then the judge may still nullify the punishment if he or she feels the slightest doubt about the conviction or for any other reason.

In other words, even in classical Islamic law, the crime of consensual extra-marital sex was a deterrent punishment, purposefully made so impossible to prove that the punishment could not be applied.

Islamic adultery laws were meant to protect the woman. A woman’s chastity has often been, in patriarchal cultures, connected to her family’s honor. Gossip about a woman’s chastity could destroy her future. So the Qur’an commands that gossip about a woman’s chastity must be resisted, because it is not something of which we should be speaking. In other words, if there’s a question of chastity, bring the four eyewitnesses and provide the nearly impossible proof; otherwise, be quiet.

So even if this had been a case of consensual extra-marital sex, for militant thugs in Somalia to sentence a girl or a woman or a man or anyone else to a summary execution that violates Islamic law on so many levels would have been sheer murder. Because this was a case of rape, it’s so much worse than murder – it’s murder plus the barbarous pollution of an entire justice system.

And is it bestial human nature that compelled 1,000 people to pack the stadium to watch the child die? The same nature that made public hangings in England a spectator sport? Or lynchings in the United States? And if it is, at what time in our evolution will we finally purge ourselves from it?

As an American Muslim woman, I have the luxury of education. I don’t worry about my next meal. I have access to medical care. I am literate and have, compared to most of the world, endless resources with which to educate myself. But in war-torn Africa, suffering from high illiteracy rates, abject poverty, hunger, authoritarian governments, and rebel movements that style themselves as “Islamic” to legitimize brutality that is antithetical to Islamic law, what defense do women have?

We in the industrialized world must address the underlying problems of the developing world if we are to put a stop to these sorts of horrific crimes, whether they’re carried out in the name of religion or not. Islam, like other religions, limited the violence of the time in which it was revealed. What passes as Islam these days in many parts of the world is often an amalgam of culture, politics, expediency, and religion. Greg Mortensen, author of Three Cups of Tea, understood years ago, despite no background in politics, that the way to prevent violence was education; the way to prevent terrorism was education.

I don’t mean to naively simplify; certainly a myriad of factors contribute to situations like that in Somalia. But if the people in Somalia had the luxury of education, like I do, then – just maybe – this little girl might not have been a victim.


©2008 Sumbul Ali-Karamali

Author Bio
Sumbul Ali-Karamali grew up in California frequently answering difficult questions about Islam and its practices posed by friends, colleagues, and neighbors. (“What do you mean you can’t go to the prom because of your religion?”) She holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a J.D from the University of California at Davis and earned a graduate degree in Islamic law from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. She has served as a teaching assistant in Islamic Law at SOAS and a research associate at the Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law in London. Her book, The Muslim Next Door, is available from White Cloud Press.