My attention was brought to this website, according to which it is only Muslim women, and not men, who are punished for adultery in the Muslim world. This is something I have often been asked by non-Muslim people when discussing Islam.
Before I ask you some questions, allow me to begin by saying that stoning as a punishment for adultery is not part of the Quran. Capital punishment in the Quran for a Muslim is reserved only for murder (2:178). This is of course something many non-Muslims may not know. A Muslim may understand the reason for this – early Muslim population was small and if, like in the OT, all offences were to be punished by death, the population would have shrunk further.
But as the population of Muslims grew, Sharia developed further to include the following crimes to be punished by death: (1) Treason, helping an enemy of the Muslim community; (2) Apostasy, leaving the faith and joining the enemy in fighting against the Muslim community; (3) Land, sea, or air piracy; (4) Rape; (5) Adultery; (6) Homosexual intercourse. The argument is simple – these activities spread fisaad fil ardh (mischief on earth).
Adultery has been punished by the first Muslims, including the Prophet, by stoning and it has always been a subject of much debate. Ahadith tell us that despite stoning not been a set punishment in the Quran, the Prophet did stone people (both women and men) for adultery:
From Sahih Bukhari alone:
Volume 8, Book 82, Number 803:
Narrated Ash-Sha’bi: from ‘Ali when the latter stoned a lady to death on a Friday. ‘Ali said, “I have stoned her according to the tradition of Allah’s Apostle.”
Volume 8, Book 82, Number 805:
Narrated Jabir bin Abdullah Al-Ansari: A man from the tribe of Bani Aslam came to Allah’s Apostle and Informed him that he had committed illegal sexual intercourse and bore witness four times against himself. Allah’s Apostle ordered him to be stoned to death as he was a married Person.
Many Muslims claim that adultery should not be punished by stoning since the Quran doesn’t set that punishment. I would have had trouble understanding this (since hadith and sharia do lay out that punishment quite clearly) if there was no punishment mentioned in the Quran. However, Quran does set out the punishment for adultery which is by flogging 100 times (24:2). It is, however, argued in hadith that there was a verse on stoning abrogating 24:2 but that a goat ate the leaf on which it was penned down.[i]
So when did stoning become a standard punishment for adultery? Looking at history from hadith alone, it is clear that the Prophet did not know that adultery was punished by stoning in Judaism:
Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 82, Number 809:
Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: A Jew and a Jewess were brought to Allah’s Apostle on a charge of committing an illegal sexual intercourse. The Prophet asked them. “What is the legal punishment (for this sin) in your Book (Torah)?” They replied, “Our priests have innovated the punishment of blackening the faces with charcoal and Tajbiya.” ‘Abdullah bin Salam said, “O Allah’s Apostle, tell them to bring the Torah.” The Torah was brought, and then one of the Jews put his hand over the Divine Verse of the Rajam (stoning to death) and started reading what preceded and what followed it. On that, Ibn Salam said to the Jew, “Lift up your hand.” Behold! The Divine Verse of the Rajam was under his hand. So Allah’s Apostle ordered that the two (sinners) be stoned to death, and so they were stoned. Ibn ‘Umar added: So both of them were stoned at the Balat and I saw the Jew sheltering the Jewess.
As the ruler of Medina, all people whether they were pagan, Christian, Jewish or Muslim came to the Prophet for judgment. He often used to offer judgment based on the Quran, but there were cases in which he awarded punishment according to the punishment prescribed in the faith of the violator, like for instance, it is argued that all adult males of Banu Qurayza were killed because that is the punishment set for treason in the Torah.
In my opinion, this is where stoning for adultery began as a prophetic practice but something that was not laid down in the Quran. This confused even early Muslims because some questioned:
Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 82, Number 804:
Narrated Ash Shaibani: I asked ‘Abdullah bin Abi Aufa, ‘Did Allah’s Apostle carry out the Rajam penalty ( i.e., stoning to death)?’ He said, “Yes.” I said, “Before the revelation of Surat-ar-Nur or after it?” He replied, “I don’t Know.”
Now that we have established that stoning indeed did take place, let us look at what happens to fornicators and adulterers.
Unmarried couples engaging in pre-marital sex are flogged 100 times. It is a punishment agreed upon unanimously by Muslim scholars. According to Sharia, if a married man has sex with someone else’s wife, then both the adulterers are to be stoned to death. If a married woman has sex with an unmarried man, then only the woman is to be stoned to death; the man is flogged 100 times and exiled for a year.[ii] Here is the difficult part – if a married man has sex with a woman who is unmarried, there is no set punishment for the man in Sharia! I have searched everywhere and I couldn’t find anything. Can anyone help? I asked an Imam and his answer was that it is certain that since the woman is unmarried that she should be flogged 100 times, but he was not sure about the man since there was no prior example of such a case for inference.
Why is there no example of such a situation? I think it is possible that such an event never happened because men are by law allowed several women (they can legally have up to four wives and as many concubines as they can afford) so like I said before, the urge for committing adultery is almost nil. If a married man fancies an unmarried woman, he has the legal and religious right to marry her, or if the woman was a slave, then to “possess” her. The opportunity for adultery would only arise if he already had four wives and the woman he newly fancied was a free woman. Even then he could potentially divorce one of his wives and marry this new woman. We see that happening often even today.
So in such a case, adultery does become a married woman’s problem. What if she begins to fancy a married man? Or an unmarried man? Or a slave? Or is simply bored in her marriage? What legal opportunities are available to her?
In the light of what I have presented above, what implication does stoning for adultery have for Muslim feminists? I understand that most of you don’t have to fight against this punishment in your countries of residence, but have you ever raised your voice to help women in other countries who have been given this punishment and are waiting to literally die by stoning? Do you think it is unfair that men today are not punished similarly even though there are ample examples that married men too were stoned in Prophet’s time? How do you feel about stoning generally?
[i] Narrated ‘Aisha: “The verse of the stoning and of suckling an adult ten times were revealed, and they were (written) on a paper and kept under my bed. When the messenger of Allah expired and we were preoccupied with his death, a goat entered and ate away the paper.” References: Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal. vol. 6. page 269; Sunan Ibn Majah, page 626; Ibn Qutbah, Tawil Mukhtalafi ‘l-Hadith (Cairo: Maktaba al-Kulliyat al-Azhariyya. 1966) page 310; As-Suyuti, ad-Durru ‘l-Manthur, vol. 2. page 13
[ii] Set according to Sahih hadith in Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 82, Number 842:
Narrated Abu Huraira and Zaid bin Khalid Al-Juhani: A man came to the Prophet and said, “I beseech you to judge us according to Allah’s Laws.” Then his opponent who was wiser than he, got up and said, “He has spoken the truth. So judge us according to Allah’s Laws and please allow me (to speak), O Allah’s Apostle.” The Prophet said, “Speak.” He said, “My son was a laborer for the family of this man and he committed illegal sexual intercourse with his wife, and I gave one-hundred sheep and a slave as a ransom (for my son), but I asked the religious learned people (regarding this case), and they informed me that my son should be flogged one-hundred stripes, and be exiled for one year, and the wife of this man should be stoned (to death).”The Prophet said, “By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, I will Judge you (in this case) according to Allah’s Laws. The one-hundred (sheep) and the slave shall be returned to you and your son shall be flogged one-hundred stripes and be exiled for one year. And O Unais! Go in the morning to the wife of this man and ask her, and if she confesses, stone her to death.” She confessed and he stoned her to death.