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“I am convinced about the veracity of my opinions, but I do consider it likely that they may turn out to be incorrect. Likewise, I am convinced about the incorrectness of the views different from mine, but I do concede the possibility that they may turn out to be correct.” — Imam Shafa’i
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Is Stoning to Death an Islamic punishment?

Question:
There is a heated debate these days regarding the relevant verses and ahadith concerning stoning to death (Rajm). It is believed that the paper on which these verses were inscribed was eaten by a goat and hence not included in the Quran. What is your view on this subject?

Response:
The Qur'an is the book of God. By its own description, it is the source which ought to be the criterion against which all other religious sources are checked for their validity in the eyes of God. (Qur'an; 25:1)

The Qur'an has clearly stipulated one hundred lashes as the maximum punishment for the crime of extra-marital sex (Zina). (Qur'an; 24: 2) Zani and Zania are common words in the Arabic language. These words are used to include both married and unmarried men and women who commit the crime of extra-marital sex. Though not in the English language, in Arabic the word Zina implies both fornication and adultery.

The Qur'an has mentioned the law of Li'an in the same Surah where punishment for Zina is mentioned. It stipulates the process to be followed in case a husband accuses his wife of adultery. It requires the husband to declare on oath that his wife committed adultery. The same passage mentions that the accused wife can still get away from punishment if she makes a similar statement under oath. The statement of the Qur'an is that "She can get away from that punishment if she..." Going by the rules of language in general and classical Arabic in particular, the expression 'that punishment' could only mean a hundred lashes which is mentioned a few verses earlier in the text. If the text is clear and satisfies the requirements of literary excellence (as the Qur'an claims its text is), the expression al'azab in verse 8 cannot refer to any other punishment either. (Qur'an; 24:6-9)

The Qur'an mentions that if slave girls commit adultery despite being married, their punishment shall be half as much as that of free married ladies. (Qur'an; 4:25) This makes it even more obvious that the punishment of free married ladies could only be one hundred lashes because “halving” the punishment of stoning to death is not possible.

The Qur'an suggests a number of punishments for people involved in the crime of creating mischief on earth. Mischief on earth (fasad fil ard) includes crimes like serial murders, robbery, rape etc which are committed in such a manner that the life, honour, and wealth of the common man are at the mercy of mischief mongers. Ordinary murder, theft, and extra-marital sex are crimes indeed but not mischief on earth. One of the punishments suggested for such crimes is merciless killing. One way of conducting this punishment is stoning the criminal to death. This was administered by the prophet, alaihissalam, on some criminals during his lifetime. Another punishment suggested in the list is banishing the criminal from society.

Hadith is a record of what the prophet did, said, or silently approved. The reports of the manner in which he conducted himself were transmitted from one individual to another for a few generations until they became extant, mainly in the middle of the third century Hijrah. These ahadith were then compiled collectively, thanks to the sincere and painstaking efforts of a number of outstanding scholars. This means that during the first two-and-a-half centuries of the Muslim ummah, ahadith were only available to some individuals, not to the entire ummah. A hadith, therefore, cannot say anything new and unique, not even as explanatory information, if this does not emerge from what was already available in the authentically transmitted religious information of the Qur'an and the reliably transmitted rituals (called Sunnah).

Even if one assumes that all ahadith were transmitted completely accurately, which is not a completely correct assumption, one finds it extremely difficult to know what their context was unless one puts all ahadith on the same topic together and carefully seeks to understand their meaning in the light of the Qur'an and common sense.

When all the ahadith on stoning to death are read together, it is immensely challenging to derive a coherent narrative from them. However, if one makes an earnest attempt to make sense out of their text in the light of the Qur'an, one finds that some of the incidents of Zina that resulted in the punishment of stoning to death were actually not the consequence of ordinary Zina, but of what fell into the category of mischief on earth. We therefore find that one of the mentioned punishments is stoning to death while another is banishing from society.

In the normal convention of pronouncing verdicts, when judges pronounce their judgment, they mention all possible punishments which a criminal deserves to get. However, practically, only some of these are administered while others are simply mentioned to complete the legal response to the confirmed crimes. This is how some of the ahadith, which mention both stoning to death and a hundred lashes as punishment, can be explained. In other reported incidents, lashes and banishing from the society are also mentioned.

The claim that the present Qur'an is less than what it originally was is clearly against God's resolve that this text shall be fully preserved. (Qur'an; 15:9) Anyone who is aware of the manner in which it was arranged and preserved in the memory of hundreds and thousands of believers cannot take such nonsensical allegations seriously.

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