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Is stoning a permissible punishment in Islam?

In Islam, punishments are given as a deterrent, and they are given in proportion to the crime that was committed. To prevent heinous crimes, punishments that involve torture are permitted for criminals who torture their victims. Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:

And the recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof; but whoso forgives and his act brings about reformation, his reward is with Allah.

(Surah ash-Shura, 42:41).

On this principle, Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud explained that if a criminal tortured his victim and murdered him, then he will also be tortured in the same way and executed. Once, during the life of the Holy Prophet sas, a few criminals tortured and murdered shepherds of the Holy Prophet sas. When they were caught, the Holy Prophet sas ordered that they be tortured in the same way that they had tortured their victims (Fatawa Hadrat Musleh Mauud, vol. 2, p.111).

According to the principle of “And the recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof,” the Holy Prophet sas:

Had their hands and feet cut, and their eyes were branded with heated pieces of iron.

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 24, Hadith 102)

Anas reported that Allah’s Messenger sas pierced their eyes because they had pierced the eyes of the shepherds.

(Sahih Muslim, Book 28,Hadith 19).

Similarly, it is narrated:

A Jew crushed the head of a girl between two stones. The girl was asked who had crushed her head, and some names were mentioned before her, and when the name of the Jew was mentioned, she nodded agreeing. The Jew was captured and when he confessed, the Prophet sas ordered that his head be crushed between two stones.

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 44, Hadith4; Sahih Muslim, Book 28, Hadith 24)

Islam teaches that if a person goes to extremes in committing heinous and torturous crimes, then torture can be used to punish him. This does not mean that torture can be used as a means of extracting information. If anything, it is ineffective for that purpose. It is narrated that the Companions seized a member of the opposing army at Badr and began asking him questions and beating him to gain information. When the Holy Prophet sas came to know of this, he reprimanded them, saying:

By Allah in Whose control is my life, you beat him when he is telling you the truth, and you let him go when he tells you a lie.

 (Sahih Muslim, Book 32,Hadith 103).

Not only is the use of torture ineffective in extracting reliable information, it is an injustice to torture a person on suspicion of a crime that he is not convicted of. Once:

Some goods of the people of Kila’ were stolen. They accused some men of the weavers (of theft). They came to an-Nu‘man ibn Bashir, the companion of the Prophet sas. He confined them for some days and then set them free. They came to an-Nu‘man and said: “You have set them free without beating and investigation.” An-Nu‘man said: “What do you want? You want me to beat them. If your goods are found with them, then it is all right; otherwise, I shall take(retaliation) from your back as I have taken from their backs.” They asked: “Is this your decision?” He said: “This is the decision of Allah and His Apostle sas.” 

(Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 39, Hadith 4,369)

If a person tortures someone for a crime he has not been convicted of, justice demands that retaliation be taken from the torturer.

Torture is a punishment justified by the torture a heinous criminal himself inflicted on an innocent victim; it is given in proportion to the crime and in line with justice. Its purpose is to deter anyone from thinking of doing the same crime, thereby saving future victims from being tortured. Islam is merciful to innocent victims, not to criminals. The first purpose of punishment is for it to act as a deterrent. The second purpose is to punish the criminal and provide justice to the victims. The third purpose is the rehabilitation of the criminal. When the rights of victims and the rights of criminals come at odds, Islam gives priority to the rights of victims.

According to this principle, stoning can be given as a punishment to those who commit extreme crimes. The Holy Quran teaches: 

The reward of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to create disorder in the land is only this that they be slain or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on alternate sides, or they be expelled from the land.

(Surah al-Ma’idah, 5:34)

The fact that the Holy Prophet sas rarely implemented these punishments during his life shows that they only apply in the most extreme and exceptional cases. Such extreme cases can include rape. Stoning is the way in which the Holy Prophet sas implemented the words “they be slain” in this verse.

A woman went out during the time of the Prophet sas to go to Salat, but she was caught by a man and he had relations with her, so she screamed and he left. Then a man came across her and she said: “That man has done this and that to me,” then she came across a group of Emigrants (Muhajirun) and she said: “That man did this and that to me.” They went to get the man she thought had relations with her, and they brought him to her. She said: “Yes, that’s him.” So they brought him to the Messenger of Allah sas, and when he ordered that he be stoned, the man who had relations with her, said: “O Messenger of Allah, I am the one who had relations with her.” So he said to her: “Go, for Allah has forgiven you.” Then he said some nice words to the man (who was brought). And he said to the man who had relations with her: “Stone him.” Then he said: “He has repented a repentance that, if the inhabitants of Medina had repented with, it would have been accepted from them.” 

(Sunan at-Tirmadhi, vol. 3, Book 15, Hadith 1,454; Sunan AbiDawud, Book 39, Hadith 4,366)

Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih IV rta said in commentary of 5:34:

Thus, this verse on stoning will apply to cases like rape, which is an extreme transgression. If in such a case one hundred ordinary lashes are administered. If he is only flogged a hundred times in cases where human nature tells us that such unfortunate people must be given severe punishments, there this verse comes into application and there the command to stone comes.

(Dars-ul-Quran, February 14, 1996).

Stoning is never a permissible punishment for only adultery. The Holy Quran has prescribed flogging as a punishment for adultery:

The adulteress and the adulterer (or the fornicatress and the fornicator)— flog each one of them with a hundred stripes. And let not pity for the twain take hold of you inexecuting the judgment of Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of the believers witness their punishment.

(Surah an-Nur, 24:3)

This verse is sufficient to prove that stoning cannot be a punishment for adultery alone, because to change or add to the punishment prescribed by the Holy Quran is a criticism of the perfection of the Holy Quran. However, this is further proven by the fact that the Holy Quran has prescribed half of the above punishment if the perpetrator happens to be a slave:

And if, after they are married, they are guilty of lewdness, they shall have half the punishment prescribed for free women.

(Surah an-Nisa’, 4:26)

Since stoning cannot be halved, it cannot possibly be a punishment for adultery alone. However, stoning can be a punishment for repeated public displays of adultery because that crime comes under a different category. Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:

O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers that they should draw close to them portions of their loose outer coverings. That is nearer that they may thus be distinguished and not molested. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. If the hypocrites, and those in whose heart is a disease, and those who cause agitation in the city, desist not, We shall surely give thee authority over them; then they will not dwell therein as thy neighbours, save for a little while. Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a (fierce) slaughter.

(Surah al-Ahzab, 33:60–62).

In commentary, the Promised Messiah as wrote:

The adulterers and propagators of adultery who live in Medina are accursed, meaning that they are forever deprived of the mercy of God. Because of this, they are deserving of being killed wherever they are found.”  

(Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 15, p. 237)

The words “forever deprived of the mercy of God” indicate that this refers only to people who have gone to such an extreme in this behavior that they are beyond any hope of reformation. One of the wisdoms of the punishment of stoning is that رجم (stoning) is a physical manifestation of being رجيم (rejected). It is a symbol to society that this person’s method of execution is symbolic of his now being rejected by society because the habitual nature of his crime indicates that he is now beyond mercy. Thus, stoning is only a punishment for the most extreme cases. The Promised Messiah as also mentioned in his debate with Atham:

You do not even know that, when Allah Almighty gives the clear command in the Holy Quran to cut the hand of the thief and to stone the adulterer, then who could have been stoned if there was no free will in the teachings.

(Ruhani Khaza’in, vol 6, p. 252).

Also, Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra wrote:

A change connected with the time of the Promised Messiah, and mentioned by the Holy Prophet, is the abrogation of penalties prescribed by the criminal law of Islam. Hadrat Ali has narrated according to Dailmy, that one sign of the latter days would be the abrogation of statutory penalties. The sign has been fulfilled. In all Islamic governments today Islamic penalties have disappeared. In Turkey, Arabia, Egypt, and Iran, and even in Afghanistan, “stoning for adultery” and “cutting off the hand for theft” are no longer recognized punishments.

(Anwarul ‘Ulum, vol 7, p. 417, Invitation to Ahmadiyyat)

Here, the word adulterer does not refer to someone who commits only adultery, because such an interpretation would go contrary to 24:3 of the Holy Quran. The adulterers mentioned above are those who enter the extreme category described by the Promised Messiah as as being beyond mercy, those who come under 5:34 and 33:62 of the Holy Quran. Such exceptions can only happen very rarely, as Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra explained:

According to us, the punishment for adultery by a married person is one hundred lashes, unless he is in the habit of adultery and ruins girls. Such a person will no doubt be considered deserving of stoning, but the condition will still be that there be four eyewitnesses, which is almost impossible to find.

(Islam Mein Zina Ki Saza, Hafiz Muzaffar Ahmad, p. 17).

Before the revelation of 24:3 of the Holy Quran, stoning was allowed for ordinary adultery in accordance with Judaic law. Some confusion exists in ahadith because narrators were not always sure if a certain incident took place before or after the revelation of this verse. It is narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari:

I asked ‘Abdullah bin Abi Aufa, “Did Allah’s Messenger sas carry out the rajam [stoning] penalty?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Before the revelation of Surah an-Nur or after it?” He replied, “I do not know.”

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 86, Hadith 43)

After the revelation of this verse, adultery was no longer punished with stoning, but was punished with flogging. However, cases of rape and repeated public displays of adultery were still punished with stoning after the revelation of this verse because they were extreme cases that came under 5:34 and 33:62 of the Holy Quran.

Updated on January 4, 2019

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