Death by Stoning

By: Alexandra Kinias –

b7ff0f307bc8337Stoning is an ancient practice that was used as punishment for crimes that varied from adultery to murder, in cultures and religions that predated Islam. Greeks used stoning to punish prostitutes, adulterers and murderers. It is also documented in the Jewish Tradition via the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and the Talmud, or Jewish Oral Law. In the Old Testament of the Bible, stoning is prescribed a method of execution for crimes such as murder, blasphemy or apostasy. [1] Although there is no mention of stoning in the Quran, the practice has since grown to be associated with Islam and Muslim culture. Muslim clerics argue over the legality of stoning in Islam and there is “no consensus within the global Muslim community over the validity of the practice as “Islamic Law.” Stoning as a punishment for adultery reappeared and instated as governing laws of some countries in the 20th century with the rise and spread of political Islam.

In Pakistan, President Muhammad Zia –ul-Haq who ruled from (1977-1988) enforced Nizam-e-Mustafa (“Rule of the prophet” or Islamic System, i.e. establishing an Islamic state and sharia law [2]. He replaced many clause of the Pakistani Penal Code with sharia law, and the stoning to death as a punishment for adultery was instated.

On April 30, 2014, Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei, announced in a press conference the implementation of tough Islamic criminal punishments in his sultanate that includes flogging, severing of limbs and death by stoning for adultery and sodomy. [3] [4]

Unlike beheading, where the victim’s life ends by a stroke of a sword, stoning is a slow and painful death. It violates international human rights standards [5] and is prohibited by international laws and condemned by human and women rights groups as a form of cruel, inhuman, degrading and torturous punishments [6]. Stoning is also another example of discrimination against women, who represent the vast majority of its victims, even though both genders should be punished equally for the same crime.

Stoning, rajm in Arabic, is carried out by a group of people (multiple executioners’ vs one executioner for beheading) by hurling stones at the victim, so not one individual is identified as the killer or blamed for it. , Today, no believers of any faith, but Islam practice stoning, and it is only carried out in lands where Sharia rules, as a punishment for adultery by married people (zina), thus it became a stigma attached to Islam and Muslim culture and another layer of abuse and control over women in several Islamic societies.

Stoning is not legal in all Muslim countries though. In some countries like Mauritania and Qatar, stoning has never been used although it remains legal. In the UAE, several people were convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning, but the punishment was never carried out [7] [8] [9] mostly because of human rights pressures backed by UN resolutions for a moratorium on the use of death punishment [10] [11], in general, and because stoning in particular is a politically sensitive issues.

Stoning is also the law and legal punishment for adultery in Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and the 12 Muslim majority states of Northern Nigeria. In 2012, Mali witnessed its first case of stoning after the Islamist militants affiliated to Al Qaeda took control of the northern part of the country and implemented the sharia law. The couple accused of adultery were forced into holes about four feet deep, with their heads protruding, and then stoned to death [12].

On the other hand, in war torn countries and in conflict areas, like Afghanistan and Iraq where stoning was outlawed, tribal leaders, militants and warlords still enforce their own laws. They extra-judicially try, convict and sentence women within their control to death by stoning.

Disgracefully, the most prominent reason for the stoning women today is the influence of the stagnant societies they are living in, which harbor mentalities that have stopped evolving over the centuries. In this time and age, there is no excuse for women to suffer under the name of any religion or culture, but the gruesome reality is they still do. Women in these societies live in fear and despair. They are treated with violence. Their safety is at risk, with the threat of conviction looming over their heads for simply being born females. They are stripped from their basic human rights and their fates are still determined and controlled by men.

Stoning to death in these cultures is a punishment believed to salvage, protect and restore the honor of a man, and suppression of women a proof of manhood.  How can we expect women to stand fair trials in these communities, when the governing laws, inherited from medieval practices, already discriminate against them?

Women activists have launched an international campaign to ban stoning and are putting pressure on the UN to adopt a resolution to eradicate this barbaric practice. Their efforts have not been successful yet, but they are not giving up. Unfortunately, adopting a resolution to ban the practice is not going to eradicate it because the cultures that implement it are following their own laws. It has to first be eradicated from the mentalities of those who practice it since religious laws and tribal laws they follow are more powerful than the UN resolutions.

Unfortunately, no tangible results will be achieved in the near future in societies where women’s lives are dispensable and where they are treated as commodities; sold, used as bargaining chips to settle disputes and pay debts. In these societies, men should not be expected to change their behaviors and beliefs because of a UN resolution.

[1] Frequently Asked Questions about Stoning, Violence is Not Our Culture,

[2] Kepel, Gilles (2002). Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (2006 ed.). I.B.Tauris. pp. 100–101.

[3] Sultan of Brunei announces Syariah law to start Thursday

[4] Sultan of Brunei unveils strict sharia penal code

[5] Human Rights Watch: Sudan: Ban Death by Stoning, May 31, 2012

[6] Amnesty International: Afghanistan: Reject stoning, flogging, amputation and other Taliban-era punishments, 26 November 2013

[7] Expat faces death by stoning after admitting in court to cheating on husband, May 6, 2014,

[8] Amnesty International- UAE: Death by stoning/ flogging, 12 June 2006,

[9] Two women sentenced to death for adultery, September 25, 2013

[10] General Assembly Adopts Landmark Text Calling for Moratorium on Death Penalty, 18 December 2007,

[11]  General Assembly Adopts 50 Third Committee Resolutions, as Diverging Views on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Animate Voting, 19 December 2016

[12] Islamists in North Mali Stone Couple to Death, By Adam Nossiter, July 30, 2012,

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