The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. This interview with Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naim and Massimo Papa about Iran’s stoning sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani on charges of adultery was originally published in Oasis, a Venice-based magazine on Christian-Muslim dialogue. Martino Diez is director of research at the Oasis International Foundation.
By Martino Diez
Professor Naim, what is your assessment of Sakineh’s case?
Officially, the authorities maintain this is a straightforward murder case. Although I have not followed the matter in detail, I think that the ambiguity of the versions produced throughout the years is suspicious and betrays the presence of political manipulation. This poor woman has ended up at the centre of a struggle between different underground factions. There are many cases similar to this. (Photo: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani in an undated photo handout from Amnesty International)
About this charge, and especially the (momentarily suspended) sentence, the authorities have invoked Islamic legitimation. Sakineh’s case would be included in the hudùd category, which comprises crimes explicitly defined as such in the Koran itself: murder, adultery, theft, slander and alcohol consumption.
The whole hudùd question is contradictory. To start with, the Koran does not mention stoning for adultery. Besides, traditional norms are very exacting in terms of evidence collecting: they talk about four witnesses who must tell in detail and without contradictions the taking place of the sexual act. The tradition tells of a man who came to accuse himself before the Prophet, and the Prophet thrice over turned his ear to the other side in order not to listen to him. Only the fourth time did he decide to believe the confession that, according to traditional law, must be maintained by the condemned person throughout the execution. In Sakineh’s case, instead, we see an over-eagerness for punishment. Behind this there is a political game.
Even with the important limitations you have mentioned, the hudùd discipline remains problematic.
I certainly am of the opinion that today it is not possible to execute hudùd punishments by law. The punishments are so severe that they require absolute certainty. First of all, the Koran does not give any definition of theft or adultery. Besides, the various law schools have taken different positions about what constitutes evidence, with the result that the same fact can lead to death by stoning in Northern Nigeria and absolution in Sudan — possibly with the accusers being condemned for slander, with relative corporal punishment. But how is it possible for the same event to be dealt with in such different ways? Who is right? I think that the authentically pious position should acknowledge that there is too much disagreement and possibility of error for such punishments to be applied.