Capt P.J. Rivers


It is always a pleasure to read Harun Hashim's column The Bench Mark, but in his article of August 8 1996 N S T, it was rather surprising to find him stating that "the unchaste Muslim wife was liable to be stoned to death as ordained by the Quran".

Nowhere in the Quran is it mentioned that death, by stoning or otherwise, is the punishment for adultery.

There are those who believe that this death penalty is God's will and in some Muslim countries it is legislated for by syariah law. Yet not all Muslim schools of thought concur. Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad referred to this sort of situation in his excellent exposition on "Islam - the Misunderstood Religion" aired again recently on TV.

He observed there are "so many sects with beliefs and teachings so different and contradictory, some must be wrong".

I, of course, am not qualified to interpret the Quran or the Law. I have, however, come across two well-written opposing arguments by obviously sincere highly qualified authorities - Professor Abdur Rahmani Doi of the International Islamic University and Maulana Muhammad Ali. Naturally, both rely upon the Quran, in particular surah An-Nur 24.2.

Both men are in basic agreement as expressed by statements made by Doi. When this verse was revealed those guilty of adultery should be given (only) a hundred lashes in punishment. And further, many scholars feel that because the Holy Quran does not specifically mention punishment for adultery to be stoning to death, it is not justifiable to stone an adulterer to death.

The hadith are invoked to justify stoning.

Doi, in his Women in Syariah Islamic Law, elaborating on the punishment for adultery, says the Prophet "clarified the injunction by adding stoning" for married parties according to hadith Al-Bukari.

Muhammad Ali in 'The Religion of Islam' believes that the hadith have been misinterpreted or not properly looked at.

It is not necessary to repeat their interesting arguments but both give the same example that Jews asked the Prophet to adjudicate on guilty parties who were stoned on his orders. Muhammad Ali points out that this was because the punishment was according to that demanded by Jewish faith, not Islam. Jews involved Jesus in a similar dispute when "a woman taken in adultery" was brought before him. The scribes and Pharisees pointed out: Now Moses in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. Back came the famous reply: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (John 8:3-S).

Thus, according to the Gospels, Jesus abrogated the old Jewish punishment while some Muslims by their hadith have imposed it on their co-religionists.

Both authors are in agreement that after the death of the Prophet, the penalties for adultery was enhanced through the influence of that great, but puritanical, second Caliph Umar.

Unless the wise words of Dr Mahathir are heeded, a distorted image of Islam will continue to be projected. Many people throughout the world, not just in the West, do not favour capital punishment. Are such penalties, admittedly adopted to suit conditions of an earlier age, still applicable and should they be maintained or reimposed on the modern world? In accordance with clearly developed arguments by Dr Mahathir, in another recent speech on the reformation of the syariah (NST, July 24), Muslims world wide must ask themselves whether punishments, unsupported by the Quran can still be justified.