Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Religion and Stoning - An unfortunate corollary?

I found this tragic story recently. It's interesting that the Koran does not condone stoning as a punishment, and yet Sharia law is used to condemn individuals to this barbaric death, without even the benefit of a fair trial.

It really worries me that whilst the practice of one of the World's largest religions may in its purest form be relatively harmless, it does not take much for self-important sadistic humans to subvert its teachings to their own twisted morality.

The 2009 film The Stoning of Soraya M. is about the harrowing true story of a woman sentenced to death by stoning because her husband accused her of infidelity. The film is based on a book by journalist Friedoune Sahebjam. He wrote this after hearing the story of 35-year-old Soraya Manutchehri (mother of seven) and her brutal stoning from her aunt while he was stranded in a rural village in Iran. According to the Washington Examiner, Soraya was innocent but the deadly mix of misogyny and extremist Islamic law, allowed that she was stoned to death because her husband wanted to marry another woman:

The victim was Soraya Manutchehri, a 35-year-old mother of seven who, in her own prophetic words, had become "an inconvenient wife." Bartered away in an arranged marriage at 13 to a petty criminal named Ghorban-Ali, who was 20 years old at the time, Soraya bore nine children over the next two decades, enduring two stillborn births and regular beatings from her husband, along with his insults, his consorting with prostitutes, and his campaign to turn her two oldest sons against her.

On August 15, 1986, with the complicity of a local mullah who had been imprisoned for child molesting under the Shah, Ghorban-Ali showed himself to be more than a garden variety sociopath and town bully; he was a sadistic monster, and Islamic fundamentalism was his enabler, his aider, his abettor.
In the anarchic days of the Iranian Revolution, Ghorban-Ali had found work as a prison guard in a neighboring town. There, he met a 14-year-old girl whom he wanted to marry. Polygamy was encouraged in Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, but Ghorban-Ali didn't want to support two families, and did not desire to return his wife's dowry. How to rid himself of his "old" wife? That was the easy part. Accuse her of infidelity. No matter that her husband had not actually seen anything untoward, or that Soraya was completely innocent, or that her husband's cynical accusations were only backed up by his cousin, who as it turned out had been coerced into concurring with the vaguest of accusations: a smile here, a brushed hand there.
What court of law would find someone guilty on such flimsy evidence? A "sharia" court is the answer. And so Soraya was convicted. The sentence was death-death by stoning.

It is even more troubling to see how the religion of Islam is being subverted to justify utterly barbarous murders. I am informed that nowhere in the Koran is stoning mentioned as a punishment.

It is also quite appalling that the majority of cases of stoning sentences have been against women. 9 out of 10 of the people recently awaiting stoning in Iran were women. It is unacceptable for anyone to die by being stoned to death, but it is even more unacceptable that this punishment is being disproportionately meted out to women.

Furthermore, the underlying misogyny at play in extremist Islam must also be called into question. There is a maddening double standard at play here. Men are free in their sexual relationships yet women can be stoned to death for simply doing the same things as their husbands.

For instance, in the Iranian Penal Code, a married woman has no right to divorce, a privilege which is reserved for the husband. Women have no custody rights of their children after age seven. As a result, women who can obtain a divorce by proving their husbands are either abusive or an addict, choose not to do so for fear of losing their children. A man can marry up to four wives simultaneously, and may establish a sexual relationship with any other single woman through a temporary marriage, without the requirements of marriage registration, ceremony, or obligation to any possible child that may result. Furthermore, a woman is legally obliged to submit to her husband’s sexual demands and to do her best to satisfy him sexually. Hence if a man is sexually unsatisfied or in an unhappy relationship, he has many avenues open to him to dissolve the marriage and/or satisfy his sexual needs in a temporary “marriage”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these legal options are denied to Iranian women, and any woman seeking alternative intimate relationships is, in the eyes of the law, “committing adultery”

The practice of stoning is more widespread. For example, on October 27, 2008, Aisha Ibrahim Duholow, a young Sudanese girl, was stoned to death in a stadium in front of 1,000 spectators. According to the government she had begged for the "Islamic punishment" after confessing to infidelity; but according to Amnesty International, she was just a 13-year old girl who had gone to the authorities to report a gang-rape. The gang rapists were never charged.

Laws condoning stoning are still on the books in Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

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