Anatomy of a stoning

World editor Marvin Olasky, in one of his more pointed criticisms of the notion of journalistic objectivity, once wrote that journalists feel no need to quote pro-cancer sources when writing about that dread disease. Well, there’s no shortage of pro-sharia sources in The Washington Post‘s heartbreaking account of a married woman in Afghanistan who was killed — whether by a stoning or a beating — after she admitted to committing adultery with an unmarried man.

Reporter N.C. Aizenman’s story could benefit from more moderate Islamic voices expressing doubts about the wisdom of killing adulterers. Still, it’s an exceptional narrative that brings home the horror of this swift and merciless sense of justice.

There are two especially compelling moments in this powerful story. One is when Maulvi Yousaf (a maulvi is a Muslim scholar) tries to help the accused woman, Amina Aslam, escape a guilty verdict:

Yousaf said his hope was to exonerate Amina, not to extract a confession from her.

“When I went into the room I was smiling,” he said. “I told her, ‘Look, I know nothing happened. This is just an allegation. People won’t hurt you if nothing happened.’”

Yousaf also said he only questioned Amina about the previous night.

But instead of taking the hint, he said, she volunteered that she had been having an affair with Karim for two years. She said she wanted to divorce her husband and marry Karim.

“She seemed relaxed,” Yousaf said. “Like she thought her plan would work.”

The other moment, and this one is agonizing, is when an uncle begins to describe her death:

According to her great-uncle Assan, after the shura reached its verdict, a group of villagers came to the dark storage room and took her away to be stoned.

“She knew what was going to happen to her,” Assan said softly. “She was screaming and sobbing.”

Amina’s paternal uncle, Mohammad Azim, said he watched as the villagers forced Amina down a muddy path toward a patch of soft earth along a riverbank surrounded by stones, a few yards from the edge of the village.

It was a beautiful spot, shaded by an enormous tree and offering a charming view of the village clinging to the mountainside.

It was also an ideal place for a stoning.

“They dug a hole in the ground right here,” Azim said, pointing to a spot in the clearing six days later. “Then they buried Amina up to her waist, with her arms pinned by her side.”

I’ll leave it at that.

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  • Dan Crawford

    Yup, one of the world’s great religions.

  • Kitt

    Welll…in all fairness; the same could be levied against Christianity, Dan.

    The phrase: “It was also an ideal place for a stoning.” is enough to take your breath away.

  • Brad

    I think you’ll find it exceedingly rare that Christians stone each other for adultery nowadays.


  • rfwarren

    “swift and merciless sense of justice.” Where’s the justice in this? Killing people over matters of sex are or should be beyond reason in any culture or religion.

  • Maryam

    It is part of the great ignorance of shari’a law that punishments are being carried out in direct contravention to traditional principles of Islamic jurisprudence. It’s as if these were American judges punishing alleged criminals after knowing as much about criminal law as from watching Law and Order.

    It is a principle of Islamic law that the judge *must* find any excuse to avoid the extreme punishments (known as ‘hadd’ punishments). I don’t know her case except from reading the article, but if the facts are reported correctly there are a number of avenues for Amina’s escape of this most extreme of punishments.

    * The husband was away for four years (leaving no provision for her) which can be considered desertion on his part giving her the option of a divorce in his absence. In cases where there are extenuating circumstances then the hadd punishments should be suspended.
    * Four adult male witnesses to *the actual act of sexual penetration* are required, there was not even one witness.
    * It is prohibited to seek out people committing a crime. So if she and Karim were behind closed doors, no-one had any right to enter their privacy even if it was to ‘catch them in the act’.
    * Amina should have been given every chance to deny the allegation and her denial accepted.
    * As it appears she did confess, she should have been given the option to retract her confession. She appears to have been wholly ignorant of the implications of her confession.
    Surely as the poor woman realised what was about to happen this was the very least option that could have been given her.
    * The punishment appears to have been retribution at the hands of the villagers and it is not at all clear what happened to Amina.

    These are obviously largely uneducated, tribal folk who – as the title suggests – are enacting a primitive and tribal (mis)understanding of shari’a law. Very much a tragic event.

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    rfw asks: Where’s the justice in this?

    Thus my use of the qualifier sense of.

    Otherwise, I think Maryam’s comments provide most helpful background on shari’a.