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Rajm (رجم) is an Arabic word that means "stoning". It is commonly used to refer to the Hudud punishment wherein an organized group throws stones at a convicted individual until that person dies. Under Islamic law, it is the prescribed punishment in cases of adultery committed by a married man or married woman. The conviction requires a confession from either the adulterer/adulteress, or the testimony of four witnesses (as prescribed by the Quran in Surah an-Nur verse 4), or pregnancy outside of marriage.
Some minority Muslim sects such as Kharijites found in Iraq, as well as a small group of modernist scholars called Quranists disagree entirely regarding its legality, arguing that it cannot be found in the Qur'an. Surah an-Nur of Quran prescribes lashing for premarital and extramarital sex (zina), but makes no mention of the capital punishment of Rajm for adultery. However, multiple sunnah in hadiths mention stoning and therefore most Muslim schools of jurisprudence accept it as a prescribed punishment for adultery. Most Muslims, as well as Islamic scholars, consider hadiths as an authoritative source, second only to Quran, as a source of religious law.
Hanafites have traditionally held that the witnesses should throw the first stones in case the conviction was brought about by witnesses, and the qadi must throw the first stones in case the conviction was brought about by a confession.
In all Sunni and Shia schools of Islamic law the punishment of stoning has been prescribed as punishment for married men or women who have committed adultery, following a confession or the testimony of four eye-witnesses or evidence of pregnancy outside of marriage. Qur'an prescribes lashing for pre-marital and extra-marital sex, but makes no mention of Rajm. It is, however, found in numerous Sahih Hadith (e.g. Sahih Muslim 17:4191 - 4209 and 17:4916 & 17:4194).
Persons who accuse a woman of adultery but are not able to bring four witnesses are liable to a punishment of 80 lashes and to be unacceptable as witnesses unless they repent and reform. The testimony of a man who accuses his own spouse without any other witnesses may be accepted if they swear by God four times that they are telling the truth with a fifth oath to incur God's condemnation if they be lying. Some widely followed Islamic legal commentaries, such as the Al-Muwatta by Malik ibn Anas, state that contested pregnancy is sufficient proof of adultery and the woman must be stoned to death.
The Qur'an does not explicitly mention the act of stoning. According to one form of wording for a hadith, :
[Narrated 'Aisha] "The verse of the stoning and of suckling an adult ten times were revealed, and they were (written) on a paper and kept under my bed. When the messenger of Allah expired and we were preoccupied with his death, a goat entered and ate away the paper."
Muslim scholars have rejected this specific wording of the hadith, however. All common routes of transmission for this version either contain narrators charged with dishonesty when disclosing their sources, or (in the case of the vesion in Ibn Hanbal's Musnad) conflict with all versions of the hadith which bear authentic routes - none of which mention the goat eating the piece of paper. Numerous other reliable hadiths, however, describe stoning.
In the Hadith
Among prominent records of the words of the Prophet (ahadith) mentioning stoning is the Hadith of Umar's speech of forbidding Mut'ah, Prophet's last Hajj sermon and the Hadith of the Verse of Stoning.
Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: 'Umar said, "I am afraid that after a long time has passed, people may say, "We do not find the Verses of the Rajam (stoning to death) in the Holy Book," and consequently they may go astray by leaving an obligation that Allah has revealed. Lo! I confirm that the penalty of Rajam be inflicted on him who commits illegal sexual intercourse, if he is already married and the crime is proved by witnesses or pregnancy or confession." Sufyan added, "I have memorized this narration in this way." 'Umar added, "Surely Allah's Apostle carried out the penalty of Rajam, and so did we after him."
Narrated Abu Huraira: A man from Bani Aslam came to Allah's Apostle while he was in the mosque and called (the Prophet ) saying, "O Allah's Apostle! I have committed illegal sexual intercourse." On that the Prophet turned his face from him to the other side, whereupon the man moved to the side towards which the Prophet had turned his face, and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I have committed illegal sexual intercourse." The Prophet turned his face (from him) to the other side whereupon the man moved to the side towards which the Prophet had turned his face, and repeated his statement. The Prophet turned his face (from him) to the other side again. The man moved again (and repeated his statement) for the fourth time. So when the man had given witness four times against himself, the Prophet called him and said, "Are you insane?" He replied, "No." The Prophet then said (to his companions), "Go and stone him to death." The man was a married one. Jabir bin 'Abdullah Al-Ansari said: I was one of those who stoned him. We stoned him at the Musalla ('Id praying place) in Medina. When the stones hit him with their sharp edges, he fled, but we caught him at Al-Harra and stoned him till he died.
— Sahih al-Bukhari, 7:63:196 see also Sahih al-Bukhari, 2:23:413 Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:34:421 Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:49:860 Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:50:885 Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:56:829 Sahih al-Bukhari, 6:60:79 Sahih al-Bukhari, 7:63:195
Sahih Muslim Book 17 has several hadith regarding Stoning specifically (17:4191-4209, and 17:4914). For example,
Abu Huraira reported that a person from amongst the Muslims came to Allah's Messenger while he was in the mosque. He called him saying: Allah's Messenger. I have committed adultery. He (the Holy Prophet) turned away from him, He (again) came round facing him and said to him: Allah's Messenger, I have committed adultery. He (the Holy Prophet) turned away until he did that four times, and as he testified four times against his own self, Allah's Messenger called him and said: Are you mad? He said: No. He (again) said: Are you married? He said: Yes. Thereupon Allah's Messenger said: Take him and stone him. Ibn Shihab (one of the narrators) said: One who had heard Jabir b. 'Abdullah saying this informed me thus: I was one of those who stoned him. We stoned him at the place of prayer (either that of 'Id or a funeral). When the stones hurt him, he ran away. We caught him in the Harra and stoned him (to death). This hadith has been narrated through another chain of transmitters.
Other hadiths also mention stoning as the punishment for adultery.
Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah: A man committed fornication with a woman. So the Apostle of Allah ordered regarding him and the prescribed punishment of flogging was inflicted on him. He was then informed that he was married. So he commanded regarding him and he was stoned to death.
Rajam in various Islamic schools of jurisprudence
Hanafi jurists have held that the accused must be a muhsan at the time of religiously disallowed sex, to be punished by Rajm (stoning). A Muhsan is an adult, free, Muslim who has previously enjoyed legitimate sexual relations in matrimony, regardless of whether the marriage still exists. In other words, stoning does not apply to someone who was never married in his or her life (only lashing in public is the mandatory punishment in such cases). For evidence, Hanafi fiqh accepts the following: self confession, or testimony of four male witnesses (female witness is not acceptable), or contested pregnancy.
Hanafi Islamic law literature specifies two types of stoning. One, when the punishment is based on bayyina, or concrete evidence such as four male witnesses or pregnancy. In this case the person is bound, a pit dug, the bound person placed and partially buried inside the pit so that he or she may not escape, thereafter the public stoning punishment is executed. A woman sentenced to stoning must be partially buried up to her chest. The first stones are thrown by the witnesses and the accuser, thereafter the Muslim community present, stated Abū Ḥanīfa and other Hanafi scholars. In second type of stoning, when the punishment is based on self confession, the stoning is to performed without digging a pit or partially burying the person. In this case, the qadi (judge) should throw the first stone before other Muslims join in. Further, if the person flees, the person is allowed to leave.
Hanafi scholars specify the stone size to be used for Rajm, to be the size of one's hand. It should not be too large to cause death too quickly, nor too small to extend only pain.
The Shafii school literature has the same Islamic law analysis as the Hanafi. However, it recommends, that the first stone be thrown by the Imam or his deputy in all cases, followed by the Muslim community witnessing the stoning punishment.
Hanbali jurist Ibn Qudamah states, "Muslim jurists are unanimous on the fact that stoning to death is a specified punishment for the married adulterer and adulteress. The punishment is recorded in number of traditions and the practice of Muhammad stands as an authentic source supporting it. This is the view held by all Companions, Successors and other Muslim scholars with the exception of Kharijites."
Hanbali Islamic law sentences all forms of consensual but religiously illegal sex as punishable with Rajm. However, Hanabali scholars insist that homosexuality among men or women must be punished by beheading, instead of Rajm as recommended by the Maliki madhab of Islam.
Maliki school of jurisprudence (fiqh) holds that stoning is the required punishment for illegal sex by a married person, as well as for any form of homosexual relations. In Al-Muwatta, the 8th century Sunni Islamic scholar Malik ibn Anas states that contested pregnancy in a free Muslim woman is proof of adultery and she must be stoned to death.
In contrast to Sunni schools, Shia Islamic law, in Rajm cases, allows some of the witnesses to be women but considers the witness of a woman as half as valid as a man's. Thus, before an accused is sentenced to Rajm in Shia system, the witnesses may be four men, three men and two women, two men and four women, one man and six women, but witnesses must include at least one man. Furthermore, Shia jurists grant discretionary powers to the judge in cases of homosexuality, to sentence the accused to death by sword, Rajm (death by stoning), death by throwing from a high wall, or burning the accused to death.
There is disagreement among modern Islamic thinkers as to the applicability of stoning for adultery. While religious texts often give examples both with and without stoning, the Quran does not prescribe stoning as a punishment for any crime, mentioning only lashing as punishment for adultery. However most scholars maintain that there is sufficient evidence from hadiths to derive a ruling. The vast majority of Muslims consider hadiths, which describe the words, conduct and example set by Muhammad during his life, as a source of law and religious authority second only to the Quran. They consider sahih hadiths to be a valid source of Sharia, justifying their belief on Quranic verse 33.21, and other verses.
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi postulates that Quranic verses prescribe Rajm only for those who habitually commit fornication as prostitutes do, which then constitute "mischief in the land" that is punishable by death according to Quranic verses 5:33-34.
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