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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.
No mention of stoning/Rajm or capital punishment for adultery is found in the Qur'an, which (in Surah an-Nur) prescribes lashing as punishment for premarital and extramarital sex (zina). For this reason some minority Muslim sects such as Kharijites found in Iraq, and Islamic Modernists such as the Quranists disagree with the legality of rajm.
However, stoning is mentioned in multiple hadiths (reports claiming to quote what the prophet Muhammad said verbatim on various matters, which most Muslims and Islamic scholars consider an authoritative source second only to Quran as a source of religious law) and therefore most Muslim and all Sunni and Shia schools of jurisprudence accept it as a prescribed punishment for adultery.
At least a couple of sources (Sadakat Kadri, Max Rodenbeck) have noted that while popular in the abstract, rajm has been infrequently applied in Islamic history. Stonings were recorded just once in all the history of Ottoman Empire, and not at all in Syria during Muslim rule;) Techniques used to "minimize the possibility" that the pregnancy of a single woman would be considered evidence of zina and make justice more merciful, included "fantastic presumptions" about the length of the human gestation period. Classical Hanafite jurists ruling that rather than nine months, it could last for up to two years, Shafi'ites four, and Malikites as long as five years. Rashidun Caliph Umar once acquitted a pregnant single mother on the grounds that she was a "heavy sleeper" who had had "intercourse without realizing it".
According to journalist Max Rodenbeck,
In almost all cases where it has been applied in recent years, stoning has taken place in tribal or rebel areas beyond the control of central governments—the Taliban in Afghanistan, ISIS in Iraq, and Boko Haram in Nigeria being cases in point. Out of the world’s forty-nine Muslim-majority states, six retain the punishment in deference to Islamic legal tradition, ... Of these countries only Iran, which officially placed a moratorium on stoning in 2002 but still gives leeway to individual judges, has actually carried it out. 
Saudi Arabia executed four people by stoning during the 1980s. As of 2005, stoning punishments have been considered or handed down in Nigeria and Somalia for the crimes of adultery and sodomy (homosexuality). Since the Sharia legal system was introduced in northern Nigeria in 2000, more than a dozen Muslims have been sentenced to death by stoning but none have actually been stoned. In one case, an appellate court in the state of Sokoto overturned a stoning sentence on the basis that divorced defendant might not have conceived her child in zina (fornication) because she may have been carrying her baby for as long as five years. Another Nigerian state court of appeal assessed the upper limit of gestation at seven years.
In Pakistan "more than three decades of official Islamization have so far failed to produce a single actual stoning..." Iran officially placed a moratorium on stoning in 2002 but still gives leeway to individual judges to sentence rajm. The failure to carry out sentences of rajm has been blamed on publicity and pressure from internal and international human rights groups, which considers stoning a form of execution by torture.
Outside the recognized central governments, from July 2014 to February 2015, six men and nine women, were executed (not all by rajm) by ISIS in Syria for the crimes of adultery or homosexuality, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
In scripture and jurisprudence (fiqh)
The Qur'an (unlike the Bible—Deuteronomy 22:24) does not mention the act of stoning. However, according to one hadith this is because the verse(s) calling for rajm were accidentally eaten by a goat.
[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 hadith, however because all common routes of transmission of it either contain narrators charged with dishonesty when disclosing their sources, or (in the case of the version 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 reliable hadiths (words of the Prophet), however, describe stoning. One 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 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.
Persons who accuse a woman of adultery but are not able to bring four witnesses—a crime known as Qadhf, القذف —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. In this case, if his spouse counterswears, no punishment will be enforced.
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). Hanafi Islamic law literature specifies two types of stoning. One, when the punishment is based on bayyina, or concrete evidence (four male witnesses). 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.
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.
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 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 or widowed person, as well as for any form of homosexual relations among men. Malik ibn Anas, founded of Maliki fiqh, considered pregnancy in an unmarried woman as a conclusive proof of zina. He also stated that contested pregnancy is also sufficient proof of adultery and any Muslim woman who is pregnant by a man who she is not married to, at the time of getting pregnant, must be stoned to death. Later Maliki Muslim scholars admitted the concept of "sleeping embryo", where a divorced woman could escape the stoning punishment, if she remained unmarried and became pregnant anytime within five years of her divorce, and it was assumed that she was impregnated by her previous husband but the embryo remained dormant for five years.
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.
Noting the passion for unreconstructed shariah law by revivalists in recent decades, but small number of actual rajm executions (outside of ISIS and other outlaws), Sadakat Kadri wonders at the paradox that "hand-liners everywhere are struggling to circumvent the penalties that they publicly declare to be the most sacred ones that any Muslim judge can enforce".
- Emma Batha, Stoning - where does it happen? Thomson Reuters Foundation, September 29, 2013
- E. Ann Black, Hossein Esmaeili and Nadirsyah Hosen (2014), Modern Perspectives on Islamic Law, ISBN 978-0857934475, pp. 222-223
- Rudolph Peters, Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521796705, pp. 37
- Muhsan The Oxford Dictionary of Islam (2012)
- Ismail Poonwala (2007), The Pillars of Islam: Laws pertaining to human intercourse, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195689075, pp. 448-457
- Al Muwatta 41 1.8
- Quran 24:2, Quote - "The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day: and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment."
- e.g. Sahih Muslim 17:4191 - 4209 and 17:4916 & 17:4194
- OU Kalu (2003), Safiyya and Adamah: Punishing adultery with sharia stones in twenty‐first‐century Nigeria, African Affairs, 102(408), pp. 389-408
- Nisrine Abiad (2008), Sharia, Muslim States and International Human Rights Treaty Obligations, British Institute of International and Comparative Law, ISBN 978-1905221417, pp. 24-25
- Kadri & Heaven on Earth 2012, p. 217.
- Kadri & Heaven on Earth 2012, p. 231.
- Rodenbeck, Max (3 December 2015). "How She Wants to Modify Muslims [Review of Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now by Ayaan Hirsi Ali ]". New York Review of Books LXII (19): 36. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
- Kadri & Heaven on Earth 2012, p. 232.
- Nigerian scholars promoting Sharia law as support for women's rights. September 13, 2005
- "5th Delay in Nigerian Gay Trial. Two men facing death by stoning for the alleged crime of sodomy .... September 14, 2005".
- Jacinto, Leela (18 Mar 2011). "Nigerian Woman Fights Stoning Death". ABC News International. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
- "Gay Nigerians face Sharia death". BBC News. 10 Aug 2007. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
- Coleman, Sarah (Dec 2003). "Nigeria: Stoning Suspended". World Press. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
- Kadri & Heaven on Earth 2012, p. 225.
- "Amnesty International - Afghanistan: Reject stoning, flogging, amputation and other Taliban-era punishments". amnesty.org. 26 November 2013.
- "Sudan: Ban Death by Stoning - Human Rights Watch". hrw.org.
- Seifert, Kathryn (18 February 2014). "Death by Stoning: Why Is This Sickening Punishment Legal?". Psychology Today. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
- Kurch, Nicholas. "ISIS Terrorists Try to Stone a Woman to Death for Adultery. Then There Was a Miraculous Intervention.". Independent Journal Review. (circa February 2015). Retrieved 18 November 2015.
- Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal. vol. 6. p. 269; Sunan Ibn Majah, p. 626; Ibn Qutbah, Tawil Mukhtalafi 'l-Hadith (Cairo: Maktaba al-Kulliyat al-Azhariyya. 1966) p. 310; As-Suyuti, ad-Durru 'l-Manthur, vol. 2. p. 13
- Muhammad Taqi Usmani, Takmilat Fath al-Mulhim, vol. 1, pg. 69. Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi.
- Shu'aib al-Arna`ut, Tahqiq Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, vol. 6, pg. 269, hadith #26,359. Beirut: Mu`assasah al-Risalah.
- Elyse Semerdjian (2008), "Off the Straight Path": Illicit Sex, Law, and Community in Ottoman Aleppo, Syracuse University Press, ISBN 978-0815631736, pp. 8-14
- Christopher Melchert (1997), The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law: 9th-10th Centuries CE, Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004109520, pp. 16 with footnote 78
- Joseph Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), pp. 178–181
- Quran 24:6-9, Quote - "And for those who launch a charge against their spouses, and have (in support) no evidence but their own― their solitary evidence (can be received) if they bear witness four times (with an oath) by Allah that they are solemnly telling the truth; And the fifth (oath) (should be) that they solemnly invoke the curse of Allah on themselves if they tell a lie. But it would avert the punishment from the wife, if she bears witness four times (with an oath) by Allah, that (her husband) is telling a lie; And the fifth (oath) should be that she solemnly invokes the wrath of Allah on herself if (her accuser) is telling the truth. "
- Al-Muwatta 41 1.8
- Elyse Semerdjian (2008), "Off the Straight Path": Illicit Sex, Law, and Community in Ottoman Aleppo, Syracuse University Press, ISBN 978-0815631736, pp. 22-23
- Elyse Semerdjian (2008), "Off the Straight Path": Illicit Sex, Law, and Community in Ottoman Aleppo, Syracuse University Press, ISBN 978-0815631736, pp. 23-25
- IslamOnline.net. "Stoning: Does It Have Any Basis in Shari`ah?". Retrieved 2010-07-25.
- Nisrine Abiad (2008), Sharia, Muslim States and International Human Rights Treaty Obligations, British Institute of International and Comparative Law, ISBN 978-1905221417, pp. 24-26
- McGarvey, Kathleen (2009). Muslim and Christian women in dialogue : the case of northern Nigeria. Oxford New York: Peter Lang. pp. 203–204. ISBN 978-3-03911-417-7.
- Ismail Poonwala (2004), The Pillars of Islam: Laws pertaining to human intercourse, Oxford University Press, Oxford University Press, pp. 448-457
- Quran 33:21
- Quran 3:32, Quran 3:132, Quran 4:59, Quran 8:20, Quran 33:66
- Muhammad Qasim Zaman (2012), Modern Islamic Thought in a Radical Age, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1107096455, pp. 30-31
- Neal Robinson (2013), Islam: A Concise Introduction, Routledge, ISBN 978-0878402243, Chapter 7, pp. 85-89
- Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, Mizan, The Penal Law of Islam, Al-Mawrid; Quran 5:33–34
- Kadri, Sadakat (2012). Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia ... Macmillan. ISBN 9780099523277.
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