Monday, October 19, 2009

The Stoning of Soraya M

The Stoning of Soraya M is a powerful movie based on a best-selling book that leaves the viewer in utter disbelief that something like this true story could actually happen in real life. That supposedly pious men can get away with such barbaric behavior and not be held accountable for bringing about the demise and the death of an innocent woman in a male dominated Islamic country is beyond comprehension.



Soraya has been married for twenty years to her abusive jerk of a husband. Together they have four children, two sons and two daughters. The sons are obviously favored by the father who teaches his sons that it is a man's world and that women are much lesser creatures that should be treated like servants. In Islam men are allowed up to four wives, as long as each wife is treated equally. But since her husband cannot afford to support two wives and he doesn't want to pay her alimony, he decides he just wants to be rid of Soraya, no matter what it takes. Since Soraya refuses to give her husband a divorce so he can marry the 14 year old girl that he fancies, he hatches a plan to falsely accuse her of adultery.

The men of the small dusty remote Iranian village in the desolate mountains of Iran go along with his evil plot to destroy his wife, falsely accusing her of adultery, holding a mock trial, and convicting her based on the word of a man who was threatened with death if he did not cooperate. The story is eerily reminiscent of the Salem witch trials, where the actions of a few provoke maniacal mob mentality into the masses against one of their own. Even Soraya's own father took part in the proceedings and denounced her publicly once she was convicted and sentenced to death by stoning. The movie is graphic and the scenes where Soraya is stoned to death are very difficult to watch. She suffers a horrendous, agonizing death.

It will come as no surprise that the book which tells Soraya's story, written by the French journalist of Iranian descent, Freidoune Sahebjam, was banned in Iran because it portrays the Iranian legal system in such a negative light. The Stoning of Soraya M is an important and extraordinary story that needed to be told.

Thankfully Soraya's story is NOT the norm for Muslim marriages. But what IS the norm about her story is that most Muslim marriages are not an equal partnership, instead deferring the power in the relationship to the man, and consequently, blame for any problems in the marriage on the woman. Men tend to wear the pants in the family in many marriages around the world - I'm not saying that this is unique to Islamic marriages. But it does seem as though in Islamic countries, women are always guilty or wrong, and men are always innocent or right. For example, when a woman is raped in an Islamic country, generally she is believed to have brought it on herself so she will be punished, while the man is often thought to be justified in his actions. Honor killings always target females and are committed by male relatives. Female children are still sold by their own fathers to perverted old men, oftentimes to settle a debt or to give the family a financial boost. Sometimes Shariah law can appear to be unfair, unjust, inhumane, or violent to women or girls.

The Muslim world still seems to have a long way to go in the area of women's rights...

For more information, please read an in-depth post about The Stoning of Soraya at the blog Sand Gets in My Eyes.

48 comments:

  1. I would like to see this film. I don't know if Muslims will ever see the light re: women's rights.

    Aside from that, it's not always just the Muslim world that's chauvinistic; traces of it in some remote areas here, too.

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  2. hello and salam there suzie.. I just wanted to comment on your last sentence
    "Sometimes Shariah law can appear to be unfair, unjust, inhumane, or violent to women or girls"
    No I am no scholar and I dont claim to know the ins and outs of Shariah law but I think this statement is very general and should be changed to ... the Shariah law that is seen in Islamic countries today... the laws that are passed in many islamic countries now are not how they were originally brought about. For example, with adultery there are supposed to be a number of witnesses to the act before anyone is accused, that definitely is not the case today unfortunately. Just wanted to put my 2 pennies worth in and thanks for the blog

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  3. Since I've started reading your blog, I've become more interested in women's lives outside of the US. It only makes me be more grateful for the life that I have. Thank you for sharing this story.

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  4. don't think i could handle this movie. currently reading A Choice of Enemies. Very insightful about things in the middle east through the presidencies of Carter through Bush. Things that I read about and heard on the news but, never paid much attention to.
    have a wonderful week susie.
    hugs

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  5. A friend of mine saw this just last week and I have been trying to get my hands on it. When I mentioned to 2 sisters (in front of my hubby) that I wanted to see this, the first thing they asked was..."is it one of those movies?" I'm not sure what they meant, BUT, I think I know what they were asking.

    You are right about women usually being considered to be "wrong" for one reason or another. I am not in an Islamic country, but the reality is the same for many women in Islamic marriages...it takes A LOT to erase the cultural dynamics.

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  6. A friend of mine saw this just last week and I have been trying to get my hands on it. When I mentioned to 2 sisters (in front of my hubby) that I wanted to see this, the first thing they asked was..."is it one of those movies?" I'm not sure what they meant, BUT, I think I know what they were asking.

    You are right about women usually being considered to be "wrong" for one reason or another. I am not in an Islamic country, but the reality is the same for many women in Islamic marriages...it takes A LOT to erase the cultural dynamics.

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  7. I read the book many, many years ago. When the movie was released in Columbus, I was glad to see it did not stray from the written word.

    It's a powerful movie and one that needs to seen in the ME.

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  8. How can a country that beieves in this ever be accepted a civilized? It pains me down to my soul to know this is a present issue, not a historical one.

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  9. If you remove the word "sometimes" in your last sentence...I will agree with this post completely.

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  10. This made me sad :(

    Would you say the book was better than the movie? I haven't read it or watched the film. But this is so sad. I'll look for the film here.

    I am so depressed after Aafke's latest post on child brides and now this.

    Have you watched this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orkPad_5Ls0&feature=player_embedded

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  11. There is a lack of human rights in the Middle East not just womens rights. Women do have it worse because of cultural ignorance not because of Islam.

    Sharia law does not promote selling daughters into forced marriages or honor killings if anything it prevents that.

    If Sharia law was used in the Middle East a lot of the problems women (and men) are facing would cease to exsist. But they are not using Sharia law they are using mans law.

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  12. I will watch this film Susie. I think every person should. People need to wake up to the suffering of women and children that is still going on in this day and age.

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  13. By writing weasel words like "Sharia law can **appear** to be unfair" doesn't mean shit.

    Just say "Sharia law is unfair".....

    And BTW Saudi Arabia doesn't use Sharia law, it uses its own mad made law, regardless of what some might say.

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  14. Oh My Gosh! I just checked this book out of the library yesterday. I haven't had a chance to read it yet but I will right away. I agree that it is impossible to believe that this type of thing goes on each day in this world. I think of it as something from 2000 years ago. How is it that people have not advanced/evolved enough in their thoughts that they can think this could be OK in any way, shape or form? Or that God might be OK with it?

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  15. i've heard of this film..i will have to put it in my netflix que for when it comes out.

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  16. It is not the Sharia law it is the people who implement the law...... its the people themselves that have not bothered to look into the just and fair implementation of the law.... but instead choose to prioritize their culture. Besides no muslim country fully implemented the law..... they cherry pick them. And about women getting the lesser share of things.... yes it might look worse in the third world muslim dominated countries but in the west women are getting the lesser share as well.... human trafficking, prostitution, increase in women heading single household, sexual exploitation in media, majority of the poor are women and children in many countries as well....
    then when you look into muslim majority country like malaysia.. whose women dominate the universities and many are making more money than their husbands, you'll start having problems with over qualified women cannot finding suitable husband.... then the society start having the same issue western countries have..... high divorce rate, adultery, love affairs.... etc plus other problems of the develop countries. you are just trading one set of problems with another.
    thank you for bringing the issue of muslim women but other women issues in different countries deserve to be look into and put into perspective. muslim bashing is pretty much in these days like they are the worse group of people.

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  17. Susie - several months ago I posted on this movie in the context of adultery charges in Islamic countries like here in Saudi. I haven't been able to see if yet - duh like it will ever be shown here - but have it on my list!

    The story brings up so many issues, and sheds light on some of the darkness.

    Great post and topic!

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  18. Here in Canada one province almost allowed Sharia law to come into being. It was an Islamic group who halted the process saying that many Muslims move to countries like Canada to get away from Sharia Law. Of course extreme things would never have been allowed but I think the push to have it in was in regard to marriage, divorce, etc. Regardless, in my mind it was a slippery slope down hill for Canada to start changing our laws for those who CHOSE to come and live here in the first place.

    There are many sad things that go on in this world and this movie is about one of them.

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  19. I think it is important to note that the Story of Soraya M is a 2008 film, based on a 1994 NOVEL, based on a true incident in a rural Iranian village, in 1986, at the height of the Khomeini era extremism, with a Khomeini-appointed official heading the tribunal, and recorded from Soraya's aunt's post-stoning recounting to Freidoune Sahebjam, when car troubles landed him in the village.

    Freidoune Sahebjam was then an undercover investigative journalist in Iran, and an activist through his journalism against the Khomeini regime, including its use of child soldiers, and violence against Irani Bahai's.

    In other words, it is at several cultural removes from Sharia law, and standard law in Muslim countries.

    Also, Soraya's husband was more than just a man looking to take a (much) younger wife, he was involved in illegal financial activities, and had allied himself with the Khomeini appointed sheik who was later responsible for the condemnation of Soraya. That others would go along with this, is condemnable, but human, especially in light of the times.

    In other words, this is a far cry from even a bad marriage, Islamic or other.

    Anonymous--"And BTW Saudi Arabia doesn't use Sharia law, it uses its own mad made law, regardless of what some might say."
    I'm not sure whether "mad" here was a typo for "man", a Freudian slip, or intentional, but it makes a powerful statement anyway!

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  20. Another great post Susie.

    Ayda the point on the post is about Child Brides, yes and murder of women. In Western Countries having sex with a minor in my country under the age of 16 in many American states 18, is classed as a form of Rape. We have laws to protect children from paedophiles for a reason...they have to be protected as they are too immature psychologically and in many cases physically to be involved in a relationship of any kind.

    So many medical things go wrong in bodies of young children when they themselves bear children.
    I say let children be children for as long as they can and let women be free to chose who their husband may be, that is the Islamic way.

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  21. Hello All,

    I think people miss the fact that stories/movies be they true or not are not what usually goes on in everyday life, that is what makes them interesting, right?

    So in saying that, yes this might have happened, and it should not have! and to prevent those things from happening people are made more aware of that by the writer, the director, the actors.. and by Susie also.

    How can that guy Fretzel who imprisoned his daughter and used her as a sx-slave for many years do that in a civilized country? and to his own daughter none the less and his children from her for crying out loud... but he did and there are more like him, and I wish they all die slow agonizing deaths no matter what they believe in (or not) sick people are sick people, give them money and power and they annihilate nations if they could and the last century gave us examples of tyrants that somehow went unchallenged for years.

    OMG, this is getting out of the realm of a comment... so I will stop here.

    thanks Susie... keep on trucking... I mean blogging :)

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  22. Wendy--the province was Ontario, and the women's group who shut the Sharia Family Law idea down was led by Iranian feminists, intellectuals who had saught refuge from the Khomeini regime in Canada. They didn't just not want Sharia law, they didn't want any slippage toward Khomeini-style Sharia law.

    The Sharia Family Law idea had been researched by the provincial government amd was supported by a woman MPP. It was analogous to the Jewish Family Law already in place, and much to my surprise, the Catholic Family Law already in place.

    In all these instances of family law parallel to the Ontario Family Law, the idea was to provide an opportunity, for those who wished, to go through their religious counsellors for matters of marriage contracts, divorce (division of property, alimony, and child custody), and estate affairs. The proviso was the voluntariness, and that Ontario Family Law would prevail unless the parties agreed to supercede it with religious law which would then be recognized by the government.

    The major concern was that in the Muslim community, which is comprised primarily of recent immigrants, women would be coerced by tradition, family, community, and imams into going through the less favourable to them religious law than the provincial one (eg. in Ontario all assets accrued during the time of the marriage are split 50/50 no matter who paid for what including the home; children go to the mother or mother and father, unless one is proven mentally incompetent, or abusive).

    The government, not wanting to go against feminist Muslim women, or to appear islamophobic, or playing favourites, abrogated all religious Family Law options--much to the chagrin of the overworked Provincial Family Law courts.

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  23. Susie...
    I would like to read in your blog one, only one, post talking good about muslims & saudis. After all u choseed one of us (muslim) and saudi, something good we must have.
    I used to find your blog super interesting, i can struggle with criticals point of view about my ummah, but i just don't found a single post saying something good...so i can't fully understand you...i should say again you married one of us something good we must have...
    By the way, sorry about my english!

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  24. Thanks for all of your insightful comments. Much appreciated.

    To Fazirah - I married a man who happens to be Saudi and Muslim. Of course I find many good things about Saudis and Muslims, and if you can't find good things I have written on my blog about the culture here, then you haven't really looked very hard. I call things the way I see them through my eyes, which is likely very often totally different from the way you may see the same things.
    The problem here in Saudi is that there is no definitive line between the culture and the religion and this makes it very difficult for an outsider to understand. But when things happen to women that are unjust, it doesn't matter if it is cultural or religious reasoning behind it - it is still wrong.

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  25. Susie, i'm just telling you sometimes i would like to see one post about anything you like in the society that you are living...anything "I love saudi basbosas" anyting.
    The nationality and belives of a human being isn't just hapens says a lot..
    This is just my point of view, o course not all the muslims or saudis or in this particular case are teh best...but not all are the worst must be something...
    If i am wrong give one link of one post i also can say i'm sorry to you, i'm trying to be uncool with at all.
    I was in saudi two times, i found my self like a someone from west, thing that made me angry and things that made happy.

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  26. Susie...

    Why would anyone feel that we are being unfair to Muslims or "Muslim bashing" when one expresses dismay or upsetment at someone being stoned to death? Do they actually feel it is OK for women to have this happen to them? If they think it is wrong then perhaps they need to speak up against it...if they think it is a fair and just punishment then perhaps they need to reevaluate the laws that allow this.

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  27. ♥Faخirah♥--no se preocupe. Se expresa muy bien y su blog es un testimonio valiente para el Islam.

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  28. Interesting that its rare to hear of men being stoned to death...considering the woman cant commit adultery by herself.

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  29. I don't think I could stand watching this film. It would get me too angry and be more prejudiced against the people than I should be. I've heard of this happening and can't understand it, can't accept it, can't tolerate it. It's shameful.

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  30. Chiara, thanks for providing all the facts. It was good that the law was stopped and it was also good that the other 'religious' laws were brought down. If Ontario passed Sharia Law it would have been a slippery slope. I understood why it was a bad thing - family coercion etc.
    I like to think we have a big separation between church and state and that should apply to all.

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  31. Just found your blog and I can't wait to read more! :) I really like reading from women in KSA and that you are married to a Saudi is an extra interest point for me! (I like to compare experiences, although my husband is Jordanian and only grew up and worked in KSA until his mid-20s)

    Also - I need to do research into this- in Jordan and even my husband will say this about Saudi... they often take the WOMEN'S word when it comes to rape accusations. Now, it seems to also be tied to who the women is and her family, but I hear stories about how women will say that so-and-so tried xxx (ok, maybe not actual rape, but close)and the guy in question will then get arrested/beaten up on her word! It's like a way to get back at a guy you are dating. But, it's true that marriage is something completely different.

    While I do find that women's rights are legally less in many parts of the world (not just Islamic countries... I mean women couldn't vote in Switzerland until like the 1970s or something), they do have some protections that we don't have even in the U.S. The bad thing in the Middle East is that it all depends on your family, while there are more protections OUTSIDE your family in the U.S... if you are willing to take it.

    Great review!

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  32. hi i have been reading your blog quite a lot.but i had to comment on this one.in islam adulterer or adultress if married is meted out the same punishment.also i have come across provision where the person accused can deny the accusation and it is valid.and by the way honor killings is not something islam prescribed or condones. how it is practiced,i do not since i dont live in saudi or any middle eastern country.


    muslim girl

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  33. Wendy-you are welcome, and thanks for your further comment. I think that the risks of coercion to use religious law could be great in certain other religious communities as well so in a way the proposed Sharia law brought that issue to the fore. The whole world was watching Ontario, and women's groups demonstrating in multiple countries for fear of the precendant it would set.

    I should have been clearer that a better solution to court backlogs would be more pre-court settlements, like Alternative Dispute Resolution, and do it yourself divorce kits when the issues are simpler and the 2 parties reasonable. Those who wish to follow religious precepts can do so without their being separate religious courts.

    BTW is your husband Saudi? or are you just headed to Saudi? Sorry, I've forgotten, but I do remember you are a fellow Canuck! LOL :)

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  34. "The Muslim world still seems to have a long way to go in the area of women's rights.."

    Well hell yes. Pathetic that you have to point it out. Feel sorry for the women out there in the world that are being abused and beaten because of their sex. Too sad.

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  35. Chiara/Wendy

    You are both wrong. First Canadian province in which some Muslims wanted sharia law and which was close to implementing some facets of sharia law was Quebec. It was judges of Quebec (some of them Muslim women) who prevented that from happening.

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  36. "norm about her story is that most Muslim marriages are not an equal partnership, instead deferring the power in the relationship to the man, "

    I believe that the word "partnership" is an overstatement to describe Islamic marriages. It is seen as a contract. Friendship does not seem to be the norm within Islamic marriages, as it is within marriages in the West. There are exceptions I know-I am speaking of the majority here.

    anthrogeek10

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  37. I tracked down this book, it was hard to find! I am very interested in reading it.

    On a side note, how do you survive the summers? We will be moving to Kuwait in the end of November. I am so excited! the only thing that is concerning for me is the heat. My people are Michiganders from generations back. So, we have extreme temps there as well, but it is the opposite extreme. I love you blog~

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  38. I tracked down this book, it was hard to find! I am very interested in reading it.

    On a side note, how do you survive the summers? We will be moving to Kuwait in the end of November. I am so excited! the only thing that is concerning for me is the heat. My people are Michiganders from generations back. So, we have extreme temps there as well, but it is the opposite extreme. I love you blog~

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  39. Ella--thanks for your comment.

    Ontario was the first Western jurisdiction to propose Sharia personal and family law (for the province and Canada), in Dec 2004. On May 26, 2005 the Quebec National Assembly pre-emptively adopted a resolution to oppose "the establishment of so-called Islamic tribunals in Quebec and in Canada..." Ontario was still debating in Sept 2005, before McGuinty quashed all religious family law courts:

    "Ontario will not become the first Western jurisdiction to allow the use of a set of centuries' old religious rules called Shariah law to settle Muslim family disputes, and will ban all religious arbitrations in the province, Premier Dalton McGuinty told The Canadian Press on Sunday." Canadian Press September 11, 2005

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  40. So dad to believe this crap is still going on in societies such as yours. Too unreal and sad :((

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  41. @anthrogeek10
    I know, I know, I may have the exception, but I actually think partnership is a good word to describe Islamic marriages. It is also a contract... hehehe But, the majority of people I know do fall into the 'good' category I guess while I don't find many that fall into the 'bad' category. I know it's there and I know there is pretty much NO protections for women in those cases, but it's so against the religion to do the 'bad' stuff that I am not clear that it is prevalent as we all think. ('think' being the main word since impressions count towards a lot)

    I mean, most of my international students have an idea about crime in the U.S. based off our news and TV... do you have ANY idea HOW much violence is in our news and TV? It really freaks out a lot of parents abroad! And then they get here and find out that for the most part it's not that bad and that people are nice and not as liberal as they see on TV either - lol.

    But, I do find that Muslim marriages have very defined 'roles' and that these roles allow for different power structures within the family. Which is why the mother HAVE so much power through their children.

    I also briefly have read how this is the case in Latin American societies which is why many women have such a hard time coming to the U.S. - they 'lose' all of their power within their family since this power structure isn't accepted in the U.S. and so this makes many more susceptible to violence within their homes because of their lost of their 'role' within family...

    On the contract thing... this will vary on society and so I wouldn't call it a pure Muslim thing because of the cultural differences. Within Islam, it's good to know that the contract is basically a pre-nuptials: what is the women entitled to with the marriage (ie, what are you giving her - home, gold, furniture, money, can she work, will she keep that money (I find most do, but that idea seems to be dying out and I think it depends on where you are)) and then what happens if you divorce (ie, what happens with the kids, how much money/whatever will the women get, etc).

    But, I don't see (not that I necessarily would because I sure wouldn't make it known if my husband and I were having problems!) marriages as not being friendships or partnerships. I mean, Arab women are SO strong and argue for what they want SO much - it's very odd for me to come across a women that I can see is not willing to speak up... But, again I think that depends on your COUNTRY more than anything else :)

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  42. Hi Suzie, any idea where I can get a copy of the book ? I've tried to usual ie., amazon etc, but zilch...however did find a couple for £76 so thought that a bit too much for my budget.

    Been watching your blog for over a year now and find it just about one of the best for information on culture and many issues over here.

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  43. @anonymous...

    I got my copy at the library near where I live. You might try that if you haven't already?

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  44. @ Oby,

    I did try my compound library but no luck. I'm afraid there aren't any libraries elsewhere in Saudi (apart from other compounds) so looks like I might be looking for a while.

    Thanks again, S

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  45. women rights are there...the problem is with some Muslims who do not understand Islam in the correct way..not in Islam...

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  46. Well Ms. Susie:

    I want to enlighten you about this law of stoning in Islam.

    The Islamic punishment for sex outside marriage is:

    01. If an unmarried man or an unmarried woman commits sex (fornication), he or she should be lashed 100 times. This law is clearly mentioned in the Quran.

    02. If a married man or a married woman commits sex outside their marriage (adultery), the married man or married woman should be stoned to death. This law is not found in the Quran, but this was practiced by the Messenger of Allah, and thus it is also a part of the Islamic Sharia.

    Now, there are five different crimes for which punishment has been prescribed by Allah Himself. A judge cannot change them. However, since these punishments are very severe, absolute proof has to be established before awarding anyone with any of these punishments. For example, if someone is accused of fornication, there has to be four male witnesses who would testify that the incident actually happened and they have witnessed it. Even ‘witness’ has been defined. Each witness must see that the penis has penetrated the vagina. Unless two people do sex openly in public, it is almost impossible to produce four such witnesses.

    During the time of the Messenger of Allah, there were two incidents where the punishment of stoning of was meted out. In both of those incidents, the criminal out of his own wish came to the Prophet and admitted his crime. He said, "O Messenger of Allah! I am married and I have committed sex outside my marriage." The Messenger of Allah turned his face away from that man. This was his way of showing disapproval. Then the man again went in front of the Messenger and said the same thing. The Messenger of Allah again turned his face away. The man testified against him two more times. After four testimonies, the Messenger of Allah asked, "Did you actually have sex or was it just foreplay or something like that?" That man said that he actually committed sex. Then Prophet ordered this man to be stoned.

    In another incident, the women testified against her four times and she was also stoned.

    Now, if the law of Allah is abused to abuse women, the abusers will have to answer to Allah. The law of Allah is not a matter of play, and those who play with it, shall definitely suffer the consequences.

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  47. The Prophet allowed the old testement Jewish punishment for stoning to stand- I believe before the lashing verse was revealed. That should not make it part of Sharia- merely part of early Islamic history. Unless we prefer to be barbaric.

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  48. The Prophet allowed the old testement Jewish punishment for stoning to stand- I believe before the lashing verse was revealed. That should not make it part of Sharia- merely part of early Islamic history. Unless we prefer to be barbaric.

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