Unfortunately, Mrs Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is an Iranian widow, and was sentenced to be stoned to death in her country for alleged adultery before her husband was murdered. She has already been lashed 99 times in 2006 for “illicit sex”. The Iranian penal code is very explicit about how the sentence is to be carried out: the stones should not be so large as to kill the victim immediately, and yet large enough to fit the definition of a stone.
While an international outcry has prevented this barbaric punishment from being carried out, Mrs Ashtiani might yet be hanged for the alleged offence. Although Islamic law requires four witnesses to establish that adultery has taken place, in this case the judge has based his sentence on ‘personal knowledge’. Currently, 15 more suspects are under the same sentence in East Azerbaijan alone. It seems these punishments have been revived under Ahmednijad’s presidency after lying dormant during his predecessor’s less benighted term.
From Pakistan, a human rights activist has sent me a sickening account of a Christian whose wife and four children were killed last month in Jhelum. Apparently, Jamshed Masih, a Christian policeman, was told to move from the predominantly Muslim colony where he and his family lived
Before the attack, Masih’s 11-year old son went to a local shop, and was refused service on the grounds that he was a non-Muslim. On his return, locals led by Maulana Mahfooz Khan entered the house, asserting that the boy had committed blasphemy and must be punished. Mrs Masih pleaded with the mob, and asked them to wait until her husband returned, but somebody threw an object at her head. Her daughter managed to call her father, but by the time he returned, his family had all been massacred.
The head of the local police station has refused to register a case against the killers, saying: “Khan is an influential man, and he said your son has committed blasphemy – we cannot do anything against him.” The police officer added: “I am a poor man, I have a family, and I was pressured by higher authorities not to register the FIR [First Information Report].
From Egypt comes this bizarre story reported by the Los Angeles Times: a group calling itself Lawyers Without Shackles went to court to demand that the magical collection of tales contained in the Arabian Nights (or One Thousand and One Nights, as it is also called) be purified of its somewhat racy elements. A member of the lawyers’ group, Ayman Abdel-Hakim declared:
“The book contains profanities that cannot be acceptable in Egyptian society… We understand that this kind of literature is acceptable in the West, but here we have a different culture and different religion.”
Considering that this wonderful work has been entertaining (and titillating) Arab and non-Arab readers for centuries, it is hard to understand why Mr Abdel-Hakim and his colleagues have suddenly woken up to its stories which include Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp. Fortunately, the case was thrown out by the court, perhaps because the publishing house against whom the case was filed falls under the umbrella of the government. Here, the Egyptian judge applied standards different from the ones used by the Lahore High Court when it shut down the social networking website Facebook, together with a number of other popular Internet sites. However, Egyptian Lawyers without Shackles appear to have a lot in common with Pakistan’s legal fraternity.
I could go on in this depressing vein, quoting from stories that have been sent to me by readers, but the ones I have cited here should suffice to make the point. For some reason, Muslims seem determined to prove to the world that they live in another century, on another planet. Pakistanis, in particular, appear to think they have a monopoly on religious zeal. Here, they demonstrate the fervour of converts who have a pressing need to show the world that they are better Muslims than anybody else.
The unfortunate citizens to bear the brunt of this religiosity are the minorities: it’s easy to prove your faith against the most vulnerable section of society. Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians are victimised with terrifying frequency, and as the state does nothing to halt this persecution, zealots like Maulana Mahfooz Khan are encouraged. He is no doubt boasting to his acolytes about how he upheld his faith against an 11-year old Christian boy.
Mercifully, Bangladesh is trying to reverse the tide of extremism that was unleashed by the previous government. But in most Muslim countries, intolerance is growing by the day. Yet Muslims living in the West demand ever-greater freedom to practise and spread their faith. Imagine the furore if a Muslim boy had been refused service in a shop in say, Birmingham, because of his religion. There would have been riots across the Islamic world had a Muslim family been slaughtered by a mob in a Western city. And yet when such atrocities happen (as they do, all too often) in our part of the world, they are met with official indifference and public silence.
I have often wondered about the people who carry out the sentence of stoning to death. What kind of person would willingly pick up a fist-sized stone from a pile in a public place and throw it at the head of the victim who has been buried neck-deep? What does it take to look at a helpless person before releasing the missile and seeing it crunch against a human skull? Can anybody undertake this cold-blooded act voluntarily and still claim to be a civilised human being?
The punishments mentioned in the Muslim scriptures also figure in the Old Testament, and ancient Jews no doubt applied them. But they fell into disuse centuries ago. It’s high time we put them to rest as well.
When a woman accused of adultery was brought before Jesus with the demand that he condemn her to death by stoning, he gently said to them: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.”
DAWN.COM | Columnists | Who will cast the first stone?