During his visit to Nigeria in 1988, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV, may Allah have mercy on him, was invited by BTV, a local television company, to take part in a series of televised interviews in which a number of questions regarding Islam and Ahmadiyyat were raised. We presented another one of these questions and its answer below.
QUESTION: Is there anything in the Qur’an that says that adulterers must be stoned?
Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad:
One thing that needs to be brought into focus as far as the Shari’a law is concerned is that the opinion of experts differ on fundamental points.
In view of this, it must necessarily be the case that some of them would be right and some of them would be wrong. Consequently, we need to ask whether it could in fact be the case that those who take a lenient interpretation of the Shari’a law may be right. Scholars who hold the more lenient view base their argument on the same verses of the Holy Qur’an as used by those who use a more stern interpretation of the verses regarding punishment. The logical question that arises here is to ask whether it is not possible that those who take the lenient view may be right.
If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, then would it not the case that those who enact an incorrect interpretation of Islam, in the name of Islam, would be responsible for those cruel acts? Suppose further that the government changes and another government comes or a sect that was prevalent in an area is reduced in number and another sect becomes the majority. If the interpretation of the Shari’a used by the majority be different from the previous sect, would that be Islam changing its position over fundamental issues? Certainly not. One should, therefore, be very careful and cautious in assessing Islamic practice.
The accepted principle of justice is always this, that when deciding upon punishment, the criminal should be given the benefit of doubt. Even when the guilt of a criminal is fully proven, the benefit of doubt that should be exercised in such a case would be that the minimum punishment should be enforced, not the maximum.
As far as the punishment of stoning to death is concerned, the Holy Qur’an declares that those who indulge in fornication or adultery, (the same Arabic word zana is used for both), should be flogged one hundred times. Here in this verse there is no mention of stoning at all anywhere.
Moreover, it is also stated immediately after this that those who indulge in fornication or adultery should marry amongst themselves and should not marry the innocent Muslims so that they may not destroy the social and cultural values of Islam. In other words, those who indulge in such immoral acts should marry amongst themselves.
The point to note here is that if the adulterers are killed, if they are stoned to death, how can they marry. If they are to be killed, why is the Holy Qur’an raising the question of their marriage immediately after prescribing this punishment? The Holy Qur’an describes the punishment to be one hundred floggings. This flogging is not to be with something like the army hunter or the whip – it is definitely not like that.
The nature of the ‘flog’ to be used in enforcing this punishment is, again, a point of difference. In some Sheikhdoms in some states of the Gulf, they still maintain that the manner of flogging that was carried out in the time of the Holy Prophet has come down to them through centuries. They maintain that the ‘flog’ is a piece of some hide of a relatively small size and that is all. The fact is that the ‘flog’ has not been described or defined in the Holy Qur’an. This is something we need to find out from history – we need to know what the Holy Qur’an means and what the Arabs of the early days of Islam used for the purpose of ‘flogging’. Without determining such facts, the second issue will not be determined at all.
I have made investigations and have come to the positive conclusion that the present day whip as introduced to us through the army or through some other ways of torture was not at all the instrument of ‘flogging’ used by the Arabs of the early Islamic period.
Jaldatan is the Arabic word used in the Holy Qur’an [Al-Nur, 24:3,4]. The Arabic word Jalda means animal skin or hide – it does not mean a cane of some sort. It should be noted here that Jalda, that is, a hide of some sort, is incapable of killing.
Moreover, it is believed by many Muslim scholars that during the ‘flogging’ one should not raise one’s arm to the extent that the white of the arm is revealed, that is to say that the arm should not be raised very high. In short, it is impossible for a person to be killed as a result of ‘flogging’ where a small piece of hide is used with the arm not fully raised. However, even this is not the whole story. It is important that this aspect of Islamic teaching should be studied together with its relevant background.
The Islamic teaching of chastity is of such a high level that it produces an atmosphere of chastity in the whole society. With its various injunctions, it creates a sense of chastity that pervades the whole society. It engenders a culture and a set of values that is different from that found in western societies or in African society today. There you find that generally a promiscuous attitude is prevalent while in Islamic Societies with all the appropriate application of the Islamic way of life it becomes a very different type of society. In that society there would be a very small likelihood of such matters arising.
Moreover, should an accusation of adultery be made, Islam enjoins upon the law-enforcing agencies to demand four witnesses to this act. Given this injunction, it is not difficult to appreciate how remote the possibility of such punishment would become. It is a threatening posture but in reality its application would be very rare indeed.