Let he that is without sin cast the first stone

Muslim Nigerians had many other options open to them, even under Sharia law, than stoning divorced women to death


Here we go again. All these la-de-da, soi-disant Abuja lefties resisting the people's call for capital punishment, when poll after poll clearly shows that – were we a genuine democracy – then this appalling adulteress from Katsina state, Amina Lawal Kurami, would right now be getting the stoning she so richly deserves. Instead her case is going up to the High Court in Lagos, and we all know what that load of disastrous do-gooders will decide, don't we?

Thus I imagine the Richard Littlejohn of northern Nigeria, writing in the non-existent Sokoto Sun, and reflecting on the fact that Ms Kurami, found guilty of adultery last March, has still not finally been sentenced to death. Two courts have condemned her (the second one, earlier this week), but a final appeal is still pending and it is likely that Nigeria's highest court will strain every sinew to try to get the sentence commuted.

In any case, Ms Kurami will not be put in a pit, or tied to a tree or a pillar (they haven't quite decided which yet), and then have her head and face stoved in with rocks the size of a man's fist, until her eight-month-old baby is fully weaned. Which is an incentive for breast-feeding well beyond anything that even the Scottish Parliament can devise.

The version of Islamic Sharia law that has been adopted in Amina's part of Nigeria is both more stringent and less demanding than some others. It is more stringent in the sense that the only evidence required of adultery is that a woman has become pregnant outside wedlock (even if she is divorced). It is less demanding in that no eye-witnesses to the actual adultery or – failing that – no confession, are needed. Nor, it seems, is a man necessary; Amina's co-respondent has already been acquitted for lack of evidence. An apologist for Sharia, appearing on BBC Radio 4 this week, pointed out that stoning could – in general – only be carried out where there were indeed four witnesses (a pretty unlikely circumstance) – and that men as well as women could be stoned; a fact which suddenly conjured up Bob Dylan's classic, Everybody's Gotta Get Stoned. Stoning was civilised, he said, because it was God's law, and how could God be less civilised than man? In any case, he pointed out, in the Bible (John, Chapter 8, verses 3-5) Jesus seemed to condone stoning as a policy.

These verses have the Pharisees confronting Jesus with a woman "taken in adultery", pointing out that stoning was the law of Moses and then demanding "what sayest thou?"

Of course, what Jesus sayeth (verse 7) is: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." This is not a strong Biblical support for capital punishment of any kind.

But actually Muslims are bitterly divided about what is prescribed for adultery. The stoning bit doesn't actually appear in the Koran at all. While we're in the business of quotation we should note that the Koran actually says:

"If any of your women are guilty of lewdness,
take the evidence of four (reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them;
and if they testify, confine them to houses until death do claim
or Allah ordain for them some (other) way."

The problem is that the Prophet himself was a bit of a stoner. But the first adulterer that he treated in this way (a Ma'iz ibn Malik who had illegal sexual intercourse with a slave-girl) had to insist upon being stoned, and then – when he discovered that being stoned was painful – was allowed to run away. He only died because a passer-by threw the bone of a camel's foreleg at him and killed him. At which the Prophet apparently said: "Why did you not leave him alone? Perhaps he might have repented and been forgiven by Allah." Wise words.

The invocation of Judaism was misplaced too. Though it's true that some Jewish law prescribes death for just about everything from murder to eating yams before elevenses, in practice the Jews have argued their way out of almost any judicial killing. There had to be eyewitnesses, each eyewitness would have to be so certain of their testimony that they themselves would have to be willing to carry out the execution, and each would have had to have warned the perpetrator before he committed the act for which he was condemned. In 30AD capital punishment was abolished in Jerusalem. The execution of the Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, in the Sixties was a considerable departure from Jewish practice.

The Muslim Nigerians had many other options open to them, even under Sharia law, than stoning divorced women to death. They could remain excellent Muslims and not kill Amina at all. So they probably chose this interpretation because they liked it, and rather enjoyed the idea of a good stoning. It's also likely that there is a significant amount of misogyny caught up in all this. As one Muslim scholar has asked, why do homosexual men not get the hard rock treatment, answering, "maybe because in a homosexual act no other man's right over a woman is violated". You betcha.

So what should we enlightened Westerners make of the Amina situation? I mean, we're horrified, of course, but should we intervene? Who is, after all, to say that we are right, and that they are wrong?

Back in 1829, of course, if we encountered a nasty local habit, and we were the colonial masters, we could just stop it. The case last week of ritual suicide by burning (suttee) by a widow in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, recalled that it was Lord Bentinck, Governor General of the East India Company at the time, who criminalised the practice, albeit at the request of Indian reformers. Yet, for many Hindus, a woman who commits suttee becomes a deity. Ironically, the Indian government has brought in the death penalty for anyone abetting suttee. At around the same time as Lord Bentinck was decreeing how Indian widows might not die, having abolished slavery ourselves, we then abolished it for everyone else, and sailed about the world disrupting the much-loved cultural practices of other societies.

Good. Let's do it again, although maybe not in quite the same way. I will certainly put up the first £200 for any campaign or effort to rescue Amina and any other man or woman faced with the death penalty for adultery. And if that means helicopters at dawn, then so be it. History, I am fairly sure, will vindicate our efforts.

But not so fast. What about those other civilised countries that execute their citizens, from China to most states of the US of A, including Arkansas (the state of the last president) and Texas (the state of the current one)? What indeed, about those who call for a return of capital punishment here, even if only – à la Ann Widdecombe – as "an available option"? What about our own majority who (in poll after poll) show that they want the return of judicial murder?

Actually, I don't think they do. It's just nicer for them to be able simultaneously to call for capital punishment and then to criticise liberal élitists for not giving it to them – while having no more Timothy Evanses on their own consciences.

As for the Americans and the Chinese, let's support those campaigning to persuade them to stop murdering their own folks. For Amina's sake.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Day In a Page


Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride