The Taliban stoning story in the New York Times is upsetting on many levels. It describes the torture and murder of Rukhshana, a nineteen-year-old woman, and notes that a very important pro-government cleric in Afghanistan both condones the stoning and will lead the team that investigates its legality! According to Maulavi Inayatullah Baleegh, a pro-government mullah with lots of power, the stoning of adulterers is necessary:
“If you’re married and you commit adultery, you have to be stoned,” said the mullah, Maulavi Inayatullah Baleegh, during his sermon at Pul-e Khishti mosque, Kabul’s biggest, on Friday. “The only question was whether this was done according to Shariah law, with witnesses or confessions as required,” he said. “It is necessary to protect and safeguard the honor of women in society, as it was done in the past during the time of the prophet.”
Bolds are mine. To understand what is being said, note that the word "honor" is used just as it is used in the term "honor killings." It should also be noted that on paper stoning is illegal in Afghanistan, but as the above quote demonstrates, many regard it as the correct punishment.
It's not a good thing for women, that honor, though losing it is a very bad thing for them. The honor Baleegh preaches about is the family honor. In many Mediterranean cultures it was once seen as deposited in the vaginas of the family's women. Men could do most things they wished, however unethical, but even a raped woman destroyed that safety deposit of the family honor. So she had to die. And any adulterous woman certainly had to die. That's how the family's honor could be defended.
This custom then became ossified in the Shariah, because of the times when it was taken down and because it was then closed for all further adjustment. That's why the above quote suggests, to me*, a Wahhabist view of Islam, one in which only the oldest traditions must be maintained, one in which the culture and manners from thousands of years ago are ossified as divine law.
Let's look at the gendered aspects of stoning in the NYT story**:
The governor of Ghor Province, Seema Joyenda, one of only two female governors in Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, said that Rukhshana had left her husband, but only because she had been illegally forced to marry him.
As a child, she had been engaged to a different, much older man. But when she reached marriageable age, she refused the union and ran away with Mr. Gul instead.
“Rukhshana was a pretty girl and had studied until Grade 6,” Governor Joyenda said. “She was literate and pretty, that was why everyone wanted to marry her, but she would not allow herself to be married to anyone against her will.”
Caught and brought back to her village, she still refused the first arranged marriage, so as punishment her family forced her instead to become the third wife of a 55-year-old man. Again, she ran away with Mr. Gul, and again they were caught.
Since Mr. Gul was not himself married, he was given the lesser punishment of 100 lashes and sent home, where a relative said he was still recovering from his wounds. (The relative, reached by telephone, asked not to be named because of fear of Taliban reprisals.) Because Rukhshana, who goes by just one name, was married, the Taliban condemned her to death by stoning.
How would this story have changed had Rukhshana been a man?
First, she (now he) might not have been forced into a planned marriage in the first place.
Second, she (now he) could have used that neat device Shariah has for men, if interpreted in the ossified way: She could have taken Mr. Gul (now Ms. Gul) in marriage as the second wife. Presto! No adultery is taking place. Case closed. (Note that women cannot have second or third or fourth husbands under Shariah. All that would be adultery, the women would be stoned, the second etc. husbands would be flogged as they would be deemed unmarried.)
Third, even if this male version of Rukhshana had already married four women before wanting Ms. Gul, the Shariah would let her (now him) divorce as many of them as instantly and as without cause as she (now he) wished, thus making space for Mr. Gul (now Ms. Gul). (Note that it's very difficult for women to initiate divorce in most interpretations of the Shariah, whereas men can do so without a reason.)
Neat, eh? The point I'm making is that the treatment of men and women in the Shariah is inherently unequal in most aspects. This makes the ossified legal use of Shariah very dangerous for women, and it gives much more scope for married men to avoid being stoned to death for adultery. Married men can be caught for adultery under the law and stoned to death, sure. But they have quite a few legal devices for avoiding that.
The "Meanwhile"-series of posts on this blog puts together news about negative events concerning women's rights and status from various parts of this globe.
This post is based on the assumption that the NYT story is correct in its factual assertions.
* More on stoning for adultery in the past can be found here and in the context of Islamic schools of law here. The second source suggests that all important schools interpreting the Shariah agree on stoning as the correct punishment, however, so I may have been overly optimistic in regarding this as a purely Wahhabist interpretation.
** The victim, Rukshana, died at the age of nineteen by having large rocks thrown at her head. The rest of her body was buried in the ground. That made it impossible for her to run away, could she have otherwise done so.
I have read, though I have not been able to verify, that a victim to be stoned will be saved if he/she manages to get out of the hole and run away. The same context stated that women are buried deeper than men. This would mean that women are much less likely than men to be able to dig themselves out of the hole.