In his article on how the Greco-Roman heritage impacted Christianity but not Islam, Fjordman has mentioned the different treatment of adulterers in the two religions. He correctly relates how Jewish law prescribed death by stoning as punishment for adultery (Deut.22:19-23), how Jesus overruled this law, how the Jews gradually let it lapse, and how Mohammed chose to uphold it, as his more zealous followers do until today. But the contrast is even sharper than this.
In the Hadith collection of Al-Muslim (4211 and 4214), Mohammed’s intervention in a dispute over the punishment of an adulterous couple is described. The Jewish couple was brought before Mohammed, who, though an immigrant, had just established himself as the sole ruler of Medina. He asked Jewish bystanders what punishment the Torah prescribed for this offence. They said: “We blacken their faces and make them ride on a donkey with their faces turned backwards.” Mohammed ordered a copy of the Torah brought, and the prescribed punishment was found to be death by stoning. So he ordered the couple to be stoned. The companion who passed on this story, Abdullah ibn Umar, testifies: “I was one of those who stoned them, and I saw him protecting her with his body.” Wow, that was true passion, until both died under the pious rain of stones.
That is why even under the onslaught of modernity, Muslims are reluctant to relax this stone-age punishment for adultery. That is why the enlightened Islamic spokesman Tariq Ramadan will only go as far as considering a “moratorium” on stoning but not its abolition. After all, Mohammed not merely prescribed this punishment: he specifically reversed an attempt at relaxing it. Islam is essentially an imitation of Mohammed’s model behaviour. Therefore, a true Muslim must emulate the Prophet’s resistance against any “progressive” tendency towards laxer modes of punishment.
But let us conclude on a lighter note. A jolly Australian lady friend used this topic to explain to me the difference between Iran and Australia: “In Iran, you fornicate and then you get stoned. In Australia, you first get stoned and then you fornicate.”