This month, the Muslim nation of Brunei cited religious grounds for prescribing execution by stoning for those guilty of adultery or gay sex, and amputation of hands to punish convicted thieves. Does Islam require these penalties?
THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:
In the Muslim world there’s no consensus that the faith requires these traditional punishments in modern times, but a handful of the 57 member nations in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have such legislation. One is the small East Asian sultanate officially named Brunei Darusslam (“Brunei, Abode of Peace”), which proclaimed these penalties six years ago. Due to the resulting uproar, the law did not go into effect until this month. When it did, the foreign minister responded to another round of international denunciations by stating that “strong religious values” form “the very foundation of the unique Bruneian identity.”
The punishments were commanded by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei’s hereditary monarch, who wields absolute political and religious powers and is devoted to strict interpretation and application of shariah (Muslim law). At the same time, fabled oil revenues provide the sultan eyebrow-raising personal wealth of some $20 billion, the world’s largest home (1,788 rooms), and largest collection of rare automobiles including a gold-plated Rolls Royce.
Regarding punishment for sexual sins, Muslims point out that long before Islam arose the Bible’s Old Testament law named execution as the penalty for adultery (Leviticus 20:10) and for same-sex relations between men (Leviticus 20:13), as well as other sins. Those passages did not state what method was to be used for execution, but rabbinic law later compiled in the Talmud specified stoning for gay relationships. Stoning was also commonly cited for adulterers.
Jewish scholars say the Bible’s various laws on execution were meant to signify and proclaim the seriousness of the misdeeds but were rarely applied in practice.