Stoning to Death
I have a long telegram sent to me as President of the National Congress regarding the stoning to death in Afghanistan of two members of the Ahmediya sect. I purposely refrained from any comment on the awful penalty imposed on the late Niamatulla Khan but I dare not ignore the incidents now reported especially when a personal appeal for expression of opinion is made to me. I understand that the stoning method is enjoined in the Koran only in certain circumstances which do not cover the cases under observation. But as a human being living in the fear of God I should question the morality of the method under any circumstance whatsoever. Whatever may have been necessary or permissible during the Prophet’s lifetime and in that age, this particular form of penalty cannot be defended on the mere ground of its mention in the Koran. Every formula of every religion has in this age of reason, to submit to the acid test of reason and universal justice if it is to ask for universal assent. Error can claim no exemption even if it can be supported by the scriptures of the world. I extend my sympathy to the sect in its distress. Needless to say I can express no opinion on the merits of the case. I do not think the public has any data for forming an opinon on merits. It is the form penalty that wounds the human conscience. Both reason and heart refuse to reconcile themselves to torture for any crime, no matter how vile the crime may be.
I gladly print the following from Maulana Zafar Ali Khan written by him in his capacity as President of the Punjab Khilafat Committee:
I have read with feelings of mingled amazement and pain your pronouncement, in Young India of the 26th instant, on stoning incidents in Kabul. You say that “this particular form of penalty cannot be defended on the mere ground of its mention in the Koran. You, moreover, declare that “every formula of every religion has in this age of reason to submit to the acid test of reason and universal justice if it is to ask for universal assent”. Finally you maintain that error can claim no exemption even if it can be supported by the scriptures of the world. I have always paid unstinted homage to your greatness and have all along looked upon you as one of the few men who are making modern history;but I would be failing in my duty as a Mussalman if I refrained from pointing out to you that by challenging the right of the Koran to regulate the life of its followers in its own way you have shaken the belief of millions of your Muslim admirers in your capacity to lead them. You are at perfect liberty to express your opinion one way or the other as to whether renegades can be stoned to death under the law of Islam. But to hold that even if the Koran supported such form of penalty, it should be condemned outright as an error, is a form of reasoning which cannot appeal to the Mussalmans. Error is after all a relative term and Mussalmans have their own way of interpreting it. To them the koran is an unalterable law which transcends the ever changing policies and expendiencies of puny humanity. Would to God that to your multifarious activities as leader of India you had not added the rather delicate task of adversely criticizing the teaching of the Holy Koran.
The Maulana has put an interpretation upon my note which it does not bear. I have not adversely (or otherwise) criticized the teachings of the Holy Koran. But I have criticised the teachers, that is, the interpreters, in anticipation of their defending the penalty of stoning to death. I claim to understand enough of the Koran and the history of Islam to know that a multitude of interpreters have interpreted the Koran to suit their preconceived notions. My purpose was to issue a warning against the acceptance of such interpretations. But I would like to say that even the teachings themselves of the Koran cannot be exempt from criticism . Every true scripture only gains by criticism. After all we have no other guide but our reason to tell us what may be regarded as revealed and what may not be. The early Mussalmans accepted Islam not because they knew it to be revealed but because it appealed to their virgin reason. I fully endorse the Maulana’s statement that error is a relative term. But we know as a matter of fact that some things are universally accepted as errors. Death by torture is, I expect, such an error. In making the three statements the Maulana has quoted,I have simply mentioned three canons of interpretations which I think are incapable of challenge. Anyway, I abide by them . And if I am at perfect liberty to express my opinion “as to whether renegades can be stoned to death under the law of Islam” why may I not express an opinion as to whether penalty of stoning to death can be imposed at all under the law of Islam? The Maulana has betrayed intolerance of criticism by a non Muslim of anything relating to Islam. I suggest to him that intolerance of criticism even of what one may prize as dear as life itself is not conducive to the growth of public corporate life. Surely Islam has nothing to fear from criticism even if it be unreasonable. I therefore suggest to the Maulana the advisability in the light of my criticism of applying himself to an elucidation of the tremendous issues involved in the incidents reported from Kabul.
Young India 5.03.1925
No stoning in Koran
The Koran enjoins no such punishment as stoning for any offence whatever. Your note is unfair to Islam and her Prophet and liable to tremendously prejudice the world against Islam. I am sure this is not your considered opinion and is based on hearsay. A reference to my English translation of Koran on the points concerned will convince you that your informants are in error. Pray consider and refute.