A few nights ago, I watched for the first time a heartrending film called ‘The stoning of Soraya.’ I am still feeling the pain in my heart which I felt as I watched this film. Set in a small village in Iran in 1986, the film depicts the implementation of the Islamic Sharia law which requires that a woman be stoned for committing adultery. To say the least the film simply touched my heart.
The film captured the life of Soraya, a woman whose sole reason for dying was the fact that her cruel husband wanted to get rid of her. Initially he wanted a divorce but she could not grant him the divorce because she needed to protect her children by ensuring that they were provided for. If she had gotten the divorce then her husband would have only needed to take care of their two sons but not the two daughters and the wife because women in Soraya’s village were not considered important. A divorced woman and her daughters were not entitled to any benefits or care from the husband and father after the divorce. So Soraya stayed in the marriage for her children.
She bore so much abuse from her husband. He would hit her and a humiliate her in front of her children. He turned her eldest son against her so much that the son disrespected his own mother. At some point he even wanted to hit her. Soraya’s husband had an affair which he did not even try to hide and because he wanted to marry this new woman in his life he plotted her murder. He pretended to have her best interests at heart, convinced her aunt to talk to her about getting a job with one of the widowed men in the village as a housekeeper and so began the evil plot.
Soraya would go to the man’s house to clean for him and cook. She then became friends with this man and his son because they treated her with respect. Her husband would follow her and watch everything she did. On two occasions he saw her talking to the man she worked for in what ‘appeared’ to be private and intimate conversations. From these two incidences he accused her of having the intention to cheat on him which is considered to be adultery in itself.
Soraya’s husband blackmailed the poor widowed man, her employee to stand as the second witness against her on charges of adultery. Her crime was that she would take a ‘nap’ on this man’s bed in his absence an act that was considered as an invitation for sex or a sexual advance in this village. The law demanded that there be at least two witnesses where the crime of adultery was alleged. Witnesses to what? I asked myself as I watched this film. Suspicion towards a woman that she might have had the intention to commit adultery? Really, is that a crime? What sort of evidence can someone produce to prove such a crime.
But unfortunately for Soraya that was enough to send her to her death. She was charged and was found guilty. The trial was held in her absence. She was not asked to defend herself. To make matters worse, as the accused she was required to prove her innocence. Should it not be the way of justice that the one who accuses should prove the guilt of the one who is accused? How was Soraya supposed to prove that she had no intention to have an affair with another man who was not her husband. Spill her brains?
Soraya was condemned to death by stoning. I cannot take off my mind the images of that woman as she bade goodbye to her two little daughters. I cannot forget her quiet strength as she walked to her point of death. I can never forget the look in her eyes as she stood before her community and asked them “How can you do this to me. I was your neighbour, your friend, your daughter, your mother, your wife. I cleaned your houses. I was with you and you act as if you do not know who I am.”
I can see her hands being tied behind her back. I can see the people placing her in a pit they dug for her. They forced her to kneel in the pit and buried half her body while she was still alive. They left her shoulders and head uncovered. They wanted to hit her in the most sensitive parts on her head, to cause her maximum pain because this ‘whore’ had brought disgrace to her community, her family and her husband.
I can hear the chants as the crowd shouted “Allah hu Akbar” (meaning, God is great) as they threw the stones. I can still see the stones as they were hurled against her, one after the other, blood gashing off her forehead, deep wounds inflicted on her beautiful face. They stoned her to death. The man she was supposed to have committed adultery with was even given stones to throw at her so that he could ‘reclaim’ his honour. One after the other the stones flew. She screamed, cried, groaned and mourned until her voice and strength ebbed away and she died.
They would not let her be buried with honour. Her body was discarded beside a river. The next morning the remains of her body which the dogs had left behind was all that her aunt could bury. And so ended Soraya’s life.
This film brought home to me the fact that there are so many other Sorayas and potential Sorayas out there. Maybe one of them is facing the same fate even as I write. Islamic Sharia is still being practised in many states and many communities still believe adultery is punishable by stoning. Despite governments’ denial that death by stoning is still being meted out as a punishment the reality is that it is happening. Stories from Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq recording incidences of stoning have been reported.
In 2011 the following cases reached mainstream media; in January Siddqa a 25 year old Afghani woman was stoned together with her boyfriend after she had eloped to be with him, running away from an arranged marriage in which she had been sold for $9000 against her will. In May, Katya Koren a 19 year old Muslim girl from Crimea in Ukraine was stoned to death under ‘Sharia law’ after taking part in a beauty contest. In June, Fazia a Pakistani woman from the village of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was stoned to death by her husband and his friends for allegedly having an affair with his brother. These are the stories that made it into the global news sphere but the possibility of more discreet killings having taken place cannot be ruled off.
The other Sorayas are victims of domestic violence globally. The wives whose husbands batter them into pulp each day because they have found someone newer and younger. The women with the broken limbs, the scars on their bodies, black eyes on their faces and hearts heavy with pain and regret.
The mothers who will stay in marriages for the sake of their children or because they are not economically empowered to leave the husband who is the breadwinner.
Many powerful voices have already spoken against these practices but I felt compelled to add my own because watching this film I felt a sense of responsibility to shed the light and share the pain on how some womenfolk suffer in the name of religion or marriage. They suffer to death trapped in marriages that bring them grief every day of their lives. How I wish our society could release them from this bondage.
*The film is based on a true story as written by French Journalist Jim Caviezel and the experience he had in Iran*