I was going through my files the other day when I saw The Stoning of Soraya M. stacked in between two of my most favorite comedy flicks in recent years. I decided to scroll past this movie, not because I didn’t like it, but I wanted to avoid having the same restless feeling I had when I first watched it. The title itself is already suggestive and watching it again meant heartache all over. But then the exact same reason why I wanted to watch it in the first place prompted me to see it again: disbelief that such an abominable practice still exists in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
The movie was adapted from French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam’s 1990 international bestseller La Femme Lapidée, based on a true story about Soraya Manutchehri’s stoning in southwestern Iran in 1986. The movie was released in 2008 and had won several awards:
Heartland Film Festival - Heartland Truly Moving Picture Award
Los Angeles Film Festival - Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature
Toronto International Film Festival - Runner Up Audience Choice Award
Satellite Awards – Best Motion Picture, Drama (Nominated) and Best Actress in Motion Picture, Drama (Shoreh Aghdashloo)
The story revolves around Soraya, a mother to 4 children and wife to Ali, a prison guard who works in the city. Ali demands a divorce from his wife so he can marry Mehri, a 14 year old child bride whose father stands to get executed. Soraya declines to give her abusive husband the divorce since she depends on him financially. Although her husband offered to give her the house and the land, he will not give her money since he cannot support two wives. Aside from being abusive, chauvinist and ill-tempered, Soraya’s husband has also turned their two young sons against her. Unnerved by her husband’s threats and a malicious proposition from Sheikh Hassan, the town’s holy man, Soraya decided to leave, taking her two young daughters with her to stay at her aunt Zahra’s house. She then accepted work for Hashem, a recent widower with a mentally handicapped son, and saved every penny she earned for doing house work. Ali and Hassan started to plot against Soraya, even convincing the town’s mayor, Ebrahim, to put her on trial for committing adultery with Hashem. At first, Hashem did not want to take part in their plot but Ali threatened him that his son could be put in a mental institution if he and Soraya were sentenced to death by stoning. Fearing for his son, Hashem lied and told Ebrahim that Soraya suggested an intent to have a relationship with him. After merely a couple of hours of deliberation, the male council of the town sentenced Soraya to be stoned to death.
I just love how the movie was narrated and I love how richly authentic the setting was. One could get easily absorbed into Soraya’s plight and be moved by how she struggled to keep her dignity, innocence and honor even at the last moments of her life. As you watch the movie, the sadness starts to build up and then later anger and then fear that something inevitably sinister will happen. Seeing as the title itself is a dead giveaway of what is expected, having to sit for 20 minutes or so for Soraya’s stoning during the last part of the movie is stomach-turning and heart-wrenching.
Its not that I want to question or put to any shame the religion of Islam, but to just think that honor killings such as this still exist in the modern world is beyond me. Stoning is an equivalent of the Western world’s death sentence but to put someone to death by mere suspicion is truly unlawful. SUSPECTED people are not even able to defend themselves! The worst being the disproportionate number of women being stoned to death by the male dominated culture of this religion. Males usually receive a much lighter punishment such as flogging or taking 50 whips or even just imprisonment. Even the procedure for stoning is different for males and females: males are buried waist down while the females are buried neck deep as an entire town is required by faith to participate by throwing stones at them.
I remember a couple of years back when a viral video of a 16 year old Kurdistan girl being stoned to death and mobbed mostly by male members of her town surfaced in the internet. The people who participated in the stoning even posted pictures of the girl being bludgeoned to death, apparently happy that they were doing this in the name of honor. The girl had fallen in love with a Sunni boy and eloped with him. As eloping or being in love with someone outside their faith is strictly forbidden, stoning of the girl to death is the only way to restore honor to her family and her tribe.
To stone INNOCENT people to death is INHUMANE and the worse part of it all is that some Islam countries and their authorities deny having this problem, as if honor killings do not exist or that those stoned to death truly deserved their fate. This practice has just got to stop.