Why women are still being stoned to death in 2015

Afghan men stone a woman in a hole to death in Ghalmeen, Afghanistan.

Story highlights

  • A Taliban leader ordered a woman to be stoned to death after she fled forced marriage
  • Salbi: Stonings are a result of the search for a new identity in a region plagued with turmoil
  • Salbi: It is wrong to legitimize Taliban and ISIS stonings by calling them Islamic

Zainab Salbi is an Iraqi American author, founder of Women for Women International a humanitarian organization, and the host of The Nida'a Show, a one hour entertainment and current affairs talk show for women in Arab world. The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The stoning of Rokhsana, an Afghan woman who was in her early twenties, this week in Afghanistan shed more ugly light on the treatment of women by the Taliban and religious extremists in parts of the Muslim world -- but to try to explain this practice in religions terms will only give legitimacy to those who are violating the very spirit and principle of religion itself.

The explanation of why women are still being stoned comes not from religion itself but rather from the role of religion in the search for a new identity in a region, plagued with turmoil, where women are a very important symbol of a family's honor.
But let's start at the beginning: Islam does indeed have the judgment of stoning for those who are engaged in sexual activities outside of marriage.
Firstly, there must be four eyewitnesses to the actual act itself before judgment can be passed -- something that is very hard to get anywhere in the world. Second, both parties -- men and women -- should be treated equally under this judgment.
Zainab Salbi
Both these facts are completely overlooked by fundamentalists who are adamant about picking only what they like out of Islam.
As for the rest of Muslims -- the moderate majority -- though they are familiar with the stoning issue, they know to take the spirit of what applied thousands of years ago and apply its lesson in terms of encouraging modesty among women and men in modern days, rather than the actual stoning.
I asked young women from Jordan, Syria and the UAE about the stoning of Rokhsana after her attempted escape with a man her age, and their response had nothing to do with stoning -- though all are religious and wear the headscarf.
"There is a reason for everyone's behavior -- her escaping without her parents' approval is wrong, but that can be dealt with in different ways other than punishment," Manar, 21, said. "No one does stoning anymore -- these were other days."
Those who are still stoning are in the minority, but they're also the loudest in their selective implementation of the religion. For them -- whether it's the Taliban or Daesh (also known as ISIS) -- the only way to gain power is to claim it from a very particular part of religion, and only in the areas they deem necessary. And to these groups, women are the lowest denominator, used to prove their masculinity and their claim to power -- to themselves and to the world.
Never before in Islamic history have women been so brutalized, whether it's stoning in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, kidnapping by Boko Haram in Nigeria, or assassinations in Libya.
This crossing of the line -- physically attacking women in such savage ways -- has spread in the last two decades, but it's really taken off with the rise of ISIS.
This new massive violation of women has been a shock to Muslim women themselves, who are respectful of the religion but not in the ways extremists are attempting to define it: as a complete silencing of women's' expressions, from the social to the political realm.
Though horrifying for the Muslim world and the larger world alike, it is dangerous to acknowledge any extremist Muslims' behavior as Islamic. To do that is to legitimize their claim on religion, despite most Muslims not abiding by their rules.
Ensuring that Muslim women's voices are heard in all political discussions for peace and security in various countries is the only way to help tilt the balance away from the Taliban and their like and back towards the moderate majority who are inventing, creating and seeking a decent life.