An Islamic appeals court in Nigeria has overturned the conviction of Amina Lawal, a Nigerian woman condemned to death by stoning for allegedly committing adultery. Convicted by an Islamic court in March 2002, Lawal's case stirred international condemnation.

On September 25, the appeals court ruled that the conviction could not stand due to procedural errors, and because Lawal was not given "ample opportunity to defend herself." Defense attorney Hauwa Ibrahim hailed the decision, saying, "It's a victory for law. It's a victory for justice, and it's a victory for what we stand for - dignity and fundamental human rights."

I cannot express how happy I was when I read of the appeals court's decision. Amina Lawal's case, along with that of another Nigerian woman, Safiya Husseini, who also had her stoning conviction overturned, has led to me reiterate my call for a moratorium on the imposition of Islamic law.

Yet I still believe in Islamic law. In fact, I take issue with the statement of Francois Cantier, of Lawyers Without Borders, who said, "We think that death by stoning is contrary to international treaties against torture which Nigeria has ratified. We think that death by stoning is a degrading human treatment."

There is controversy among Muslims over whether death by stoning is even a punishment sanctioned by Islamic law. But I uphold the harshness meted out for the crime of adultery in Islamic law, even if the punishment is only 100 lashes and not stoning. One of the principal foundations of society is the family, and adultery utterly decimates the family. Once the family is destroyed, the destruction of society soon follows.

But the Lawal case was bad Islamic law.

I have previously condemned the initial death sentence against Amina Lawal as unjust and completely contrary to Islamic principles. First, there is no verse in the Qur'an that dictates death by stoning as punishment for adultery. The Qur'an proscribes 100 lashes as the punishment for adultery or fornication: "The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication,- flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by God, if ye believe in God and the Last Day: and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment" (24:2) There are, however, multiple reports in the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that do indicate the punishment for adultery--extramartial sexual relations--is indeed death by stoning.

Regardless, the sentence against Amina Lawal was handed down unjustly from the very beginning.

First, at the time of the alleged sexual encounter, Amina Lawal was not married, and therefore the punishment of death by stoning does not even apply in her case. Second, the level of evidence necessary to convict someone of adultery in Islamic law was not met: either four reliable witnesses to the act of intercourse must testify that intercourse occurred, or the accused--under sound mind and full awareness of the consequences--must confess to the crime. Further, the stories of the witnesses must be in complete agreement, and any discrepancy renders their testimonies false. In that case, the accuser is then punished for slander. This very stringent requirement makes it virtually impossible to convict someone of adultery under Islamic law, unless they have sex in public.

Third, although Lawal allegedly confessed to the crime, the circumstances of her confession are suspect, and she later recanted. That retraction is enough in Islamic law to throw out the confession as evidence.

Fourth, most classical Islamic jurists did not even accept pregnancy as sufficient evidence for adultery. "[Only] a minority number [classical Islamic] jurists argued that pregnancy can be taken as one of the venues to prove fornication [or adultery]," according to Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Islamic law professor at UCLA.

The entire case stank to high heaven. In fact, the man in the case was set free due to "lack of evidence." What rubbish. Under Islamic law, her accusers should have been punished for slander: "And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations),- flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors" (24:4).

Islamic law has very stringent evidentiary requirements, and if Muslims cannot use Islamic law as God intended, then its imposition should be put on hold until it can be applied appropriately.If not, enormous injustice will be committed--such as Amina Lawal's case--and Islam abhors injustice. Using Islamic law to condemn someone to death by stoning for adultery-without bringing sufficient evidence-is as un-Islamic as flying a plane into the World Trade Center. Furthermore, misapplication of Islamic law has led to its characterization as a barbaric, backward system of justice, and this has further propagated the image of Islam as an "evil, wicked" religion.

Misapplication of a law does not necessarily mean the law itself is barbaric. In Texas, a mentally retarded inmate was executed. In Illinois, more than a dozen men were released from Death Row after DNA testing proved them innocent. Is it fair to characterize the entire American criminal justice system as ''barbaric'' for executing the mentally retarded and condemning to death the innocent? Of course not.

Islamic law must be accorded this same treatment. Ignorant (and sexist) Islamic judges--not the entire system of law--caused this fiasco.

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