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“PERHAPS YOU ONLY KISSED HER?”: A Contrapuntal Reading of the Penalties for Illicit Sex in the Sunni Hadith Literature

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ABSTRACT

The goal of this essay is to illustrate how Ebrahim Moosa's method of “contrapuntal reading” can be applied fruitfully to the Sunni hadith literature. My case study is the set of penalties (hudud) for illicit sex, which include flogging, stoning, and banishment. I propose a fresh reading of these sacred texts that brings to the fore the ethical dimension of Prophet Muhammad's conduct, especially his strong reluctance to apply these measures. I conclude by identifying four ethical problems that the stoning penalty raises and suggest how the hadith literature can be read to argue against the validity of this specific punishment.

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