In recent years, Christians have grown more aware of social injustice around the world—poverty, AIDS, human trafficking, and so on. One issue that hasn't received as much attention is the oppression of women in Islamic countries. While Islamic attitudes toward women vary widely around the world, in some regions Muslim women are routinely treated cruelly, even by Islamic standards. The Stoning of Soraya M. (rated R, opening June 26) offers a clear picture of what that looks like.
Based on true events that inspired the 1990 bestseller by the same name, the film follows journalist Freidoune Sahebjam (The Passion of the Christ's James Caviezel) into a remote Iranian village, where he is approached by Zahra (The Nativity Story's Shohreh Aghdashloo, a native Iranian), a local woman who tells him the story of her niece, Soraya. "Voices of women do not matter here. I want you to take my voice with you," Zahra urges.
She tells Sahebjam how Soraya's abusive husband, Ali, wanted out of their 20-year marriage so that he could wed a 14-year-old girl. Not wanting to pay support to his wife and two daughters after a divorce (he planned to take their two sons with him), Ali falsely accuses Soraya of having an affair with a local widower. Ali uses blackmail, Islamic law, and the fact that "men have all the rights" to turn the small town—even Soraya's own sons—against her.
In a case tried behind closed doors, with only the town's men in attendance, Soraya is found guilty of adultery, punishable by stoning—which is shown in graphic detail. The scene is difficult but important to watch, because our discomfort is intermingled with the film's only redemption: knowing.
The film's title gives away its ending, but the journey is the real point—especially as it illustrates the oppressive realities women face under more extreme forms of Islamic law, which dictate that they must not only prove men's guilt but also their own innocence, and which say they have no voice in the justice system and are subject to inhumane punishment.
Christian viewers' knowledge is only powerful when we do something with it. The film's website, TheStoning.com, offers suggestions. And Proverbs 31:8—"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute"—offers the motivation.
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It's Primetime in Iran | Satellites allow Iranian Christians to come alongside believers back home. (September 24, 2008)
Talk to Iran | The Christian message is reaching where diplomacy can't. A Christianity Today editorial (June 27, 2008)
Foreign Correspondence | Muslim and Christian leaders seek common ground in conciliatory letters. (February 11, 2008)