The Stoning of Soraya M has now been released, and while I haven’t seen it yet, it has already impressed me for several reasons. It stars Jim Caviezel, the actor who played Jesus in The Passion of The Christ. Caviezel is a devoted Catholic and a courageous actor who boldly integrates his Christian faith with his vocation as an actor. The movie tells the true story of an Iranian woman who was stoned to death, the victim of a conspiracy by her husband to brand her as an adulteress, when in fact it was he who was pursuing an affair with another woman.
It is very unusual for a Hollywood movie to expose the often brutal treatment of women anywhere in the world, but particularly in Islamic countries. It is estimated that five thousand women and girls are killed each year in the Muslim world to restore a warped sense of family honor. Women may be shot, stoned, poisoned, beheaded, stabbed, or strangled. Considered a family matter, these crimes often go unreported. Many times the victim’s body ends up in an unmarked grave, as if the woman never existed. While precise figures are unavailable, some estimate that 25 percent of all homicides in Jordan are honor killings. In Pakistan, an estimated three women die every day for reasons of family honor.
Family honor is one of the prime values in Arab-influenced societies. A woman is often seen as a man’s possession, as a commodity. Thus, her behavior is a reflection on his honor. If her behavior (assumed adultery, premarital sex, even flirting, or as a victim of rape) brings dishonor on the family—a husband, father, or brother—he or another relative may kill the woman to restore that honor.
The reviews I’ve read have tended to focus on the brutality against women in Islamic countries like Iran. This is unfortunate. As Jim Caviezel himself reminds us in an interview, in the United States over 20 million abortions have been performed on infant girls since 1973, or about 2,000 every day. Abortion reflects a value system that respects women only when they can compete with men within the workplace. An empty womb allows a woman to do that. Because men do not become pregnant, abortion rights supporters believe it is unfair for women to be “forced” to carry a baby to term.
At the root of all violence against women, either in the West or the East, is a lie—that men are superior to women. Women, whether they are wives in Iran or unborn infants in America, are treated as property to be disposed of at will. The biblical worldview, by contrast, sees both men and women as image-bearers of God with equal dignity and value. Jesus modeled this belief system in how he treated women, which is why women flocked to the early church.
The Church has a responsibility to model this worldview and value system to the watching world. We also have a responsibility to speak out against the violence and brutality against women wherever we find it. Praise to the makers of The Stoning of Soraya M for doing this.
For more on this topic, I strongly urge you to read Darrow Miller’s powerful book, Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women in Building Healthy Cultures, and of course, see the movie, The Stoning of Soraya M. In the trailer, the mother of the young woman who is stoned pleads with a French journalist, played by Caviezel: “The voices of women do not matter here. I want you to take my voice with you. The world must know.” As followers of Christ, this is our task. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
Check out a review for the movie here.
-Scott D. Allen