If Islam says that it gives equal rights to women, why then are women half a witness as compared to men? Don’t say here that women were not powered at that time as Hadhrat Khatija (ra) was a very successful woman in that society.
Islam does not say that it gives equal rights to men and women. Islam does not advocate ‘Equality’, as the basis of assigning rights and responsibilities to individuals, except for the basic human rights; it advocates ‘Justice’. Nevertheless, because the issue is not directly related to the issue under consideration, let us, therefore, take up your actual question.
It is generally held that Islam gives half the status to a woman’s witness as compared to that of a man. It is stressed that because women are deficient in intellect, Islam does not hold their witness to be as reliable as that of a man. In my opinion, there is absolutely no basis for this concept.
The idea that the witness of women is only half as reliable as that of a man has been derived from verse 282 of Surah Al-Baqarah – the second Surah of the Qur’an . A close look at the referred verse shows that such a derivation on the basis of this verse is not correct. The translation of the related part of the verse follows:
Believers, when you make a deal for a loan for a prescribed period of time, write down the agreement. A scribe should write down the agreement between you, with justice. The scribe should not refuse to write it down, as God gave him the knowledge of writing. So he must write it down. The debtor should dictate the writing and [while doing so,] he must fear God, his Lord [and dictate it justly] and not reduce any part of the amount. If the debtor is not of a sound mind or is weak or is in any other way incapacitated to dictate the agreement, then his guardian may dictate [the terms on his behalf] with justice. Make two of your men a witness on this agreement. In case two men are not available, then a man and two women. Such witnesses as you choose. [Two women in place of one man have been advised, so] that if one of them errs, the other may remind her. The witnesses should not refuse when they are called to testify.” (Al-Baqarah 2: 282)
As stated earlier, Muslim scholars, on the basis of this verse have derived that the witness of a woman carries half the weight of that of a man. Furthermore, most of them also hold that a woman’s witness is not acceptable in cases of criminal proceedings. In my opinion, due to the reasons that follow, such derivations on the basis of the referred verse are not correct.
A close look at the verse shows that:
Contrary to the other verses relating to directives regarding any laws, which address the state or the collectivity, for example the verses regarding punishments etc, this verse addresses the common man. The verse under consideration does not relate to the law, it is rather an advice to the common man in a matter, which has the potential of developing a conflict between two or more individuals. The verse states that when two or more individuals enter into an agreement for a loan for a fixed period of time, they should write down their agreement, to avoid any misunderstandings in future. As a further safeguard against such misunderstandings, they should make two men a witness to the arrangement. In case they cannot find two men, then they may replace one man by two women, so that if any one of the women confuses her testimony, the other may help her. Obviously, if this was a legal directive, it would have addressed the state. It would then have stated something like: ‘If a matter pertaining to a conflict regarding a loan for a specified period is brought to you, decide it on the basis of the written contract. The contract, to be valid, must be testified by two men or one man and two women’. In other words, the content of this verse, if understood in the proper context and style, does not allow us to say that the testimony of a woman, in the eyes of the Qur’an , carries half as much weight as that of a man.
In the light of the above explanation, we may say that the Qur’an has advised the individuals to follow the given guidelines in matters pertaining to deferred financial transactions. If any individual, due to any reason, does not follow these guidelines, he is not only likely to suffer a loss but may also be held answerable on the Day of Judgment for ignoring the commands of his Lord. Nevertheless, as far as his legal financial claim is concerned, the court may, if it is satisfied, give a decision in his favor on the basis of the testimony of just one woman. While, on the other hand, if the court is not convinced of his claim, it may give a decision against him even if he presents ten men as witnesses for his claim.
This verse relates specifically to witnesses on a document. The choice in the case of witnesses on a document is with those who are a party to the contract that is being written down in the document. For example, if I have to write a sale deed for my house, I am free to choose the persons, whom I want to make witnesses thereof. However, on the other hand, the choice of witnesses to a crime or to an accident or to any scene is not with any individual. Whoever – whether man, woman or child – is present and has seen the incident may stand as a witness thereof. There is absolutely no relationship between the two kinds of witnesses. In the first case, the decision is in our own hands. We may appoint the person of our choice as a witness on a document. While in the second case, the decision is not in our hands. Whoever is present at the scene shall and can be taken as a witness thereof. Thus we cannot say that the witness of a woman in cases other than witnessing a document will be affected by this verse.
On the basis of the above two points, I believe that the whole concept regarding the witness of a woman is based on false grounds. I do not think that there is any basis to hold the view that a woman’s witness, according to the teachings of Islam, is half as reliable as that of a man.
I believe that after stating my point of view regarding the witness of a woman, I do not need to give an answer to your specific question.
23rd August 1998