Question # 49: Salam Alikum, on a daily basis we work and deal with different nationalities with different religions and backgrounds, who are curious about Islam and question our beliefs. Today I came across un Muslim fella making fun of the testimony of women in Islam .Hence, I would like to know what will be your perfect answer if u were in my shoes … The question is in Islam two women testimony equals to a one man testimony why?
bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: The only verse in the entire Qur’an to equate the testimony of two women to that of one man is the verse of debt in Soorah al-Baqarah, 2:282. However, the ayah must be understood from the following perspectives:
- The purpose of the revelation was to introduce absolute gender equality to people who had no regard for women and did not allow their inclusion in matters considered the domain of men. Hence, the objective was to end this traditional perception of women by including them, “among such as are acceptable to you as witnesses,” and to bring about their acceptance as full partners in society by means of this practical recognition.
- Although scientific studies have shown that men’s minds are better in terms of memorization than those of women, there are some women who are far superior to men in their reason and insight. However, the Islamic ruling is based on the majority and the usual cases.
- The biological changes that occur in women’s body due to menses, pregnancy, child-birth and post-natal conditions and her sociological role of loving and kind feelings might overcome what she has witnessed.
- Islam has granted women full financial freedom in terms of independence and financial decision-making over her own wealth, and made her exactly equal to men. At the same time, there are very many instances, where testimony of man and woman is totally equal and also, where a single woman’s testimony suffices.
Long Answer: The only verse in the entire Qur’an to equate the testimony of two women to that of one man is the so-called verse of debt (ayat al dayn), which occurs in Soorah al-Baqarah, 2:282 “…And get two witnesses out of your own men. And if there are not two men (available), then a man and two women, such as you agree for witnesses, so that if one of them (two women) errs, the other can remind her…”
We must understand this ayah from the following perspectives:
- Establishing the role of woman in financial dealings to subtly change the pre-Islamic customs
The Qur’an, as discourse, was directed toward a people who, before its revelation, had little or no regard for women and who did not allow their inclusion in matters considered the domain of men. In fact pre-Islamic Arab society sanctioned female infanticide. The Qur’an transported the people of those times to the realm of faith in absolute gender equality, [but through] …gradual change via prudent and judicious means, rather than all at once, in which case the possibility of rejection and negative reactions might have been greater. The Qur’an, in its own subtle manner and with characteristic sagacity, places the reclassification of women as fully participating members of society on its agenda for reform. By establishing a role for woman in the witnessing of transactions, even though at the time of revelation they had little to do with such matters, the Qur’an seeks to give concrete form to the idea of woman as participant.
The objective was to end the traditional perception of women by including them, “among such as are acceptable to you as witnesses,” and to bring about their acceptance as full partners in society by means of this practical recognition. In this way, the Qur’an seeks to overcome the psychological impediments of men that prevent them from accepting women as their equals in society. At the time of revelation, the question of numbers was irrelevant, as it was the equality of women that the Qur’an sought to emphasize. Even the matter of witnessing served merely as a means to an end or as a practical way of establishing the concept of gender equality, for what was critically significant was the Qur’an’s application of the principle of equality, not only on a religious or otherworldly level, but on the levels of human society, interpersonal relations and, most pointedly, commerce. Furthermore, the society’s oral culture was dominated by two cultures: that of pagan Arabia (with its female infanticide practices) and that of the People of the Book (Christian and Jewish inhabitants of Arabian towns) who considered woman the chief reason for humanity’s fall from Paradise. Under those circumstances and by means of this approach, the change sought by the Qur’an was not change that would overturn completely the society’s customs, but rather a modification or a judicious laying of foundations for the acceptance of Qur’anic teachings about equality in general. (Article on ‘The Testimony of Women in Islamic Law’ by Dr. Taha Jaber Al-Alwani, chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America)
- Men and women are equal in Islam but not identical
This ayah does not imply that a woman does not understand or that she cannot remember things, but she is weaker than man in these aspects – usually. Scientific and specialized studies have shown that men’s minds are more perfect than those of women, and reality and experience bear witness to that. The books of knowledge are the best witness to that; the knowledge which has been transmitted by men and the ahadith which have been memorized by men far outnumber those which have come via women. Nevertheless, there are some women who are far superior to men in their reason and insight, but they are few, and the ruling is based on the majority and the usual cases.
A woman may compensate for her weaknesses by striving hard, and surpass men… Hence we find that in some colleges, female students surpass male students because of their greater efforts and their keenness to succeed… A man may also excel over a woman in some fields that are basically hers, so we find that some of the most skilled chefs, tailors, cosmeticians and obstetricians on the international level are men. The point is that usually – and no wise person would dispute this – most of the prominent people in the religious sciences, such as fiqh, hadeeth, tafseer, ‘aqeedah and preaching, and in the worldly sciences such as medicine, astronomy, engineering, physics, chemistry, etc. are men.
If we think about the western societies in which men and women are regarded as equal in all aspects, we will find that despite that men still prevail. Still, Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) has given women pre-eminence and has favored them over men in some aspects, such as caring for children, and showing patience, love and compassion towards them, and managing the home. Hence, the shari’ah gives custody to them, for the mother is the first school, from which the future men, leaders of the world and scholars of the ummah graduate. There cannot be any virtue greater than this. (Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid)
- Biological makeup and Sociological role of women
Based on her characteristics, a woman might very well follow her emotional inclinations and swerve from harsh realities due to an emotional involvement in a case. A woman’s loving and kind feelings might overcome what she has witnessed, and thus she may distort the story of her witness and testimony. At the same time, the biological changes that occur in her body due to menses, pregnancy, child-birth and post-natal conditions reduce the sharpness of her memory and may make her forget the details of the issue. Therefore, a divine precautionary measure was established to eliminate any shortcoming on a woman’s part in any case of testimony. We would like to point out here one of the essential principles of the legal and judicial system in Islam, which states that the case is not valid for proceedings if a doubt arises in the case. Therefore, the strength of two female witnesses is intended to eliminate this doubt.
Moreover, woman’s natural role in life, in raising children and caring for the family requires her to stay in the home for longer and extended periods in comparison to men, thus limiting her knowledge and experience to the affairs she stays involved in most of her life.
[Furthermore, the] …testimony in the Islamic law in itself is not a privilege but a burden that many attempt to avoid, and for this reason Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) commanded people to offer their testimonies and not to seek to escape or withhold it. The address here is general for both male and female. Many people… try to avoid becoming a witness… because one is required to go to the court, sit on the witness stand, take oath to tell the truth, be cross-examined and many other burdens. Financial and physical burdens or threats may result from being a witness and offering testimony. Islam therefore aims at eliminating many of these burdens from the woman, unless she has a partner who witnesses as she does, in matters involving many forms of testimony. (Woman in the Shade of Islam’ by Abdul Rahman Al-Sheha)
- Rights of women in Islam
Besides testimony that involves other people’s rights, Islam has granted women full financial freedom in terms of independence and financial decision-making, and made her exactly equal to men in that regard. [Consequently,] …it is a false accusation to say that making the testimonies and witnesses of two women equal to one man in certain cases is an insult to the woman’s intelligence and a dishonor to her integrity. If that were the case, a single woman’s testimony would, likewise, not be acceptable in the other affairs of women. Islamic jurisprudence accepts a woman’s testimony in all affairs that are private like in confirming the virginity of a woman, [suckling,] delivery of a child, clarification of female sexual defects, and other matters that mandate examination due to a dispute. At the same time, it must be remembered that Islamic law rejects a man’s lone testimony in the least significant financial matters such as lending or borrowing funds and other transactions, since there must be two. The critically serious cases, wherein a woman’s testimony must be doubled, is established in order to preserve and prove the rights of individuals in the society based on the reliability and irrefutability of that testimony.
There are some cases when the testimony of each is totally equal. For instance, the testimony of a wife is exactly equal to the testimony of her husband when a husband accuses his wife of committing adultery and he has no evidence to prove his claim. (Woman in the Shade of Islam’ by Abdul Rahman Al-Sheha)
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.