The testimony of women in Islam

The testimony of women in Islam

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The testimony of women in Islam

Amal Al-Sibai

Much discourse surrounds the verse in the Holy Qur’an which addresses the issue of the testimony of a woman for two parties in loaning money. Although the verse specifically pertains to witnessing a transaction involving debt, many people draw false conclusions that Islam perceives a woman as inferior or incapable of sound judgment and that she is considered equivalent to half of a man in importance; and that is all false.

The verse in question is actually a clause and should not be looked at out of its context which is the longer verse that deals in depth with contracting a debt.

{And bring to witness two witnesses from among your men; and if there are not two men [available], then a man and two women from those whom you accept as witnesses – so that if one of them [i.e. the women] errs, then the other can remind her.} (Chapter 2, verse 282)

If you come to look at the state of the society in Arabia when this verse was revealed, it actually shows Islam’s gradual progression in improving the status of women, not diminishing her.

Dr. Taha Jaber Al-Alwani, President of Cordoba University in Ashburn, Virginia concentrated on fields of Islamic legal theory, jurisprudence, Qur’anic sciences, and general Islamic thought. Dr. Alwani pointed out that, before revelation of the Qur’an, the Arabian society had little or no regard for women and did not allow the inclusion of women in matters considered the domain of men. In fact pre-Islamic Arab society sanctioned female infanticide.

First of all, the Qur’an chastised the immoral act of burying baby daughters alive, and it showed that this was a crime and grave sin. The Qur’an introduced the idea that women had rights and that in faith and belief, women were equal to men.

While in other beliefs, women were considered to be by nature more sinful than men, that notion was eradicated in Islam. Men and women who believe and do good deeds will be equally rewarded by their Lord, as is mentioned repeatedly in the Qur’an.
{Whoever does good, whether male or female, and is a believer, We shall certainly make him live a good life, and We shall certainly give them their reward for the best of what they did.} (Chapter 16, verse 97)

The value that the new religion of Islam placed on women was a revolution no less significant than Islam’s condemnation of idolatry. In the case of early Muslim society, given the long established customs, attitudes, and mores of pre-Islamic Arabia, it was necessary to implement such changes in stages and to make allowances for society’s capacity to adjust itself accordingly.

Dr. Alwani explains that it appears that the Qur’an sought 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.

Whereas women had no say whatsoever in judicial or public circles before Islam, the Qur’an, in its own subtle manner, 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 if it was two women in comparison to one man, the Qur’an seeks to give concrete form to the idea of a woman as participant. It is a viable and big step.

The objective is to end the traditional perception of women and to include them as acceptable partners in society by means of this recognition of women as legal witnesses. 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.

Giving women the authority to witness served as a practical way of establishing the concept of women taking active roles in society and in commerce as well.

Bringing in two women as witnesses over a contract of debt was a reflection of the norm at the time; meaning that women did not have the expertise in such financial transactions. Men in Arabia on the other had much more experience in business and commerce and therefore their knowledge on such matters was broader than the women of that time. According to that reality, it was required to have two men as witnesses or one man and two women as witnesses in the debt transaction.

In conclusion, Dr. Alwani states that “there is no difference between men and women in terms of their abilities, their propensity to forget, in the possibility of their colluding to present false witness, or in their ability to speak either the truth or fabrication. Moreover, the objectives of the Qur’an do not include anything that would indicate otherwise.”

Dr. Zakir Naik also commented on this topic. He brings to the attention that there are several verses in the Qur’an which speak about witnesses without specifying man or woman.

In Islam, there are many situations in which female witnesses are preferred over male witnesses. Midwives were considered witnesses for the birth of a child; in essence they served as a spoken birth certificate for the born child. Women also witnessed the breastfeeding of infants because boys and girls who have been breastfeed by the same woman become brothers and sisters and cannot marry.

Many jurists agree that one witness of a woman is sufficient for the sighting of the crescent moon which marks the first day and last day of the holy month of Ramadan. One woman witness is sufficient for determining one of the pillars of Islam, fasting. The whole Muslim community should agree and accept her testimony. Some jurists say that one witness is required at the beginning of Ramadan and two witnesses at the end of Ramadan. It makes no difference whether the witnesses are men or women.

All men and women in the Muslim community have accepted the testimonies presented to us by Aisha, the wife of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Aisha transmitted accounts of the Prophet’s traditions, habits, manners, worship, and sayings. Muslims attest to her authenticity and reliability as a witness and a transmitter of knowledge. She has narrated approximately 2,220 Hadiths.

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