First of all, we should know that both genders are entitled to equality before the law of Islam. Justice is genderless. According to the Qur’an, men and women receive the same punishment for crimes such as theft (5:38), fornication (24:2), murder and injury (5:45).
Women possess an independent legal entity in financial and other matters. One legal issue is widely misunderstood: testimony. A common but erroneous belief is that as a “rule,” the worth of women’s testimony is one half of men’s testimony. A survey of all passages in the Qur’an relating to testimony does not substantiate this claimed “rule.”
In his book Markaz Al-Mar’ah fi Al-Hayaah Al-Islamiyyah (The Status of Women in Islam), Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states: Some people harbor certain doubts and raise questions about Islam’s stance on the woman’s status as a human being. One of these questions is: How does Islam regard woman on an equal footing with man while it in the meantime gives man privilege over woman in some dealings such as legal testimony, inheritance, blood money, charge of the family, heading the state and other supporting ministrations?
the distinction (if it can ever be called one) between man and woman is not due to any preference by Allah, the Almighty, of the man or the woman on one being nobler or closer to the Lord.
as a rule, it is piety or consciousness that is what measures one as nobler and closer to Allah: (Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).) (Al-Hujuraat 49:13)
however, the distinction made in the verse is merely conditioned by the different tasks assigned to each of the two sexes by virtue of their natural disposition.
The Qur’anic verse known as “verse of indebtedness” in which Allah prescribes writing debt contracts as a precautionary measure is: (O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing. Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe refuse to write: as Allah Has taught him, so let him write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear His Lord Allah, and not diminish aught of what he owes. If they party liable is mentally deficient, or weak, or unable Himself to dictate, let his guardian dictate faithfully, and get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her.) (Al-Baqarah 2:282)
The Qur’an makes the testimony of man equal to the testimony of two women. Moreover, the majority of jurists maintain that a woman’s testimony does not count in major crimes and in matters which do not relate to the rule of retaliation in kind.
Yet the distinction is far from being due to any belief in a deficiency of the woman’s humanity and integrity. It is rather due to her natural disposition and her special inclinations which may exclude her involvement in such matters while being focused on motherhood or the household. Hence, it is most likely to be a kind of characteristic inattention on her part when it comes to handling these matters. For this reason, Allah commands creditors if they want to verify the value of debt to seek the testimony of two men or one man and two women. The Qur’an puts it unambiguously: (so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her.) (Al-Baqarah 2:282)
The exclusion of woman’s testimony, altogether, from cases of major crimes, and cases requiring retaliation in kind, is meant to protect women and steer her away from scenes of crime and aggressions against souls, honour and property. It is frequent, for instance, to see a woman closing her eyes, or running away in panic from a scene of bloodshed; therefore, it becomes difficult for that woman to give a reliable account of the crime.
nevertheless, this has also meant for the jurists that a woman’s testimony counts in cases of feminine affairs such as foster relationships, menstruation, delivery and such matters whose knowledge was confined to women in past ages and probably still is.
Dr. Jamal Badawi, professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and a cross-appointed faculty member in the Departments of Religious Studies and Management, adds: Most Qur’anic references to testimony (witness) do not make any reference to gender. Some references fully equate the testimony of males and females.
One reference in the Qur’an distinguishes between the witness of a male and a female. It is useful to quote this reference and explain it in its own context and in the context of other Qur’anic references to testimony: (O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing. Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe refuse to write: as Allah Has taught him, so let him write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear His Lord Allah, and not diminish aught of what he owes. If they party liable is mentally deficient, or weak, or unable Himself to dictate, let his guardian dictate faithfully, and get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her.) (Al-Baqarah 2:282)
A few comments on this text are essential in order to prevent common misinterpretations:
a. It cannot be used as an argument that there is a general rule in the Qur’an that the worth of a female’s witness is only half the male’s. This presumed “rule” is voided by the above reference (24:6-9), which explicitly equates the testimony of both genders on the issue at hand.
b. The context of this passage (verse, or ayah) relates to testimony on financial transactions, which are often complex and laden with business jargon. The passage does not make blanket generalization that would otherwise contradict 24:6-9, cited above.
c. The reason for variations in the number of male and female witnesses required is given in the same passage. No reference is made to the inferiority or superiority of one gender’s witness or the other’s. The only reason given is to corroborate the female’s witness and prevent unintended errors in the perception of the business deal. The Arabic term used in this passage, tadhilla, literally means “loses the way,” “gets confused,” or “errs.” But are females the only gender that may err and need corroboration of their testimony? Definitely not, and that is why the general rule of testimony in Islamic law is to have two witnesses, even when they are both male.
One possible interpretation of the requirements related to this particular type of testimony is that in numerous societies, past and present, women generally may not be heavily involved with and experienced in business transactions. As such, they may not be completely cognizant of what is involved. Therefore, corroboration of a woman’s testimony by another woman who may be present ascertains accuracy and, hence, justice. It would be unreasonable to interpret this requirement as a reflection on the worth of women’s testimony, as it is the only exception discerned from the text of the Qur’an. This may be one reason why a great scholar like At-Tabari could not find any evidence from any primary text (Qur’an or hadith) to exclude women from something more important than testimony: being herself a judge who hears and evaluates the testimony of others.
d. It must be added that unlike pure acts of worship, which must be observed exactly as taught by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, testimony is a means to an end, ascertaining justice as a major objective of Islamic law. Therefore, it is the duty of a fair judge to be guided by this objective when assessing the worth and credibility of a given testimony, regardless of the gender of the witness. A witness of a female graduate of a business school is certainly far more worthy than the witness of an illiterate person with no business education or experience.