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.”
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, states:
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.