In the opinion of most Muslim jurists, the testimony of a woman – where acceptable to them – is half that of a man.[1]They base their view upon the following verse of the Qur’ān:

 

وَاسْتَشْهِدُوا شَهِيدَيْنِ مِنْ رِجَالِكُمْ فَإِنْ لَمْ يَكُونَا رَجُلَيْنِ فَرَجُلٌ وَامْرَأَتَانِ مِمَّنْ تَرْضَوْنَ مِنْ الشُّهَدَاءِ أَنْ تَضِلَّ إِحْدَاهُمَا فَتُذَكِّرَ إِحْدَاهُمَا الْأُخْرَى (282:2)

And call in two male witnesses from among your men [over the document of loan]. And if two men cannot be found, then one man and two women from among those whom you deem appropriate as witnesses so that if either of them gets confused the other reminds her. (2:282)

 

While critically analyzing this view, Ghāmidī writes:[2]

 

This view of our jurists concerning the testimony of a woman is not correct owing to the following two reasons:

 

Firstly, the verse has nothing to do with the bearing of witness to an incident. It explicitly relates to testifying over a document. It is very obvious that in the second case witnesses are selected by an external agency, while in the first case the presence of a witness at the site of an incidence is an accidental affair. If we have written a document or signed an agreement, then the selection of witnesses rests upon our discretion, while in the case of adultery, theft, robbery and other similar crimes whoever is present at the site must be regarded as a witness. The difference between the two cases is so pronounced that no law about one can be deduced on the basis of the other.

 

Secondly, the context and style of the verse is such that it cannot relate to law or to the judicial forums of a state. It is not addressed to a court of law in that if such a law suit is presented before them by a claimant, then they should call in witnesses in this prescribed manner. On the contrary, this verse directly addresses people who borrow and lend money over a fixed period. It stresses that if they are involved in such dealings, then an agreement between the two parties must be written down, and to avoid disputes and financial losses only witnesses who are honest, reliable and morally sound should be appointed. At the same time their personal involvement and occupations should be such that they are capable of fulfilling this responsibility in a befitting manner. The verse should not be taken to mean that a law-suit will only stand proven in court if at least two men or one man and two women bear witness to it. It is reiterated that the verse is merely a guidance for the general masses in their social affairs and counsels them to abide by it so that any dispute can be avoided. It is for their own benefit and welfare that this procedure should be undertaken.

 

Consequently, about all such directives the Qur’ān says:

 

ذَلِكُمْ أَقْسَطُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ وَأَقْوَمُ لِلشَّهَادَةِ وَأَدْنَى أَلَّا تَرْتَابُوا (282:2)

This is more just in the sight of God; it ensures accuracy in testifying and is the most appropriate way for you to safeguard against all doubts. (2:282)

 

Ibn Qayyimcomments on this verse in the following manner:

 

فهذا في التحمل والوثيقة التي يحفظ بها صاحب المال حقه لأفي طريق الحكم وما يحكم به الحاكم فان هذا شيء وهذا شئ

It relates to the heavy responsibility of testifying by which an owner of wealth protects his rights. It has no concern with the decision of a court. The two are absolutely different from each other.[3]