Are two female witnesses equal to one male witness?

2856C603-49C0-4C40-9F36-418560B20345There are many who claim that a woman’s testimony is lesser than that of a man’s. They use this verse in Surah Al Baqarah (282) to claim that two female witnesses are equal to one male witness:

 

يأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ إِذَا تَدَايَنتُم بِدَيْنٍ إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى فَاكْتُبُوهُ وَلْيَكْتُب بَّيْنَكُم كَاتِبٌ بِالْعَدْلِ وَلاَ يَأْبَ كَاتِبٌ أَن يَكْتُبَ كَمَا عَلَّمَهُ اللَّهُ فَلْيَكْتُبْ وَلْيُمْلِلِ الَّذِى عَلَيْهِ الْحَقُّ وَلْيَتَّقِ اللَّهَ رَبَّهُ وَلاَ يَبْخَسْ مِنْهُ شَيْئاً فَإن كَانَ الَّذِى عَلَيْهِ الْحَقُّ سَفِيهًا أَوْ ضَعِيفًا أَوْ لاَ يَسْتَطِيعُ أَن يُمِلَّ هُوَ فَلْيُمْلِلْ وَلِيُّهُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَاسْتَشْهِدُواْ شَهِيدَيْنِ مِّن رِّجَالِكُمْ فَإِن لَّمْ يَكُونَا رَجُلَيْنِ فَرَجُلٌ وَامْرَأَتَانِ مِمَّن تَرْضَوْنَ مِنَ الشُّهَدَآءِ أَن تَضِلَّ إْحْدَاهُمَا فَتُذَكِّرَ إِحْدَاهُمَا الاٍّخْرَى وَلاَ يَأْبَ الشُّهَدَآءُ إِذَا مَا دُعُواْ وَلاَ تَسْـَمُواْ أَن تَكْتُبُوهُ صَغِيرًا أَوْ كَبِيرًا إِلَى أَجَلِهِ ذَلِكُمْ أَقْسَطُ عِندَ اللَّهِ وَأَقْوَمُ لِلشَّهَـدَةِ وَأَدْنَى أَلاَّ تَرْتَابُواْ إِلاَ أَن تَكُونَ تِجَـرَةً حَاضِرَةً تُدِيرُونَهَا بَيْنَكُمْ فَلَيْسَ عَلَيْكُمْ جُنَاحٌ أَلاَّ تَكْتُبُوهَا وَأَشْهِدُواْ إِذَا تَبَايَعْتُمْ وَلاَ يُضَآرَّ كَاتِبٌ وَلاَ شَهِيدٌ وَإِن تَفْعَلُواْ فَإِنَّهُ فُسُوقٌ بِكُمْ وَاتَّقُواْ اللَّهَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ اللَّهُ وَاللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ

 

O you who believe! When you contract a debt for a fixed period, write it down. Let a scribe write it down in justice between you. Let not the scribe refuse to write, as Allah has taught him, so let him write. Let him (the debtor) who incurs the liability dictate, and he must have Taqwa of Allah, his Lord, and diminish not anything of what he owes. But if the debtor is of poor understanding, or weak, or is unable to dictate for himself, then let his guardian dictate in justice. 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. And the witnesses should not refuse when they are called (for evidence). You should not become weary to write it (your contract), whether it be small or big, for its fixed term, that is more just with Allah; more solid as evidence, and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves, save when it is a present trade which you carry out on the spot among yourselves, then there is no sin on you if you do not write it down. But take witnesses whenever you make a commercial contract. Let neither scribe nor witness suffer any harm, but if you do (such harm), it would be wickedness in you. So have Taqwa of Allah; and Allah teaches you. And Allah is the All-Knower of everything.

 

Many ‘scholars’ claim that women’s hormones (particularly during pregnancy and the menstrual cycle) render them more emotional and induce some sort of decline in cognitive function; Women’s memories aren’t as good as a man’s – or so they believe.

 

However, evidence on the impact of hormones remains a matter of debate (See https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/period-cognitive-functioning-research_n_596cbd21e4b03389bb18e573) and so cannot be used until we have definitive conclusions.

 

In other words, they are taking a command from Scripture and trying to justify it using their perspective on women’s issues. In many cultures, menstruation and related topics are taboo and perceived negatively and this will of course, affect perspectives. More importantly, the religion must be understood by taking a look at the evidence within the religion itself and not what is proposed by the Scientific world (as this may and often changes) or by popular culture.

 

So, let’s take a closer look at why Allah commanded that two female witnesses be called in the place of a single male?

 

Firstly, let us take a closer look at the verse above:

 

1). The verse does NOT, in fact, state that two women are equal to one man. Rather, two women are called but the second is only asked if the first ‘errs’. In other words, the second woman may not even be asked – leaving us with the testimony of one man and one woman. This tells us one woman’s testimony is equal to that of a man’s.

 

If the situation does necessitate the second woman’s testimony, then we will have the testimony of two women and one man. This does not however, mean women have lower cognitive function or that men have better memories.

 

2). The translation of the verse above uses the word ‘errs’. The word used in Arabic is ‘تَضِلَّ’  which, despite common belief, does NOT mean ‘forgets’. It means ‘goes astray’ (Have a look at the many times it occurs in the Quran). Obviously, ‘forgetting’ is different from ‘going astray’. ‘Forgetting’ is ‘failing to remember’ whereas ‘going astray’ is ‘getting something wrong’. Furthermore, ‘going astray’/making an error indicates a lack of knowledge or understanding.

 

3). The Quran restricts the calling of two female witnesses to this type of event (i.e. monetary transactions). In other situations, like witnessing a theft or murder, a second female witness is not required.

 

In summary, the verse states the second woman is only asked if the first female witness ‘errs’. The use of the word ‘errs’ signifies a lack of knowledge/understanding NOT a decline in cognitive function and the calling of two females instead of a male witness is only in the prescribed context.

 

Now, to move on to ahadith;

 

Further explanation is found in a well known hadith (for the sake of brevity, you can find it here) which clearly states that it is due to women not having the knowledge/understanding about these types of transactions. The culture when the Quran was revealed was one where women were mistreated and abused (e.g. daughters were not wanted and often killed by their parents). They did not have rights and many would not have been involved in such transactions. Many would have been illiterate. Such cultures still thrive today. And the timeless nature of the religion recognises that.

 

In conclusion, it is NOT that two female witnesses are equal to one male witness. Rather, there are times (if the first errs) when the testimony of two women may be taken alongside one man’s testimony. In these instances, this is due to a lack of knowledge/understanding of the specific transaction and NOT a blanket indication that women make poorer witnesses compared to men or that it takes the cognitive abilities of two women to match that of a man’s. As always, the evidence speaks for itself.

 

 

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