One of the misunderstood issues that some people seek to use as evidence against Islam is the idea that a woman is worth half a man. The main claim made by some opponents of Islam is that “a man’s witness testimony and rights are worth those of two women.” Fanatics have also made use of this misinterpretation, putting it into practice and branding women as worth “half” what men are worth. However, as in so many other areas, the opponents of Islam and the fanatics are also seriously mistaken on this subject.
God makes a man’s witness testimony and that of a woman equal in the Qur’an. The Qur’an says nothing about “a man’s testimony being worth that of two women.” For example, four witnesses are needed for adultery to be established, and the Qur’an says nothing about these being four women or two men, or four men or eight women. It only speaks of four witnesses. In other words, four witnesses are enough, be they men or women, and there is no distinction between them.
As with all matters, when testimonies conflict, woman is regarded as superior in the Qur’an, and her word is to be trusted. When women are accused of adultery, when there is a discrepancy between the woman’s statement and the man’s, the woman’s witness testimony is favored. A woman is even regarded as innocent on the basis of her own testimony. Relevant verses of the Qur’an read as follows:
Those who make an accusation against their wives and have no witnesses except themselves, such people should testify four times by God that they are telling the truth and a fifth time that God’s curse will be upon them if they are lying.
And the punishment is removed from her if she testifies four times by God that he is lying. (Qur’an, 24:6-8)
The fact that woman is held superior to man in terms of witness testimony is a very significant one that is not well-known. It describes the essence of the Qur’an and its perspective toward women. The mistaken ideas of the fanatics and the opponents of Islam are very different, however. Let us look at the true meanings of the verses that fanatics who regard women as worth half a man use as evidence when it comes to women’s witness testimony and inheritance rights:
Women and witness testimony in loans
The only exception in the Qur’an regarding women’s witness testimony is that regarding loans. In order to grasp the exception here, we need to look at verse 282 of Surat al-Baqara in which loans are described:
You who believe! When you take on a debt for a specified period, write it down. A writer should write it down between you justly. No writer should refuse to write; as God has taught him, so he should write. The one incurring the debt should dictate and should have fear of God his Lord and not reduce it in any way. If the person incurring the debt is incompetent or weak or unable to dictate, then his guardian should dictate for him justly. Two men among you should act as witnesses. But if there are not two men, then a man and two women with whom you are satisfied as witnesses; then if one of them forgets, the other can remind her. Witnesses should not refuse when they are called upon. Do not think it too trivial to write down, whether small or large, with the date that it falls due. Doing that is more just in God’s Sight and more helpful when bearing witness and more likely to eliminate any doubt – unless it is an immediate transaction hand to hand, taken and given without delay. There is nothing wrong in your not writing that down. Call witnesses when you trade. Neither writer nor witness should be put under pressure. If you do that, it is deviancy on your part. Have fear of God and God will give you knowledge. God has knowledge of all things. (Qur’an, 2:282)
This verse sets out the rules on borrowing, and says that “…when you take on a debt for a specified period, write it down,” and that “no writer should refuse to write.” The end of the verse also says that “…neither writer nor witness should be put under pressure.” Being a witness on matters such as borrowing, where material interests are at stake, is something that people prefer to avoid. However, God wishes men to assume the whole responsibility for this unwelcome duty, and wishes “…two men to act as witness.” Note that the verse says nothing about “finding two male or four female witnesses.” It simply speaks of “two men acting as witnesses.” This risky and onerous responsibility is imposed directly on men. In this way, women, who are more susceptible to pressure, are protected from this unwelcome duty.
According to this verse, only if two men cannot be found, but one man is available, is the condition imposed of “one man and two women.” In this way, a woman is not left on her own in the face of a risky situation involving financial self-interest and calculations, such as borrowing. The possibility of a man and a woman ending up opposed to one another in the event of an adverse situation arising is thus avoided.
For example, let us imagine there is a misunderstanding concerning the amount of the loan or the method of repayment. If the two witnesses were to give different testimonies, the woman would end up lining up against the man, and in that circumstance when one of the two is definitely lying, she will come under intense stress and pressure. God is unwilling for women, whom He places under protection against all external pressures in the Qur’an, to be exposed to such a state of affairs. The presence of a second female witness to support her will eliminate that pressure. In the event that one man and two women are witnesses, when the number rises to three, the responsibility will be more widely distributed and the stress of bearing witness will be reduced. So people with ulterior motives who want to bring pressure to bear will have to deceive two out of three people, not one out of two parties, and that will make their pernicious task much harder.
It is a well-known fact that responsibilities concerning money, especially in today’s societies, are matters where one person can easily slander another, carelessly launch accusations against the other side and leave the other party under a cloud of suspicion. The precaution taken against this represents a guarantee for women in many respects. Some people find it easy to regard women as weak and to defame them. Such situations, in which money is involved, represent one of the climates in which such people may well attribute crimes to a woman and slander her. But if the loan is witnessed by two women, that eliminates the danger of such false accusations.
This also represents a source of security for a woman in psychological terms. It can be very risky to forget such details as the amount of the loan or repayment terms when witnessing such a transaction. Since Muslims have a responsibility to be impartial witnesses, they also have a responsibility to be fully aware of, and not forget, the details concerning the loan borrowed. In this way, this responsibility that one woman might have to bear is divided between two. Even if a woman has a very good memory and takes precautions not to forget – and women are much more punctilious than men on such matters – the presence of another party will still free her from that psychological burden.
It must not be forgotten that a woman, the Queen of Sheba, is described as a head of state in the Qur’an, and she is emphasized as a powerful decision-maker. This means that in the view of the Qur’an, women are intelligent enough and have sufficient strength of character to govern a state. Therefore, those persons who interpret the above verse, which explicitly protects women on the subject of borrowing, to mean that women are lacking in intelligence are expressing their own wishes, rather than the meaning of the Qur’an. Yet for us, the only measure is that of the Qur’an.