Majority of ‘Ulemā (scholars) of our age
are of the view that Islam gives equals right to women i.e. in Islam all men and
women are equal, but, at the same time, they also stress that a woman is
considered ‘half’ as compared to a man. In this regard, evidence is brought
forth from the Holy Qur’ān:
eAnd 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 [the two women] errs, the other can remind
On the basis of this verse, Muslim scholars and jurists
derive the conclusion that a witness borne by a woman counts half in contrast to
that of a man. I am afraid I do not think Islam gives equal rights to women and
also that the witness of a woman carries half weight as compared to that of a
man. According to my opinion, it is a ‘fallacy of relevance’
to draw such a conclusion from the quoted verse.
I would briefly explain my viewpoint regarding the topic in
a) I am of the opinion that Islam does not deal with men
and women in terms of equality because Islam is not a religion which advocates
equality but justice and equity.
Equality means that all persons should be dealt with
equally, irrespective of their needs, abilities, responsibilities, rights and
strength or weakness. In other words, an Equality Bannered Society is one that
places equal responsibilities on and gives equal privileges and authority to its
members regardless of gender or any other kind of discrimination.
Justice means that a person should be dealt with on the
basis of what he deserves. Simply put, a Justice Bannered Society is one that
places responsibilities on and gives privileges and authority to its members
according to their abilities and qualities and also keeping in perspective the
specific characteristic of each gender.
Islam has based its teachings on the irrefutable basis that
all human beings are not equal as far as their physical attributes are
concerned, though they are equal in so far as they are humans in their
individual capacity. Therefore, all humans are equal in the context of respect
etc but they cannot be treated equal in the practical daily activities of life.
Islam allows differentiation among individuals, but this is not based on the
gender discrimination of the individuals rather their inherent abilities - inner
potential. Islam wants to develop a sound social environment. It is possible
only through strengthening the family set up i.e. the basic unit of society.
Islam wants the family to become a well governed institution. Allah has created
man and woman in such a way that they complement each other. In short, they are
of the same genre yet are distinct from each other; they are two interconnected
poles or two units of a pair, to be more precise.
Hence, the difference in their mental, physical and
emotional qualities decides for them different spheres of activities in the
According to the Qur’ān, a husband should be the head of
the family. For this, it presents two arguments:
i) Men have been given the responsibility of earning
livelihood for the family i.e. to strive for the provision of the financial
requirements of the family.
ii) Men are given more suitable mental, physical and
emotional qualities for this purpose. On the other hand, women are given certain
qualities that make them more suitable for responsibilities in other spheres.
So, it is only in the particular relationship of husband and wife that Islam
gives a degree of authority to man over woman. Beyond this sphere, both are
considered equal. So, it would be wrong to say on this basis that Islam gives
women lower status in the social set up as compared to men. In fact, Islam gives
different rights and assigns different responsibilities to men and women
according to their inherent abilities.
b) Now, I come to the other part of my proposition i.e.
‘should a witness borne by a lady be considered half in comparison to that of
man?’ My critique on this view is based on the views of Mr Javed Ahmad Ghamidi.
First of all, I want to clarify that there is no verse
anywhere in the Qur’ān, which directs a court of law to consider a woman’s
witness to be half reliable as that of a man. As for the verse 282 of Al-Baqarah,
which is presented to substantiate the viewpoint in question, it has quite a
different meaning and implication than what is construed from it. The conclusion
drawn from this verse is not more than a logical fallacy, in my humble opinion.
For my thesis, a close analysis of the verse is submitted here.
The above quoted verse is presented by the proponents of
this view. They stress that women are deficient in terms of intellect. This
conclusion derived from this verse is absolutely erroneous. In fact the real
context of the original verse itself does away with this misconception.
Actually this verse addresses the common man. It does not
relate to the law and thus gives no directive regarding judicial matters. In
other words, it does not call upon the state, the legislative council or the
legal authorities. This verse just invokes the common man’s attention for taking
precautionary measures in case of a particular situation of conflict. It is a
piece of advice to a common man in a matter far beyond the jurisdiction of law
and order unless conflicts somehow arise to make it a point of law; but this is
entirely another scenario.
The verse states that when two or more individuals enter
into an agreement for a loan for a fixed period of time, they should write it
down thereby avoiding any misunderstanding or dispute. As a further safeguard to
avoid such misunderstanding, they should make two men witnesses to the
agreement. In case they are not able to find two men, then they may take two
women instead of a man so that if any of the two women become nervous, the other
may help her. Obviously, if this were a directive pertaining to judicial
matters, it would have addressed the state or legal authorities. At this place,
I quote the verse again:
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. No
scribe should refuse to write as Allah taught him, so let him write. Let him
[the debtor] who incurs the liability dictate, and he must fear Allah, his Lord,
and diminish not any thing 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 the 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, with [record of the term] thereof, 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 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 be afraid of Allah; and Allah teaches you. And Allah is the All-Knower
of each and every thing. (2:282)
It is evident from these verses that it has nothing to do
with criminal proceedings of a court of law; it is a word of caution to the
Muslims to save them from disputes in matters of contracts and agreements. Let’s
see the issue from another perspective. If the witness of two women is equal to
a man’s witness then why is it said that two of your men should be made
witnesses to this agreement. Why are two men required for the documentary
evidence? Is one man not enough? The simple point is that this verse peculiarly
relates to bearing witness on documentary evidence i.e. sale deeds, leasing
agreements, loan agreements, guarantee cards and trust deeds etc. In the above
related cases, one is free to choose the witnesses. But, in cases of accidents,
theft, murder, robbery, rape, and hijacking etc the witnesses are not a matter
of choice. Whosoever is present at the scene should and can be taken as a
witness. Thus we cannot say that the witness of a woman in cases other than
documentary evidence, as explained above, will be affected by this verse.
Lastly, as far as I think, Islam has not bound a court of
law to accept or reject any witness. Basically, acceptance or rejection of a
witness is a matter of value judgment based on the subjective analysis of the
cases derived from the objective context of the whole matter. In this regard,
the reliability of a person’s character and statement counts very much.
Precisely, no objective principle can be framed regarding the acceptance or
rejection of a witness. A court is free in this respect. It may not be satisfied
with a large number of male witnesses, due to their contradictory statements,
while the statement of a single female witness may be clear enough to convince
the court or vice versa.