Can Muslim women be a witness and testify in court?
In Islam, the judge considers the value of witnesses and their depositions without regarding the witness’ gender. When the Qur’an was first revealed, women had very limited rights and would often be taken advantage of in financial transactions. In order to grant women greater protections, the Prophet insisted that two women offer testimonies against one man, elevating women’s status in ancient Arabia. This was a mere step in the direction of enhancing women’s equality, correcting a notion of female inferiority in gender relations.
“And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that [with your lives] you might bear witness to be the truth before all mankind […] (2:43)”
Unfortunately, in many Muslim and non-Muslim societies, Muslim women’s testimony in court is equated to half the validity of a man’s testimony. One specific verse (2:282) is often misconstrued through a patriarchal interpretation of the Qur’an: “Oh! ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligation in a fixed period of time reduce them to writing 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.” Though there are various views of the text, an accurate interpretation must examine the contextual and historical limitations so they do not obscure the fundamental meaning of the verse by insinuating women’s inferiority in jural cases.
This specific verse refers to financial transactions, specifically in the case of financial debt and is aimed at creditors who have to protect themselves with attestations. At the time, women were excluded from financial matters and therefore had incomplete understanding of the terms surrounding loans. The objective of this verse was to ensure that women’s contribution would not be taken advantage of or manipulated, thus two women would be more difficult to hinder in a male dominated space. Considering the verse’s historical context, many scholars agree that this verse must not be applied broadly, but rather to specific circumstances.
Today, Muslim majority countries such as Algeria and Tunisia offer women equal rights to men in all cases, including divorce, child custody, and retribution. Muslim women note that there are several verses in the Qur’an that discuss witnesses, without any reference to gender; some of these verses even clearly equate the testimony of males and females.1 Given this, millions of Muslim women across the globe are lawyers, judges, and politicians who have worked to deconstruct the patriarchal interpretations of Islam with the intention of empowering women in their own capabilities.
At WISE, we assert that men and women are both equal as legal agents. To overcome male-centered interpretations of scripture regarding Muslim women’s testimony in courts and legal matters, it is necessary to interpret Qur’anic verses and Hadith keeping in mind the time the verses were revealed, which was in order to uplift women. The current justice system should enhance and further women’s rights and credibility, not hinder them, as exemplified in the Qur’an and Hadith.
Asifa Quraishi-Landes , Hauwa Ibrahim, Raheemah Abdulaleem
Past approaches to empowering Muslim women typically employ a distinctly Western framework for understanding the problem, relying exclusively on measurements of economic status, educational level, health care or political participation. WISE approaches change from a holistic perspective that addresses the many interrelated factors that contribute to gender-based inequality and disempowerment.