Why is woman’s testimony half that of a man in the court of law?
I believe that Islam does not recognize a woman’s witness equal to that of a man. I know its an Islamic principle which should be followed but if you could just elaborate on the rationale behind this principle I’d be very grateful.
I disagree with your sweeping statement that in Islam women’s witness is half that of men. I know that that’s what the popular understanding is, but I also feel quite confident that the popular understanding is not correct.
The truth of the matter is that the Quran has mentioned the need for having witnesses for various purposes on a number of occasions. See, for instance, 2:282, 4:15, 24:4, 65:2, 24:6. It is only in the case of the first verse i.e. 2:282 that there is a need mentioned to have two female witnesses in case a male witness wasn’t available. In the rest of the verses (except for the last verse i.e. 24:6, which I’ll discuss shortly) there is no mention of the gender of the witnesses. Those who hold the popular point of view believe that since the formula of two women equivalent to one male witness was clarified in verse 2:282, that formula should be deemed to be applicable in all other verses as well. However, if it could be shown that the verse 2:282 is talking of a situation which is a special case, the conclusion drawn by the majority should be called upon to be questioned.
The reason why I believe that the verse 2:282 should be taken as a special case is that it is talking about a situation wherein a debt contract is to be written and witnesses are to be invited for the purpose giving evidence. They can be asked to give their evidence in case it is needed in the future. In such a situation the Quran has desired that two male witnesses should be produced for the purpose. The possibility of bringing in women in case men are available is not even mentioned. However, in the rare situation when two men are not available, the Quran says that a man and two women should be asked to give witnesses for the purpose, so that “if one of them forgets, the other should remind her”. On the other hand, in the case of witnessing required to be done in verses 4:15 and 24:4 for cases of zina (fornication and adultery), since witnesses are not chosen like it is done by those who are to write a contract, but happen to be there at the time when crime is committed, there is no mention that only men should be selected for the purpose, or only in case if there are no men that women should be asked to come forward for the purpose. There is always a possibility that in case of crimes, there may only be women present to witness. Would their evidence be just rejected because of their gender?
I would like to draw your attention to verse 24:6-9 where there is a mention of a possibility of a husband accusing his wife of adultery. The Quran requires the husband to swear upon God “solemnly affirming that he is of those who speak the truth; and the fifth time that Allah’s curse be upon him if he be of the liars.” Then it goes further to allow the accused wife to avert punishment from her “if she bears witness four times in the name of Allah that he (her husband) is of the liars; and the fifth time that the wrath of Allah be upon her if he has spoken the truth.” In other words, despite the evidence of the husband against her, the Quran allows the wife to get herself acquitted in the eyes of law by giving a counter evidence of her innocence. Whose evidence has been considered the heavier of the two in this case: the husband’s or the wife’s? That’s why I mentioned earlier that your sweeping remarks in the question are not justifiable.
Why has it been required in the verse 2:282 that two women in place of one man should appear for giving evidence. As mentioned earlier, it says that the reason is that if one of them forgets the other should remind her. To me the logic behind this reason is simply this that when you are called upon to give evidence in an area other than the area of your interest and you are not familiar with it, you will most certainly not be able to retain its contents quite as much as someone else who is familiar with the field can. I therefore believe that if there was to be a need to provide evidence for a matter that has to do with a situation where men are more likely to forget because of their lack of interest in it (matters that have to do with ‘kitchen affairs’ or upbringing of children, for instance), their evidence will also be needed to be beefed up in some manner.
The final question: Is the need to have two women instead of one man still relevant today when there are many women who have become professionals in the field of Finance and they are much less likely to forget financial issues than many of the men who are non-professionals in this field? I think it is a tough question, far beyond my domain of competence. I don’t want to see the Quranic formula changing, but then I do understand that there was a definite reason why it was needed. Perhaps the fact that ladies are getting professional expertise in these fields is not in line with the ideals of Islam. I donot know. I invite you to think about it and give your opinion on the subject. Forgive me for being unclear here.