Testimony in Courts

Summary of the Issues

Current Issues: Testimony in Courts

Mingora, Pakistan. 2009. A woman hands over her application to a court official. Photo credit: B.K. Bangash/AP Images.

In many Muslim and non-Muslim societies, Muslim women’s testimony in court is equated to half of a man’s testimony. There is much contention between different Muslim jurists on this matter, dating back to the 8th century. However, understanding women’s testimony in Islam is critical to ensuring women are full and equal participants in their respective societies.

There are several verses in the Qur’an that discuss witnesses, without any reference to gender; some of these verses even fully equate the testimony of males and females.1 However, one specific verse (2:282) describes financial transactions and states that two female witnesses are equal to one male witness. The verse states: “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.” 2 Literal reading of the verse does not do justice to the complexities of this matter.

Some male scholars oversimplify this passage and apply patriarchal interpretation that directly harms women. For example, some early jurists used verse 2:282, which speaks only to testimony in matters of finance, to exclude women from being witnesses in all other areas including fornication, adultery, Hadd crimes (crimes mentioned in the Quran, such as stealing), and even basic sighting of the moon.3 Various schools of jurisprudence have different views on verse 2:282. One school of thought accepts testimony from women, assuming that female testimony is valid unless evidence to the contrary emerges. Another school of thought assumes that female testimony is invalid unless evidence to the contrary is found.4 This has significant consequences on Muslim women in many Muslim-majority countries that base sharia, or Islamic law, on these interpretations. The implementation of sharia varies immensely from country to country. Most countries apply sharia selectively, but in those that abide firmly by Islamic law, misogynistic views toward women’s testimonies in nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, can be detrimental to women, especially when it comes to ‘crimes’ that carry severe punishments such as adultery and fornication.

According to Muslim American scholar and author Amina Wadud, the requirement of two women for testimonies regarding financial matters does not mean that women are less competent than men. She emphasizes the need to look at the context surrounding the verse. At the time of the revelation, women were excluded from financial matters in Arabia and therefore might not have had a clear understanding of the terms surrounding loans. From Wadud’s perspective, both passages are now obsolete in societies where women have an equal opportunity to participate in financial matters.5 Similarly, Yusuf Al Qardawi from Al-Azhar University in Egypt states that under Islamic law women are equal to their counterparts; they are not only liable for their actions but their testimony is also demanded and valid in court.6 This opinion echoes the voices of a growing number of women and men working to overcome the patriarchal interpretation of scripture regarding Muslim women’s testimony in courts.

[1] Badawi, Gender Equity in Islam,
[2] Quran 2:282.
[3] Lucas, S.. "Justifying Gender Inequality in the Shafii Law School: Two Case Studies of Muslim Legal Reasoning. " Journal of the American Oriental Society 129.2 (2009): 237-258. ProQuest Religion, ProQuest. Web. 15 Jul. 2010.
[4] Lucas, S.. "Justifying Gender Inequality in the Shafii Law School: Two Case Studies of Muslim Legal Reasoning. " Journal of the American Oriental Society 129.2 (2009): 237-258. ProQuest Religion, ProQuest. Web. 15 Jul. 2010.
[5] Joel, Spring. Globalization and Educational Rights-Ann intercivilization Analysis. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 2001.
[6] Nelly Lahoud & Anthony Hearle John. Islam in World Politics.

Related Current Issues

Legal Sentencing

Organizations Active on this Issue

Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights

Sisters in Islam

Muslim Women's Reseach and Action Forum

Newspaper/Magazine Articles

BBC: Right to Equal Protection by the Law

Dr. Taha Jaber Al-Alwani: The Testimony of Women in Islamic Law

“Arab feminists map out the status of women's rights in the region.” Al Bawaba 13 Oct. 2009, ABI/INFORM Trade & Industry, ProQuest. Web. 15 Jul. 2010.

Fatima Sadiqi: North African Women At Forefront of Legal Reform

Scholarly Articles

Amina Wadud. Islam Beyond Patriarchy Through Gender Inclusive Qur’anic Analysis

Lucas, S. "Justifying Gender Inequality in the Shafii Law School: Two Case Studies of Muslim Legal Reasoning." Journal of the American Oriental Society. 129.2 (2009): 237-258. ProQuest Religion, ProQuest. Web. 15 Jul. 2010.

Relevant Books

Said Ramadan Al Buti. Women Between the Tyranny of the Western System and the Mercy of the Islamic Law. Dar Al Fikr, 2006

Amina. Wadud. Quran and Women

Nelly Lahoud & Anthony Hearle John. Islam in World Politics

Laws

Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993)

Fourth World Conference on Women [FWCW]: Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995)

World Conference on Human Rights: Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993)

CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 21: Equality in Marriage and Family Relations (1994)

WISE Women Active on Issue

Samina Bashir