Women as witnesses

On page 85 of Qur’an and Woman, Amina Wadud writes,

In the related verse, a ‘record in writing…’ ‘when a debt is contracted’ calls for two witnesses, ‘if two men be (not at hand) then a man and two women, of such as you approve as witnesses, so that if the one errs (tudilla) the other can remind her …’ (2:282). In the wording of this verse, both women are not called as witnesses.. One woman is designated to ‘remind’ the other”she acts as a corroborator. Although the women are two, they each function differently.

My first instinct was to recall that in perhaps the hardest time in the Prophet’s life, when Aisha was rumoured to have committed adultery, the person called to to prove her innocence was a woman (one woman and not two), her maid Barira. There are other instances when only one woman bore witness thus indicating the narrow subject of 2:282 as related only to financial transactions in which though two female witnesses are required, one bears witness while the other stands only to remind if need be.

What comes to your mind when you read Wadud’s explanation that you may like to share with everyone here?

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23 thoughts on “Women as witnesses

  1. Stephanie says:

    I’m so glad you brought this up as this is perhaps the only verse in the Quran that truly bothers me and I just can’t reconcile. I very much look forward to reading the other comments!
    Yes, the more moderate scholars attribute this requirement to financial transactions only, while the majority apply it every situation including witnesses in a court of law and to the marriage contract.
    I understand from reading the verse how Wadud can reach the conclusion that the second woman is not the witness but the corroborator, but I think this position is simply smoke and mirrors using semantics. Even so, I fail to see why even a corroborator is necessary in this day and age. In fact, at least in the West, it is nearly impossible to uphold. I recently signed a promissory note online. I didn’t have a male witness or another female to witness. I am quite capable of understanding the contract on my own accord.
    This is why I personally believe that some things in the Quran just aren’t compatible with our morals and values of the 21st century. While I do believe there is something divine about the text, I’m not 100% sure it is the unadulterated word of God. Either way I don’t feel it is to be read literally, so it’s not problematic for me to reject this particular verse, or at least the its applicability in my life, in this particular time in history.

  2. susanne430 says:

    Maybe women then didn’t know their numbers well and it was a precaution … if one forgot something, the friend could remind her. Like Stephanie said this shouldn’t be relevant for today when women are literate and capable of doing math. Back then maybe it was needed, but not today. Interpreting the Quran needs to evolve …the principles can apply to modern life without having to do every.single.thing. like the ummah of old did it.

  3. unsettledsoul says:

    I will just add that it has no bearing on my life either. I am very capable of living independently, and I do not need someone’s help or witness when applying for student loans or credit cards. The only time I need a witness legally is when something requires a notary public. How often is that? Not often, I assure you.

    Where does that leave me with this verse? It leaves me with certainty that I am not a literalist, nor am I a traditionalist, for if I was I would be taking my own rights away and stepping back in time instead of forward. Even if Amina Wadud were correct I wouldn’t agree. I think sometimes instead of bending interpretations, we need to just break completely and outright say we don’t agree.

  4. wafa' says:

    i kept repeating the verse over and over as reading the post to remember and it’s indeed said so one will remind the other, so one woman witness is an equal to a one man witness but..
    why it says two so one will remind the other and not the same with men.?
    I guess this verse was used hugely in the Muslim world to show that women are not as equal as men and used by those against Islam to show that Islam is actually degrading women, So..??

  5. Lat says:

    In those days,they didn’t have printed contracts where they could put matters in paper or other materials,did they? Mostly oral,I believe.And could it be as often stated by interpreters,that women were now called upon as witnesses for financial transactions when previously they were not? In a way it was a step forward but as always the case,as in the previous post,everything is lumped together instead of seeing why the verse was revealed in the first place,for a particular purpose,because the verse in connection was dealing with financial matters.

    I appreciate your example of Aisha’s case.Because this is not what is understood today.Exactly how I don’t know.In an adultery case,2 women are needed to testify.If there is one man and 6 women,it’s still won’t be valid! But 4 men and 1 woman,it’ll be valid..I got this from my notes from a AbdulAziz Sachedina from University of Virginia.It’s complicated how jurists come to such decisions but now they don’t even need human witnesses to prove adultery.And the author has this to say,

    “The religious epistemological that was constructed on revelational knowledge in the judicial studies has served the muslim jurists endeavours in extracting unconditional commandments from the conditional and culturally conditioned reference both in Quran and Sunna dealing with the historical muslim social universe.”

  6. unsettledsoul says:

    All I know for sure is that these verses are used against women in cases of rape. If they cannot come up with the correct number of witnesses they themselves are punished instead of the man. This is what makes many women hide that they were raped, because how many rape survivors have witnesses?!?!?! Instead, not having witnesses makes her the suspect.

    I do not bend to this, I break from it.

  7. Serenity says:

    I like Wadud’s interpretation of it! A teacher of mine and I were discussing this once, and when I expressed offense over this verse, he had me read it several times — both in Arabic and English. He asked me if I note something, and I just wasn’t getting it! Finally, he said, “Don’t you see that the roles of the two women mentioned here are different? Are both really witnesses, like we’ve been told to believe?” And I got it!

    So I don’t think it’s even in matters of business or finances only, although I see why many scholars have concluded that. In such a case, yes, women weren’t always well-versed, as we women have historically been chained to housework only; so it made sense in the 7th century and even till the last few decades for women to serve as “reminders” for each other in such legal cases. However, that doesn’t work anymore. I refuse to believe that my mind is “naturally” preoccupied with housework and children and other domestic responsibilities and therefore might forget something that relates to business or law and NEED someone (another woman) to remind me. Thanks, but I don’t need the reminder; I can do well on my own.

  8. Coolred38 says:

    What if the reminder forgets?

  9. Metis says:

    Wow! Such a great variety of opinions. So what all of us are saying is, no matter what it meant in early Islam (whether or not the second woman was a reminder) this verse doesn’t have an bearing on modern lives of women?

    Also, I was thinking what about Aisha? She is known to have been the greatest transmitter of hadith. Isn’t hadith a sort of bearing witness as well? Why didn’t she have a reminder if the verse is more general?

    • Coolred38 says:

      I figure it would have been a brave woman indeed to stop Aisha in midspeak and say…” sister…sister..hold on just a minute. I know you lived with the Prophet and saw and heard his actions better than any of us alive today….but seriously…do I need to remind you that what you think he said or did is not really what he did or said? Don’t hate me cause I’m reminding you. It’s what I do. I’m here for you girl.”

      • Lat k says:

        I had the same thoughts too.Aisha was good at rebuking anyone whenever she had the chance like Abu Hurayra.So I don’t think she would have wanted a reminder.

      • Metis says:

        Aisha, who mostly stayed in doors and only married the Prophet when he had become increasingly busy so he must have met her infrequently was bold and intelligent despite all these constraints. She was also a child bride, we must remember, and hence had to veil and remain indoors from a very young age. Yet we believe that she was very intelligent, alert and needed no reminding. So why not other women? Why do we think other women were vulnerable or silly?

        • M says:

          it’s difficult for me to find both scenarios compatible, which is why i doubt she was a “child” bride, and remained indoors all the time behind a veil. is it cheeky to think these are the fanciful “exaggerations” of a certain type who thrive on dominating and controlling members of the opposite sex? : )

  10. M says:

    funny comments.
    as funny as a scenario in which a male “chaukidaar” is considered more valuable and valid than 2 female accountants or bank managers, as witnesses/ corroborators for a financial transaction.

  11. Organica says:

    I remember looking into this and reading something by Dr. Jamal Badawi. He explicitly holds the view that the verse is constrained to financial matters only.

    But as the commentators shared above, we have women with MBAs all around the world. Sooner than later, women will be taking over academia and all disciplines!

  12. Shan says:

    I don’t know, but it might be designed to protect women from the potential of being cheated by deceptive men. I don’t think it is disparaging to women, I don’t think it suggests that they can’t handle an agreement. It’s possible women were just more vulnerable in such contracts, and would be in better shape with another woman there to ensure that contract had no loopholes or other flaws that could come to harm her.

  13. Lat says:

    I read something on adultery witnesses from the website for the Council for the Canadian Women a long time ago that US comment above reminded me of.In one article they pointed out that the adultery verse 24:4 uses a female grammatical plural that does not include men.So the issue at stake was the protection of women from slander not men.By means of anology,men applied this protection to them as well,such that anybody accusing men of adultery without 4 witnesses is to be similarly punished.’Wisdom of God signally out women alone can be noted..application to men affected women’s rights in rape cases and even served to revoke original ruling protecting women.”

    What do you think?

    • Metis says:

      Lat, That is a superb observation. I never thought of it like that. Yes, indeed the four witnesses thing is applicable only to women since it is women who may get pregnant in the event of rape and then be punished for it. But, on second thought, wouldn’t it be unfair to men if a woman blamed a man for rape/adultery and he had no way of proving his innocence? In a way that would be regression to the Jahilia period where a man *had* to accept a pregnancy as his doing upon a woman’s insistence.

      I think … IMHO … problems arise because we bring rape and adultery under the same law. There should be a difference there. I can understand that rape is often judged as ‘consensual sex’ but then the man still gets off easily. What is it that we are missing?

      • Lat says:

        “…problems arise because we bring rape and adultery under the same law”

        Why aren’t there ways to differentiate both in Islamic law? It’s not fair that women have to bear the consequences of men’s irresponsible libido.It’s not like women in those days don’t get raped.There must be something that they did to punish the rapist.The hadith I read about a woman who falsely identifies her rapist is not much help either.The absence of women’s participation in this part of hadith is damaging.

  14. Sumera says:

    I dont believe the above applies to this day and age, especially for women who are educated and “wordly wise”.

  15. Metis says:

    Is there anyone who thinks this verse should be applicable even today? I was thinking even housemaids are independent workers in this day and age and are street smart. Also, any woman aiding another woman to remember might be charged for contempt of court today 🙂

  16. Organica says:

    Both men and women can be cheated upon (financially)! Ask my father, he has stories from Egypt.

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