By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam
11 December 2012
One of the most controversial verses of the Quran is that of woman’s testimony. Some assume that the Quran degrades women, that it gives more advantage and higher status to men.
In chapter 2, verse 282, which is the longest verse in the Quran and which deals with financial transactions, the Quran says:
"O ye who believe! when you deal with each other in contracting a debt for a fixed time, then write it down; and let a scribe write it down between you with fairness; and the scribe should not refuse to write as Allah has taught him, so he should write; and let him who owes the debt dictate, and he should be careful of (his duty to) Allah, his Lord, and not diminish anything from it; but if he who owes the debt is unsound in understanding, or weak, or (if) he is not able to dictate himself, let his guardian dictate with fairness; and call in to witness from among your men two witnesses; but if there are not two men, then one man and two women from among those whom you choose to be witnesses, so that if one of the two errs, the second of the two may remind the other; and the witnesses should not refuse when they are summoned; and be not averse to writing it (whether it is) small or large, with the time of its falling due; this is more equitable in the sight of Allah and assures greater accuracy in testimony, and the nearest (way) that you may not entertain doubts (afterwards), except when it is ready merchandise which you give and take among yourselves from hand to hand, then there is no blame on you in not writing it down; and have witnesses when you barter with one another, and let no harm be done to the scribe or to the witness; and if you do (it) then surely it will be a transgression in you, and be careful of (your duty) to Allah, Allah teaches you, and Allah knows all things."
After reading this long verse some people conclude that the Quran believes in the inferiority of women. But if one knows a little bit of science and if one does not pick up selective verses from the Quran and reads the Quran in totality and then one will not err in concluding that women are men’s inferior.
In Islam, men are expected to be the breadwinners of the family. It is not necessary for a woman to work for a living; before marriage it is the duty of her father and brother to look after her and after her marriage it is the duty of the husband and son to look after her. She need not work, but if she wants to work then no one should obstruct her.
Since financial aspects are the responsibility of men, they are expected to be well versed in financial transactions as compared to women. The other thing that should be kept in mind while reading this verse is the use of the word ‘if’. Only if one of them (women) errs or gets confused ( the Arabic word used here is ‘Tazil’, which means to err or to confused) the other can remind her. Hence, the need of the second woman is only to prevent confusion and error in the transaction. That is why the focus in the entire verse is on writing it down so that there remains no doubt.
There are other several verses in the Quran which says that a man’s witness is equal to that of a woman. There are also some hadidths which give more importance to a woman’s witness, that is, some incidents require only female witness and a male’s witness cannot be accepted.
Men and women are equal in the sight of Allah i.e., spiritually they are equal but they are not identical.
"If any do deeds of righteousness,- be they male or female - and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them. (The Noble Quran, 4:124)"
"For Muslim men and women,- for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God's praise,- for them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward. (The Noble Quran, 33:35)"
"O mankind! [this includes all races and all nations] We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well-acquainted. (The Noble Quran, 49:13)"
If Islam degrades women then one has to bring in four male witnesses just to prove a point regarding woman’s chastity and if anyone errs or backs out then all of them 80 lashes; so one is bound to think a hundred times before making false allegations against chaste women.
"And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations),- flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors. (The Noble Quran, 24:4)"
The difference in witness numbers is not because of inequality between men and women but it is because of different roles and natures of male and female in Islam.