Why do women have half the mens right of testimony?
The essentials which form the fundamentals of the Islamic Law are based on revelation (of Allah). They are outlined in the Quran. In other words, the legal essentials are established and ordained by the Creator of the Universe. Whatever the age, atmosphere and circumstances in which one lives, those essentials are the source of peace and means of comfort. This is because these decrees are the most suitable ones for mans creation. When the decrees and jurisdiction in the Quran are studied, the outstanding point is that both corporeal and spiritual existence of man is taken into consideration.
In the matter of witnessing, it is possible to observe that, too. The translation of the verse about giving testimony is as follows:
And call upon two (Muslim) men among you as witnesses. If two men are not there, then let there be one man and two women, from among those of whom you approve as witnesses, that if either of the two women errs (through forgetfulness), the other may remind her (1)
So, here, the basic matter is directly related to the creation of women. This is a requisite of their psychological aspect. The underlying disposition of woman is excitement and she lives with her excitements. Therefore, ideas get rooted in her heart rather than her mind and develop effects in this way. She cannot really remain unbiased in the face of events. She approaches phenomena with intuition as her conscience and mercy prevail.
Due to that quality of theirs, the Quran says: Women may forget, therefore they should be given helpers in testimony. It is expressed by Allah the Almighty who created the woman. So, it is an unchanging rule. Are there not among women those who do not easily forget and those who have sharper memories than men? Of course, there are, but generally, this psychological state is seen in women more often. It is just natural that they cannot retain events in their memories long.
On the other hand, the woman is more introverted. She has a world of her own. She is busy with the housework all day. She takes care of children and of their upbringing. Very few women are interested in trade, business, and politics. How will a woman who is so away from the outer world be aware of the events that take place there, how will she learn about them and retain them in her mind and to what extent will she be able to bear witness?
By accepting two womens testimonies equal to that of one man, and thus not burdening the woman with the responsibility as much as that of the man in the matter of witnessing, Islam does not harm her right, on the contrary, protects it and prevents her from sinning. This is because bearing witness is a tough duty that brings about great responsibilities.
In a verse in the Quran, the following is stated:
And do not conceal the testimony; he who conceals it, surely his heart (which is the center of faith) is contaminated with sin. God has full knowledge of what you do. (2)
In hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) it is pointed out that witnessing bears great responsibilities and that wrongful testimony is counted among the greatest sins.
Indeed, Islam protects woman from great sins and prevents her from committing such a sin as wrongful testimony, by way of deception by some weaknesses of hers through excitement or through acting emotionally. Islam has taken precautions against it by appointing a helping woman beside her. Just for this reason, in some testimonial matters, two women replace one man.
Sometimes women may act jealously in the matters they will testify and the feeling of rivalry may prevail. Therefore, they may blemish the realization of justice by concealing some aspects of the matter. However, if two women bear witness, doubts will be eradicated as one of them will clarify the point the other conceals.
On the other hand, that the testimony of two women is deemed equal to the testimony of one man does in no way mean that the woman is worth half the man. This is only a sign that great importance is given to the presence of all sorts of assurance in testimony. In what kinds of lawsuits does the woman bear witness, from which of them is she exempt, and in which is she deemed half the man?
Islamic Law exempted woman from testimony in such crimes which require the punishment called had as adultery, alcohol and robbery and in such punishments as qisas (retaliation) and does not accept her testimony in them. In these lawsuits, the punishment of adultery requires four mens testimonies and the others those of two men. In such lawsuits as related to trade, selling and purchasing, marriage and divorce, which fall into the category of relations and dealings, if there are not two men, then the testimonies of one man and two women are stipulated. However, in such matters in which men are not very competent such as the determining of virginity, the conditions that emerge during birth concerning the mother and baby, and establishing the milk brotherhood/sisterhood, one womans testimony is sufficient. Moreover, Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him) saw one womans testimony as sufficient even in the matter of divorce. This is because the real aim in testimony is the preservation of rights, maintenance of justice and the realization of the truth. One of the wisdoms of not applying for womans testimony in the punishments of had and in qisas (retaliation) is the sensitivity to prevent the slightest doubt in such matters. This is because in the lawsuit of qisas with an incomplete statement, a right would have been violated or a human being would have been wrongly retaliated. Such an inclination as forgetfulness and being overcome by emotions concerning women might overshadow the matter.
(1) Al-Baqarah, 282.
(2) Al-Baqarah, 283.