Is the testimony of women invalid in hadd punishments?

The Details of the Question

“During the time of the Prophet and the rightly-guided caliphs after him, women did not testify about hadd and qisas.”
- Is this narration sahih (sound)?
- I know it as mursal. What does Ibn Hazm say about it? Does he consider this narration weak?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Imam Zuhri reported: “According to the Sunnah (Islamic principle), which has been in force since the time of the Prophet and his two caliphs (Abu Bakr and Umar) after him, it is not permissible for women to act as witnesses in the issues of hadd punishments (such as qisas and fornication).” (see Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf, 5/533)

Ibn Abi Shaybah reported the following in different narrations: “The witnessing of women is not permissible in the issues of hudud, divorce, and blood (qisas).” (Ibn Shaybah, ibid; see Zaylai, Nasbur-Raya, 4/79)

We have not been able to find any explanation about the soundness of these narrations, but the consensus of the majority of scholars shows that this narration is sound. In addition:

“If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, Take the evidence of four (Reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them...” (an-Nisa, 4/15);

“And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations),- flog them with eighty stripes...” (an-Nur, 24/4)

The phrase “four witnesses” required in the verses above was understood by the majority of Islamic scholars as “four male Muslim witnesses”. (see Qurtubi, Tafsir, the interpretation of the verses in question)

In fact, the reason why women’s testimony is not accepted in crimes that require heavy penalties and are punishable by hadd is to avoid the irreparable consequences of error and forgetfulness.

We would like to point out the following here: For example, although Hanafis cite this narration from Zuhri that women’s testimony cannot be free from doubt as evidence that women cannot be witnesses in criminal cases such as hadd and qisas, they do not act upon the narration from Zuhri stating that women cannot be witnesses in cases of hadd, nikah and talaq, and accept women’s testimony in cases such as nikah and talaq.

They explain it as follows: the cases of rights can be proved even with dubious evidence.

In addition, there are those who draw a wider scope for the testimony of women provided that the testimony of two women is equivalent to the testimony of one man.

For example, among the scholars of the early period; 
Sufyan ath-Thawri holds the view that the testimony of women will be accepted in cases of qisas too provided that they testify together with men;
- Zahiris hold the view that the testimony of women will be accepted in all cases provided that two women are regarded as a single witness, whether together with men or on their own.

Ibn Hazm, on the other hand, understood the phrase “four witnesses” in the verse about the crime of fornication as four witnesses regardless of gender, and adopted the view that the testimony of women in the crime of fornication would also be heard. However, according to him, if there are women among the witnesses to the crime of fornication, two women would be regarded as one witness in order to fulfill the minimum requirement of four witnesses stated in the verse. The reason for it, according to him, is the statement in the verse on witnessing a debt transaction: “When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time… and get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women...” (al-Baqara, 2/282.

Acting upon this verse, Ibn Hazm holds the view that the testimony of two women is equal to witness if women are to testify, regardless of the type of the case. (Ibn Hazm, Muhalla, Beirut nd., 8/476)

Ibn Hazm states that Imam Zuhri’s narration is weak. (see Muhalla, 8/488)

Izzet Derveze, one of the contemporary tafsir scholars, states that the phrase “four witnesses from you” in the verse in question cannot be understood only as men and that this expression also includes women. (see Derveze, Tafsir, the verses in question)

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