Are women inferior or deficient in religion, reason, and testimony?

April 11, 2013

Quran and Pink Flowers

By Abu Amina Elias for FaithinAllah.org

Question:

The Quran says a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man and the Prophet said women are deficient in reason and religion and more women are in Hell.

Does this mean women are inferior to men?

Answer:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

The Quran makes a distinction between a man and woman’s testimony in the specific case of business contracts, because at the time of revelation it was men who tended to be educated in such matter while women were educated in other matters. In other cases when a man and woman are equal in their level of education and veracity, then the testimony of a man and woman are equal.

Allah says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا تَدَايَنتُم بِدَيْنٍ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى فَاكْتُبُوهُ وَلْيَكْتُب بَّيْنَكُمْ كَاتِبٌ بِالْعَدْلِ … وَاسْتَشْهِدُوا شَهِيدَيْنِ مِن رِّجَالِكُمْ فَإِن لَّمْ يَكُونَا رَجُلَيْنِ فَرَجُلٌ وَامْرَأَتَانِ مِمَّن تَرْضَوْنَ مِنَ الشُّهَدَاءِ أَن تَضِلَّ إِحْدَاهُمَا فَتُذَكِّرَ إِحْدَاهُمَا الْأُخْرَىٰ

O you who believe, when you contract a debt for a specified term, write it down, and let a scribe write it between you in justice… and bring two witnesses from among your men. If there are not two men available, then a man and two women from those whom you accept as witnesses, so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her.

Surah Al-Baqarah 2:282

This rule was revealed as a practical guide for the Muslim community in the context of the early community in Arabia. Women were not typically educated in financial matters, so in this specific case the testimony of a woman should be supported by another woman who can remind her. The general lesson to be learned is that we should consider the veracity of a witness before accepting their testimony.

Commenting on this verse, Muhammad Asad writes:

The stipulation that two women may be substituted for one male witness does not imply any reflection on woman’s moral or intellectual capabilities: it is obviously due to the fact that, as a rule, women are less familiar with business procedures than men and, therefore, more liable to commit mistakes in this respect.

Source: Message of the Quran 2:282

However, this rule cannot be properly applied to a situation in which the woman is more educated than the man, such as the case of a woman graduated from a professional business college versus a man who cannot read. In other cases, the testimony of a man and woman are equal.

Allah said:

وَالَّذِينَ يَرْمُونَ أَزْوَاجَهُمْ وَلَمْ يَكُن لَّهُمْ شُهَدَاءُ إِلَّا أَنفُسُهُمْ فَشَهَادَةُ أَحَدِهِمْ أَرْبَعُ شَهَادَاتٍ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ وَالْخَامِسَةُ أَنَّ لَعْنَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ إِن كَانَ مِنَ الْكَاذِبِينَ وَيَدْرَأُ عَنْهَا الْعَذَابَ أَن تَشْهَدَ أَرْبَعَ شَهَادَاتٍ بِاللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الْكَاذِبِينَ وَالْخَامِسَةَ أَنَّ غَضَبَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهَا إِن كَانَ مِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ

Those who accuse their wives of adultery and have no witnesses except themselves – then the witness of one of them shall be four testimonies swearing by Allah that indeed, he is of the truthful, and the fifth oath will be that the curse of Allah be upon him if he should be among the liars. But it will prevent punishment from her if she gives four testimonies swearing by Allah that indeed, he is of the liars, and the fifth oath will be that the wrath of Allah be upon her if he was of the truthful.

Surah An-Nur 24:6-9

Had the testimony of a woman always been less than a man, then a man who accuses his wife of adultery would always win in Islamic court. However, a woman accused of adultery by her husband can testify against him and in this case their testimonies are equal. Other verses of the Quran put men and women on equal footing.

Allah said:

وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another.

Surah At-Tawba 9:71

And Allah said:

إِنَّ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَالْمُسْلِمَاتِ وَالْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْقَانِتِينَ وَالْقَانِتَاتِ وَالصَّادِقِينَ وَالصَّادِقَاتِ وَالصَّابِرِينَ وَالصَّابِرَاتِ وَالْخَاشِعِينَ وَالْخَاشِعَاتِ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقِينَ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقَاتِ وَالصَّائِمِينَ وَالصَّائِمَاتِ وَالْحَافِظِينَ فُرُوجَهُمْ وَالْحَافِظَاتِ وَالذَّاكِرِينَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا وَالذَّاكِرَاتِ أَعَدَّ اللَّهُ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا

Verily, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so, for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.

Surah Al-Ahzab 33:35

Likewise, the Prophet would stress the complimentary nature of men and women.

Aisha reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنَّمَا النِّسَاءُ شَقَائِقُ الرِّجَالِ

Verily, women are the counterparts of men.

Source: Musnad Ahmad 25663 Grade: Hasan

Regarding the tradition in which the Prophet says:

مَا رَأَيْتُ مِنْ نَاقِصَاتِ عَقْلٍ وَدِينٍ

I have not seen anyone more lacking in reason and religion than you.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 80

The Prophet here is speaking to a specific group of women whom he was admonishing due to their lack of generosity in giving charity. The “lack of reason” refers to their limited duty in giving testimony regarding business contracts, as mentioned in verse 2:282. The “lack of religion” refers to their limited duty regarding prayer, as women do not perform the ritual prayer while on their menses. It does not mean as a general rule that women are less intelligent or less pious than men. In fact, Islamic history and experience would prove otherwise.

Nevertheless, some Muslims do use such verses and traditions to degrade the status, intelligence, and piety of women. As Dr. Taha Jaber Al-Alwani summarizes:

It must be admitted that Christian, Jewish, and Muslim scholars have neglected the wisdom of their respective revelations concerning the equality of the sexes. Quranic commentators and jurists in particular seem to have ignored the broader intellectual aspects of a woman’s testimony. In addition, some seem to have allowed themselves to completely overlook the basic Quranic principle of gender equality, even though this teaching is mentioned in literally hundreds of Quranic verses. Instead, they have engrossed themselves in studies emphasizing biological and psychological differences, thereby attempting to derive evidence from divine revelation to support the attitudes and customs of their pre-Islamic heritage… In essence, Muslim jurists and Quranic commentators allowed their cultural prejudices to color their discussions on the subject of women. In their ignorance, they used those verses declaring the competence and equality of women to “prove” the contrary.

Source: The Testimony of Women in Islamic Law

Regarding the Prophet’s statement that more women are in Hell than men, this is again in the context of admonishing a specific group of women due to their lack of generosity in giving charity. It is interpreted that this is tradition is evidence that there are more women than men in general. Al-Qadi Iyad said:

قَالَ فَيَخْرُجُ مِنْ مَجْمُوعِ هَذَا أَنَّ النِّسَاءَ أَكْثَرُ وَلَدِ آدَمَ

What can be understood from these narrations is that women are the majority of the children of Adam.

Source: Sharh Sahih Muslim

Therefore, the tradition does not mean more women are in Hell because they are inferior. Rather, more women are in Hellfire because they are the majority of humankind.

In conclusion, Islam does not teach that women are inferior to men. Rather, the Prophet taught that men and women are allies and counterparts of one another. The rulings of Islamic law that make a distinction between men and women are specific to their particular context.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.