The Testimony of Women in the Qurʾan

in Al-Bayan: Journal of Qur'an and Hadith Studies
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In recent years, as debates over Islamic legal interpretations have moved to the forefront, especially in places where the expanded application of Islamic law is on the agenda, the issue of women’s testimony has received particular attention. Most jurists arrived at the opinion that women were less trustworthy and less appropriate as legal witnesses than their male counterparts, and so have distinguished between male and female testimony in terms of sex. In this paper I will examine the relationship between ‘gender’ and ‘testimony’ with regard to this sex-based distinction, and as such I will explain why women are no less discerning than men as witnesses in some cases. My purpose is not, and cannot be, to engage in an original interpretation of the law or to sit in judgement on how others have understood the rules of their religion. Rather, I approach the topic of testimony, women, and gender as a student of the history of Islamic law. I argue that the Qurʾan deals with women in an egalitarian and non-discriminatory fashion in terms of testimony and legal affairs, through reference to certain verses, such as al-Nūr (Q 24:6) and al-Nisā’ (Q 4:15). While Ẓāhirisim, including Ibn Ḥazm, and Izzet Derveze follow this egalitarian approach, the four legal schools of the Ḥanafī, Shāfiʿī, Mālikī, and Ḥanbalī do not, and instead claim that women’s testimony cannot be accepted in some circumstances, such as cases of ḥadd, qadhf (slander), and qiṣāṣ (retaliation).




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