Figments of Patriarchal Imagination: The Testimony of Two Women "Equals" One Man’s

In the Qur’an, different numbers of witnesses are called for different crimes. For example, it takes four reliable witnesses to condemn a woman for adultery:

Those who accuse chaste women and then fail to produce four witnesses to support their allegations, the court shall order eighty lashes to such accusers. And, never in the future accept their testimony. They indeed have drifted away from morality. (Qur’an 24:4)

(And if you notice, the Qur’an kind of immediately takes her side. The punishment for adultery is the same for both men and women–one hundred lashes, lightly as to not penetrate the skin.)

Different requirements are outlined for different trials. And yet the absurd idea that two women are needed to equal a man is incorrectly inferred from one verse describing a situation that isn’t even nearly as serious as adultery.

O believers, when you contract a debt one upon another for a stated term, write it down, and let a writer write it down between you justly, and let not any writer refuse to write it down, as God has taught him; so let him write, and let the debtor dictate, and let him fear God his Lord and not diminish aught of it. And if the debtor be a fool, or weak, or unable to dictate himself, then let his guardian dictate justly. And call in to witness two witnesses, men; or if the two be not men, then one man and two women, such witnesses as you approve of, that if one of the two women errs the other will remind her; and let the witnesses not refuse, whenever they are summoned. And be not loth to write it down, whether it be small or great, with its term; that is more equitable in God’s sight, more upright for testimony, and likelier that you will not be in doubt. Unless it be merchandise present that you give and take between you; then it shall be no fault in you if you do not write it down. And take witnesses when you are trafficking one with another. And let not either writer or witness be pressed; or if you do, that is ungodliness in you. And fear God; God teaches you, and God has knowledge of everything. (Qur’an 2:282)

This verse is basically about an interest-free loan, and the misconception comes from the lines in bold. As anyone with even an ounce of common sense can see, nowhere in the verse is it stated that the testimony of two women is needed to equal the testimony of a man. Nor does the verse prefer male witnesses to female witnesses. Instead it addresses the composition of the court for each sex, and asks for the presence of two women in case one of them is threatened or intimidated. Juries have always been dominated by men, and, from the beginning of forever, places of power such as within juries have been hostile toward women. There is still a glass ceiling in legal systems. (There was a quote on microaggressions of someone saying something along the lines of, “It makes us look bad when people see women in our firm.”) Verse 2:282 provides women strength by virtue of number=power. If a man dares condescend on her due to her sex she will have support to keep her from being bullied into a certain perspective.

It’s ridiculous that anyone would come up with two women = one man from this one verse, especially with the entire Qur’an stressing equality, and yet here we are, because insecure men panicking about power are just that desperate. They’ll look for anything–anything!–and because they are privileged in society, they will have no problem finding way to make it explode into deceptive validity.

8 thoughts on “Figments of Patriarchal Imagination: The Testimony of Two Women "Equals" One Man’s

  1. The distribution of testimony, as discussed by this Quranic verse, is located in the particular issue of negotiating financial transactions. In the prevailing circumstances of 7th century Arabia, it is not difficult to imagine that women may have been less well-versed in financial matters than men. Thus, could it be that a woman's testimony on the issue of contracting debt, was considered to be of less weight because of a difference in expertise?And yet, this verse has often been interpreted to suggest that there is some innate difference, some natural inferiority, which makes the value of a woman's judgment on all matters less than that of a man. The Quran tells us there is not innate differences between men and women. Where did this interpretation arise? How has this interpretation been justified? Does it adequately take into account the circumstances in which the verse is located?Given the verse's clear reference to women at the time of revelation, does it merely suggest the obvious, that there was a lack of expertise among women of that era that made them less qualified witnesses in the area of financial transaction? After all, women had fewer opportunities for the education and occupation that would grant them the experience needed to adjudicate on these matters.Moreover, if society offered women more opportunities for education, to hold positions of responsibility, and to participate in ways which increase their experience and knowledge of certain areas, then would the gendered difference in the value of testimony still hold? Could the situation arise when the testimony of a single woman expert (say, tax litigator) would be considered entirely sufficient?"And their Lord hath accepted of them, and answered them: "Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: Ye are members, one of another…" (Aal Imran, 3:195)


  2. "Moreover, if society offered women more opportunities for education, to hold positions of responsibility, and to participate in ways which increase their experience and knowledge of certain areas, then would the gendered difference in the value of testimony still hold? Could the situation arise when the testimony of a single woman expert (say, tax litigator) would be considered entirely sufficient?"That, is an excellent question. I believe that one of the reasons the Qur'an is timeless is because there is such a heavy emphasis on context. What the verse suggests to us is that in the situation that a person–male or female and in this case it happened to be female–does not know enough about the subject that he or she is witnessing, it would appropriate to invite a third party.


  3. Pingback: Why I want to become a “Shaykha” | AntiDogmaSpray

  4. nmr

    I recently read that in 7th century Arabia, Aramaic was the language of traders and Arabic was the language of the tribal people. Therefore, if men were traders they would understand some Aramaic, whereas women (who for safety reasons) who stayed in the village would only have a good grasp of the local Arabic dialect. If taken in context, perhaps the Quran is suggesting that two women could pool their language resources together in order to understand a contract that may have a profusion of Aramaic trade/economics related terms.


  5. Mirela

    Well, it doesn’t say “if one should feel intimidated, the other will support her”. It says if she errs, then the other may correct her. So it’s more about her inability to provide a clear account. Men don’t need a “backup” because their accounts are apparently not as inaccurate for whatever reason. And if you’re trying to imply that she would make a mistake because she is intimidated, then you’re adding your own reasoning that ties in with what you believe and obviously not supported by what is clearly written. I just think that if Allah meant it the way you said it, he would of said it different- more to the point. But he didn’t. He said it like this.


  6. salam. muslim (scholarship) seems to ignore the terminology of quran consistently as they come up with their own ‘hadith’ terminology. in this verse the word is mara not nisa. along with keeping quran in its own context, we should also start focusing on terminology more and how quran defines them.


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