Islam, like most religions at conception, was produced to liberate the oppressed before it was seized by oppressors and weaponized against those who had discovered a restoration of freedom and rights through it. The most striking, recurring incident of this confiscation of perspective and unashamed hypocrisy is the application of verse 2:282 (which calls for two female witnesses in the absence of a male witness in testifying for financial bonds) to all court situations, financial or otherwise, and even to the configuration of courts in social and legal contracts, such as marriage. This, despite the fact that the Qur’an outlines different requirements for court in different situations, so to apply one to all is absurd. Though verse 2:282 “adopts” the female perspective and recognizes that during Revelation women were barred from financial familiarity and accordingly demands the presence of a second female witness so that the first is not threatened or intimidated by the men present in the court who believe they are more qualified than her or are angry a woman is allowed among them, Muslims have developed the sense that this must mean that a woman’s witness is half of a man’s witness, and at the most extremes, that a man is worth twice as much as a woman. Yet the verse makes no such equivalency, nor does it apply this configuration to any court setting other than financial contracts; yet in practice it has been applied to every other court setting.
Scholars are not responsible for the reception of their interpretation in the masses. It is the responsibility of each Muslim to educate her or himself. However, since scholars have monopolized interpretation and placed themselves as intermediaries between Muslim women and God, I will not withhold the responsibility that is engendered in such confiscation of power: thus this widely accepted misconception is an example of how male scholarship is dishonest and male leaders are failures. If, from your interpretation, Muslims are under the impression that a man’s testimony is equal to the testimony of two women, or are neglecting to grasp the qualification that this court arrangement is only for financial matters, you have failed as a religious leader. If you don’t want that accountability, don’t create a monopoly on interpretation.
But, since we are so inclined to apply one configuration of court to all configurations of court, let’s look at another arrangement: the court for the allegation of adultery, in which the woman’s word is the last.
And those who cast it up on their wives
having no witnesses except themselves,
the testimony of one of them shall be
to testify by God four times
that he is of the truthful,
and a fifth time, that the curse of God
shall be upon him, if he should be of the liars.
It shall avert from her the chastisement
if she testify by God four times that he is of the liars,
and a fifth time, that the wrath of God shall be upon her,
if he should be of the truthful. (Qur’an 24:6—9)
These verses were revealed to prevent men from slandering innocent women, which we can infer was (and still is) a regular occurrence. (It’s quite telling that men are so paranoid about false rape allegations; pathetic, it’s because they’ve been falsely accusing women of adultery in fits of jealousy since the dawn of time.) With the objective of making this as difficult as possible, the Qur’an demands a man produce four witnesses to accuse his wife of adultery; or, in the absence of four witnesses, he may swear to God she is an adulteress four times. And then, to seal the testimony, one more time. But the woman is excused if she then swears four times, and then finally once more, that he is a liar. If she did indeed commit adultery, the wrath of God is upon her, but she is discharged of any worldly chastisement, and the court is dismissed.
Not only this, but as the preceding verse states, the testimony of a man who gives it falsely is to never be accepted again.
Why not apply the dynamics of verse 24:9 to all settings of court, since apparently applying 2:282 to all testimonies—even marriages—is a valid practice of Islamic law? This inconsistency is unforgivingly hypocritical, and once again is a failure of male scholarship.
When the female perspective of a disadvantaged position in society is acknowledged and assumed in the Qur’an, it is read as validating male privilege rather than noting and checking it. Yet here is an instance when the Qur’an privileges the female testimony, the testimony of a woman over a man, and yet verse 24:9 is not read as validating female privilege as the will of Divine Ordinance.
Most of the Quran’s provisions (from inheritance, to divorce [in which men are obligated to provide for their wives for three months afterward in case they are pregnant], to female infanticide, to testimony) are absorbed in preserving women’s interests, so that when the Qur’an notes male privilege it is only recognizing that men have power unjustly, not condoning patriarchy or authorizing this power. Yet it is consistently read as such, from testimony to the infamous “degree” men have over women noted in verse 4:34. If the Qur’an were a patriarchal text, or a text that advocated patriarchy, it would not constantly take the woman’s perspective to regulate male behavior. It would not assume the female perspective in demanding that husbands provide fully for their wives because of the lack of economic freedom for women in patriarchy, it would not assume the female perspective in demanding that orphaned girls are provided for by their guardians and guaranteed an inheritance just as “useful” orphaned boys, it would not assume the female perspective in demanding that women have the option of being supplied provisions by their ex-husbands three months after divorce (I will also write more on this but read Khadeeja’s post) in the event they are pregnant, it would not assume the female perspective in giving women the last word in allegations of adultery and discrediting the testimony of a false man for the rest of his life, it would not assume the female perspective in forbidding burying girls alive, and it would not assume the female perspective in a number of incidents that it does and use it to regulate male behavior.