Women as witnesses and their share of inheritance
Q. I came across a web site apparently setup by a Muslim. He claims that medical science has proven that women are mentally deficient compared to men, thus the reason for the Qur`anic verse asking us to use two male witnesses for a contract, or twice the number of females for every male.(Q2:282) Was this the reason for the revelation?
Also, why does the Qur'an stipulate that female children are entitled to only half of the inheritance of male children?
A. The Qur'an says: "Bring your proof if you are telling the truth." And so we must ask this brother to produce his proof. Would he like to support his theory by saying for example, that it was because of Khadijah's half brain that she was the first to admit to Muhammad's prophethood (according to the traditions)? This type of argument provides more ammunition for the non-Muslims, for obviously, their retort would be that only a half-wit could think that Muhammad (s.a.a.w) was telling the truth.
These self styled jurists overlook the reasons behind such revelation. If we examine the rest of the verse, which any objective jurist would do, we will see that it states: "…so that if one makes a mistake, the other may remind her…" As a rule, during the time of the Prophet women did not actively participate in business transactions. We know from the traditions that Khadijah (r.a) owned her business, proving that she was a woman of high intellect and wealth, yet we have no evidence that the society allowed her to conduct her own affairs. Instead, the Prophet Muhammad, who according to the majority of Muslim traditions was an unlettered man, was hired to do her business. So the question now comes up: "Why did the Qur'an not give women full rights as men, if we are claiming that this is the ultimate message?" The Qur'anic legislation is based on the aspect of gradualism, one does not change things overnight, these transitions go through stages of development.
Therefore, the Qur'an shows us that stage-process, and its diction and ratio legis, leave no room for stagnation. Civilizations evolve and knowledge advances, so the verses have to be re-examined in light of our present society, where women are lawyers, accountants, notary publics, and so on. Those who advocate that such verses must be taken literally regardless of prevailing conditions do not understand the supreme message of the Qur'an. Will these Muslims also propose that slavery is still permissible today, given that the Qur'an is eternal and discusses the treatment of slaves, without explicitly abolishing the practice?
As far as the Qur'an stating that the female is entitled to only half of the share of inheritance as that of the male, the matter is one of societal awareness. In the first place, girls were not allowed to inherit anything, so the Qur'an was bequeathing to them something from which they had hitherto been prohibited. Secondly, the verse is not permanent, since as Fazlur Rahman points out, the verses regarding "Qiwaama" is one of function and not of inherent dominant traits. In today's society which is not as patriarchal, and the girl's responsibility being more or less the same as the boy, there is no room for such favoritism. In the Prophet's time, the male was the sole breadwinner.
The Muslims who claim to have this medical knowledge that proves their points often reject other scientific findings. How about that which proves that circumcision serves no purpose, but rather puts pain in the mind of the child? How about that which proves that wine in limited amounts makes for a healthier individual? How about that which proves that seclusion between men and women makes for a more sexually dysfunctional society? How about that which proves that the moon and its phases are calculable ad infinitum, and that the recurring moon sighting dilemma is asinine in terms of our modern epistemology? These Muslims are like those who a while back said that it was "proven" that there was some hormone in the male, which, when exposed to gold, caused osteoporosis. However, they neglected to mention that there is a hadith from Abu Dawood which shows that the Prophet ordered a companion, Arfajah Ibn Asad who had his nose cut off in the battle of Al-Kilab, to wear a gold nose. My advice is to not get bogged down with these minutiae.
Posted January 28, 1999
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