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Testimony Of A Woman

I heard Mr. Ghamidi on TV making a comparison between the testimony of a woman and the testimony of a man. I was quite impressed and actually convinced by his arguments that the witness of a woman is equal to the witness of a man in an Islamic Court. However, I recently came across the following Hadith and it has shaken me and created some doubts. The ḥadīth reads: Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: Once Allah\’s Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) of Eid al-Aḍḥā or Eid al-Fiṭr. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah\’s Apostle?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Is not it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.” [Bukhari :: Book 1 :: Volume 6 :: Hadith 301]

1. Please explain point where it is said that the testimony of two women is equal to the testimony of one man. How is this supposed to be a deficiency in her intelligence?

2. Menses is a natural phenomenon and women are not allowed to fast or pray during it. That is fine. But how is that a deficiency in her religion; just because she is a woman?

Answer

The misconception that women are deficient in intellect has arisen because of a wrong translation of the Arabic phrase Nāqiṣatu al-‘aql wa al-dīn of the hadith you have quoted.

The word ‘Naqṣ’ has generally been translated as ‘defective’ keeping in view the Urdu meaning of the word. However, in Arabic, the verb ‘نَقَصَ’ (Naqaṣa) means ‘to reduce’ and the word ‘عقل’ (‘Aql) here means ‘worldly affairs’ since it has been used in conjugation with the word ‘دين’ (religion). Keeping in view, both these aspects, the correct translation of the above phrase, if the context is also taken into consideration, is that women have been given a relief and reduction in their worldly and religious affairs.

The relief in worldly responsibilities, as is mentioned in this Hadith, is that women have not been dragged in certain activities and spheres. For example, the Qur’an urges men to testify on legal documents so that women are relieved of appearing in courts and wasting their precious time on affairs which others can handle. Only if men are not available should a society involve women in such affairs.

The relief women have been given in religious affairs is that they are not required to pray or fast during their monthly periods as is mentioned in this Hadith.

So what must be kept in mind is the fact that the meaning of a word does not always remain the same in two different languages. For example, the word ‘غَلِيْظ’ in Arabic means ‘firm’ while in Urdu it means ‘dirty’. Thus the Qur’an (4:21) has referred to marriage as ‘مِيثَاقاً غَلِيْظَا’ (a firm agreement).

Moreover, people who think that women are less sensible than men on the basis of this Hadith do not realize that the Hadith is not merely saying that women are nāqiṣatu al-‘aql, it is also saying they are nāqiṣatu al-dīn. If nāqiṣatu al-‘aql means that there is some defect in their ‘aql (intellect), then by the same token, nāqiṣatu al-dīn should mean that there is also some shortcoming in the religion they follow! This of course is absurd and as referred to above is the result of keeping the Urdu meaning of the word in consideration.

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