<p>Salaam. What do you make of the hadith in which Nabi (S) says that women are deficient in religion (because of their periods) and in intelligence (because 2:1 witness ratio)? As a woman taught that all Muslims are equal in front of God, I have a hard time reconciling this teaching with Islam AND with our image of Rasulallah (S).</p>
Wa alykum as-salaam,
I’d like to begin my answer to this question, with an observation on the procedure in which people (both Muslim and non-Muslim) approach their understanding of Islam. They love bypassing The Qur’an and they go straight to the Hadith. This is something that honestly confuses me.
Yes, I understand that without the Hadith, we would not know how to pray, but, the injunction to prayer is within The Qur’an. What I have observed continuously, is that internet Muftis, and unfortunately, modern scholars as well, prefer to start with the Hadith, and then they take some Qur’anic injunction, misunderstand it and thus inappropriately apply it and twist it to fit their argument.
However, the issue that I have is from a historical stand-point, there is a major difference between the relative “strength” of The Qur’an and the Hadith. This is something that is seldom spoken of, but, you have to, on some level, create a procedure in which you evaluate which is stronger. Don’t freak out yet, the next part is critical.
The reason why we can question the Hadith, is because of the existence of various levels of strength for Hadith, which is an undeniable reality. The amount of weak and fabricated Hadith means that human beings, at some point, had to judge the relative strength or weakness of sayings and actions attributed to The Prophet. No such process exists for The Qur’an, there is no question over the fact that The Qur’an today is The Qur’an from The Prophet. This is verified by both Muslim academics and non-Muslim academics who view The Qur’an as a historical text. What we read today is what was revealed to The Prophet.
Thus, the reason why we cannot place The Qur’an and the Hadith on the exact same level of equality is because there will always be questions over the relative strength of Hadith. People quote Bukhari, Muslim, etc but there are many scholars, from all over the spectrum who simply prefer some Hadith over others, this process is called Istihsan, and is utilized constantly, whether consciously or not.
So, the reason why I say I trust The Qur’an more than Hadith, is because there is no process that requires me to evaluate whether what is in The Qur’an is true or not. So before even being able to understand (context, etc) a certain injunction, let alone apply it, the fact that you have to evaluate whether a Hadith is strong or not, in my mind, means that we should go to The Qur’an first, and then look to the Hadith as needed.
So, with this in mind, there are various arguments that you could use to evaluate the relative value of various Hadith. You can take this Hadith and say it was directed to a particular group of women, you can say that the Hadith is questionable, you can say that Muhammad is trying to motivate women to do better because there are times when they cannot pray, you can agree with it and talk about how women are horrible (have fun getting married), whatever.
Whatever you decide, the reality is that Hadith were collected by human beings. They (the collectors) were not divinely inspired, and I would argue that to associate them with anything other than respect due to relative strength and importance of their work, would be, in my personal opinion (alone), shirk. In this regard, I am, again personally very strict, I do not associate God’s direct grace with any body of work after The Qur’an. Do I find tremendous value in the writings of Abu Hanifa, Bukhari, or ibn Taymiyyah? Of course. But, I always think “they are just men, nothing more.”
Furthermore, of the collections of Hadith, only Ahmed ibn Hanbal of the Hanbali Madhab was a contemporary of Bukhari or Muslim. Abu Hanifa, Malik, and Shafi’i used a different system of Hadith, and it was Imam Malik that actually created the basis for a science of Hadith with his famous work al-Muwatta. So, the idea that you are required to use Bukhari or whatever, is wrong, and it was not used by the most noted Imams. Furthermore, I use al-Muwatta the most, and I have not found the Hadith you speak of there (maybe I haven’t found it yet?). I do use Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, etc; but my first-choice is, again, al-Muwatta.
Now, what I disagree with is the second part of your question, precisely that women’s testimony is always a 2:1 ratio. The reality is that this is categorically false. I will write about this, in an article, about Surah An-Nur as it relates to women’s equality under the law, but the simple point is that, by simply reading The Qur’an, there is clear and plain evidence that this (women always being less then men in testimony) is not the case.
That being said, in The Qur’an, there is an instance where a woman may be paired up with another. This is in Surah Bakarah: “And call upon two of your men to act as witnesses; and if two men are not available, then a man and two women from among such as are acceptable to you as witnesses, so that if one of them should make a mistake, the other could remind her.” [2:282]
So, first things first, we’re talking about financial transactions. So this is about contracts, and we’re dealing with multiple layers of issues. First, you’re dealing with a society that, as I have mentioned earlier, wasn’t exactly very progressive, (they kinda buried unwanted daughters, alive) so let’s keep that in mind. Second, you’re dealing with a fundamentally violent society, one in which murder was far more prevalent than today, and as noted before, violence against women was rampant (ergo mahram issue). Third, most women were (at the time) not exactly concerned or educated with financial transactions, so it (financial transactions) would be something that would not be their expertise. Unless you were an absolute baller queen bee, aka Khadijah.
However, what is most important to me, is that you have to understand the sort of pressure that would be on a woman at this time. If she’s being brought into court, to act as a witness against a dispute over money, between men, how comfortable do you think she’s going to be, at this time in history? This injunction is not a blanket statement about all testimony, and we have to be honest about the level of education, empowerment, and gender roles prevalent within the societies in history.
While the evidence for strong and educated women abound in Islamic History, whether we cite Khadijah or Fatima al-Fihri (founder of the oldest University on Earth) the reality is that education among populations, let alone with women, was very low. So, it is clear that women were not exactly going to be most welcome in these sorts of situations.
Therefore, we conclude that rather than viewing this Qur’anic verse as a direct injunction, we take the language of “if one of them should make a mistake, the other could remind her” as a right for women but not a necessary condition. The fact that the injunction for two women is qualified means that this is not a simple method of “gender arithmetic” rather this is describing a particular right and and reasoning for a particular set of women, facing overwhelming prejudice and pressure.
So the reason the woman gets to “bring a friend” is because she’s going to be facing tremendous fear of retribution from who she disagrees with, and while yes, anything that would happen to her would bring punishment to the potential criminal, that doesn’t make anyone feel safe, she’s still potentially maimed, injured, or even killed.
It could be perfectly conceivable that should there be a real Islamic Legal system in place, that such a court would rule that women would have the right to having their companion with them, and that if she waives that right for whatever reason, she can do so.
With all of this in mind, please don’t let a single possible issue sully the image of Prophet Muhammad. He was, indeed, a great man, regardless of whether one believes in his Message or not. He was also married to a woman who was older, more successful, and probably a better merchant than he (again, boss lady Khadijah); I mean, she proposed to him, it is clear that she was awesome.
So not only was he secure with himself, but he respected and was attracted to strength, intelligence, and confidence. The reality is that The Prophet had to face a fundamentally flawed society, and what he was instructed to do by God was for the betterment of women who did not have the same gifts of Khadijah, so that they could not only be relied upon (and thus enfranchised into society) but so that they could feel secure in participating in all aspects of society.
Thus, when someone takes legal injunctions from The Qur’an and attempts to spread that scope to other aspects of life, you should be skeptical, because legal procedures work very different than what is theoretically ideal. Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American Supreme Court Justice famously said: “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience… The law embodies the story of a nation’s development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics.” The history of Islamic Law echoes this sentiment in its structures and procedures.
Just because The Qur’an and Sunnah addresses and accounts for things that we find distasteful, doesn’t mean that it is celebrating or even supporting it. The problem is with ourselves as humans that we created the situations that necessitated those sorts of injunctions in order to create progress in the first place. I believe in The Qur’an today precisely because it addresses these issues and its perfection is obvious because it deals with man as he is, not as we hope him to be.
Insha Allah, I hope that I answered your question. While I realize that what I wrote today is particularly controversial, I hope that if you or anyone else has any questions that they please contact me for clarification. Perhaps I meant something very different to what you read, so I ask for civility and discussion, rather than anger and accusations. The only way we can progress as an Ummah is through the sharing of ideas and the pursuit of knowledge, together. Ameen.