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Status of Women
U.S. Muslim Women
Women & Islam
Hijab
Polygamy in Islam
More than 4 wives
Wife Beating?
Female Circumcision
Two Women Witnesses

 

 

Does Islam require two women witnesses as a substitute for one man witness ?

(This is our modified version of an article that appears on www.ImanWay1.com)

 

The opponents of Islam bring up the following verse to attack Islam: {And get two witnesses of your own men, and if there are not two men then a man and two women such as you choose for witnesses -  so that if one of them errs, the other one can remind her...}  [Chapter al-Baqarah, Verse 182]

The issue of two women witnesses in place of one man is the topic of this article. As will become clear to the sincere and objective reader, the intellectual status of a Muslim woman is neither marred nor degraded by the commandment that if two Muslim male witnesses are not available, then one Muslim male and two Muslim females should be invited to witness. Rather, this injunction is in perfect harmony with the nature and psychology of the woman as will become evident in this article through quotations from psychologists, psychiatrists and medical research.

The passage of the Quran in Chapter al-Baqarah in which Verse 282 appears has usury, capital and debtor difficulties as its theme. Allah grants guidelines in matters relating to monetary obligations so that business transactions are dealt with accordingly. In this section, the requirement to commit all transactions into writing is stated most emphatically: {Reduce them to writing...}. The section after this describes the responsibility of the scribe, or in modern World, the person responsible for drawing up the agreement, such as notary public. The following section describes the responsibility and the obligation of the person incurring the liability.

The section after this explains how if the party that is liable cannot effectively draw up the contract - out of being deficient or weak mentally, or being unable to dictate - then his or her guardian should help draw out the contract and choose two suitable witnesses to observe. It must be understood that this situation arises if it is not possible for the liable party to draw out the contract by him/herself.

The condition to put things into writing is still supreme. The next section explains that two men should be called to witness and if two men are not available: {And if there are not two men...}, then a man and two women. This divine legislation then continues and reminds most emphatically that one should not be complacent about putting ALL agreements into writing - no matter whether these agreements are major or minor, as this is more JUST in the sight of Allah and more reliable as evidence.

The passage of the Qur’an further explains that for practical reasons it may not always be possible to commit on-the-spot agreements into writing. In this case, it is also recommended that it be witnessed. The section which follows, then lays down the guidelines which should be followed in the event that no witnesses are present. The purpose in giving the above outline is to draw attention to the fact that the question of women witnesses relates, in the verse in question, to commercial agreements and is not a statement about women’s status.

A number of questions (as well as eyebrows!) are raised when this section of the passage is read. The questions often posed include:

* Do women have weaker memories than men?

* Why should two women be needed in the place of one man?

* Are women inferior to men?

In our age distinguished for its scientific advancement, we can explore the significance of this divine legislation that appears in the Quranic verse in question. A great deal has been discovered since the early days of Islam. And each day of advancement brings about a better understanding of the Quran.

As women, we are aware of the cyclical psychological strains that a woman has to encounter every month. The symptoms during early pregnancy, ante-natal and post-natal depressions, the phenomenon of menopause, the physiological and psychological problems due to infertility, and last but not least, the psychological problems faced after miscarriage.

It is under such situations that women can experience extraordinary psychological strains giving rise to depression, lack of concentration, slow-mindedness and temporary, short-term memory loss. Let us examine these episodes in a bit more detail and with medical references from the scientific world.

PMT is an umbrella term for more than 140 different symptoms and there is a lot of evidence that it causes unhappiness to many women, and consequently, to their families. Psychiatry in Practice, in April 1983 issue, states: "Forty percent of women suffer from pre-menstrual syndrome in some form and …women have their lives severely disrupted by it. Dr. Jill Williams, general practitioner from Bury, gives guidelines on how to recognise patients at risk and suggests a suitable treatment."[1]

In the same issue of Psychiatry in Practice, George Beaumont (reporting on the workshop held at the Royal College of Obstreticians and Gynaecologists in London on pre-menstrual syndrome) says: "Some authorities would argue that 80 percent of women have some degree of breast and abdominal discomfort which is pre-menstrual but that only about 10 percent complain to their doctors - and then only because of severe tenderness of the breasts and mental depression...Other  authorities have suggested that pre-menstrual syndrome is a new problem, regular ovulation for 20 years or more being a phenomenon caused by 'civilisation', 'medical progress', and an altered concept of the role of women."[2]

 In its examination of the occurrence of physical and psychological change during the period just prior to the onset of menstruation, we read in Psychological Medicine: "Many studies have reported an increased likelihood of various negative affects during the pre-menstrual period. In this affective category are many emotional designations including irritability, depression, tension, anxiety, sadness, insecurity, lethargy, loneliness, tearfulness, fatigue, restlessness and changes of mood. In the majority of studies, investigators have found it difficult to distinguish between various negative effects, and only a few have allowed themselves to be excessively concerned with the differences which might or might not exist between affective symptoms."[3]

In the same article in Psychological Medicine, dealing with Pre-menstrual Behavioural Changes, we read: "A significant relationship between the pre-menstrual phase of the cycle and a variety of specific and defined forms of behaviour has been reported in a number of studies. For the purpose of their review, these forms of behaviour have been grouped under the headings of aggressive behaviour, illness behaviour and accidents, performance on examination and other tests and sporting performance."[4]

In 'The Pre-Menstrual Syndrome', C. Shreeves writes: "Reduced powers of concentration and memory are familiar aspects of the pre-menstrual syndrome and can only be remedied by treating the underlying complaint."

This does not mean, of course, that women are mentally deficient absolutely. It just means that their mental faculties can become affected at certain times in the biological cycle. Shreeves also says: "As many as 80 percent of women are aware of some degree of pre-menstrual changes, 40 percent are substantially disturbed by them, and between 10 and 20 percent are seriously disabled as a result of the syndrome."

Furthermore, women face the problem of ante-natal and post-natal depression, both of which cause extreme cycles of depression in some cases. Again, these recurring symptoms naturally affect the mind, giving rise to drowsiness and dopey memory.

On the subject of pregnancy, in Psychiatry in Practice, October-November 1986, we learn that: "In an experiment, Cox found that 16 percent of a sample of 263 pregnant women were suffering from clinically significant psychiatric problems. Eight percent had a depressive neurosis and 1.9 percent had phobic neurosis. This study showed that the proportion of pregnant women with psychiatric problems was greater than that found in the control group, but the difference only tended towards significance."[5]

Regarding the symptoms during the post-natal cycle, Dr. Ruth Sagovsky writes: "The third category of puerperal psychiatric problems is post-natal depression. It is generally agreed that between 10 to 15 percent of women become clinically depressed after childbirth. These mothers experience a variety of symptoms, but anxiety, especially over the baby, irritability, and excessive fatigue are common.  Appetite is usually decreased and often there are considerable sleep difficulties. The mothers lose interest in the things they enjoyed prior to the baby's birth, and find that their concentration is impaired. They often feel irrational guilt, and blame themselves for being 'bad' wives and mothers. Fifty percent of these women are not identified as having a depressive illness. Unfortunately, many of them do not understand what ails them and blame their husbands, their babies or themselves until the relationships are strained to an alarming degree."[6]

 "... Making the diagnosis of post-natal depression is not always easy. Quite often the depression is beginning to become a serious problem around three months postpartum when frequent contact with the health visitor is diminishing. The mother may not present with depressed mood. If she comes to the health centre presenting the baby as the patient, the true nature of the problem can be missed. When the mother is continually anxious about the baby in spite of reassurance, then the primary health care worker needs to be aware of the possibility of depression. Sometimes these mothers present with marital difficulties, and it is easy to muddle cause and effect, viewing the accompanying low mood as part of the marital problem. Sometimes, only when the husband is seen as well does it become obvious that it is a post-natal depressive illness which has led to the deterioration in the marriage."[7]

Again there is a need to study the effects of the menopause about which very little is known even to this day. This phase in a woman's life can start at any time from the mid-thirties to the mid-fifties and can last for as long as 15 years.

Writing about the pre-menopausal years, C.B. Ballinger states: "Several of the community surveys indicate a small but significant increase in psychiatric symptoms in women during the five years prior to the cessation of menstrual periods... The most obvious clinical feature of this transitional phase of menstrual function is the alteration in menstrual pattern, the menstrual cycle becoming shorter with age, and variability in cycle length become very prominent just prior to the cessation of menstruation. Menorrhagia is a common complaint at this time, and is associated with higher than normal levels of psychiatric disturbance."[8]

On the phenomenon of menopause, in an article in Newsweek International, May 25th 1992, Dr. Jennifer al-Knopf, Director of the Sex and Marital Therapy Program at Northwestern University in Chicago writes: "...Women never know what their body is doing to do to them...”  The unpredictability is one of the most troubling aspects.  Women report debilitating symptoms from hot flashes to night sweat, sleeplessness, irritability, mood swings, short term memory loss, migraine, headaches, urinary inconsistence and weight gain. Most of these problems can be traced to the drop in the female’s oestrogen and progesterone hormones, both of which govern the ovarian cycle. Every woman starts with a different level of hormones and loses them at different rates.

There are psychological consequences to infertility and miscarriage. On the subject of infertility, Dr. Ruth Sagovsky writes: "Depression, anger and guilt are common reactions to bereavement. In infertility there is the added pain of there being nobody to grieve for. Families and friends may contribute to the feeling of isolation by passing insensitive comments. The gynaecologist and GPs have to try to help these couples against a backdrop of considerable distress."[9]

On the subject of miscarriage, the above article continues: "Miscarriage is rarely mentioned when considering abortion. However, miscarriage can at times have profound psychological sequelae and it is important that those women affected receive the support they need. Approximately one-fifth of all pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion and the effects are poorly recognised. If however, the miscarriage occurs in the context of infertility, the emotional reaction may be severe. The level of grief will depend on the meaning of pregnancy to the couple."[10]

The fact that women are known to be more sensitive and emotional than men must not be overlooked. It is well known, for example, that under identical circumstances, women suffer much greater anxiety than men. Numerous medical references on this aspect of female behaviour can be given, but to quote as a specimen, we read in 'Sex Differences in Mental Health' that: “Surveys have found different correlates of anxiety and neuroticism in the two sexes. Women and men do not become equally upset by the same things, and being upset does not have the same effect in men as in women. ”

Researchers, Ekehammer, Magnusson and Ricklander in 1974, using data from 116 sixteen-year-olds, conducted a factor analysis on self-reported anxiety. Of the eighteen different responses indicating anxiety (sweating palms, faster heart rate, and so on) females reported experiencing twelve of them significantly more often than males. Of the anxiety-producing situations studied, females reported experiencing significantly more anxiety than males reported in fourteen of them.[11]

 It is in light of the above findings of psychologists, psychiatrists and researchers, we can conclude that what God says in the Quran regarding the need for 2 women to act as witnesses is reasonable: {And get two witnesses of your own men, and if there are not two men then a man and two women such as you choose for witnesses - SO THAT IF ONE OF THEM ERRS, THE OTHER CAN REMIND HER...}  [Chapter al-Baqarah, Verse 182]

One must also bear in mind that forgetfulness can be an asset. A woman has to be put up with children presenting all kinds of emotional problems and a woman is certainly known to be more resilient than man.

Our aim in presenting these research findings on a number of aspects related with the theme is to indicate that a woman by her biological and psychological constitution faces such problems. This does not however make a woman inferior to a man from an Islamic perspective, but it does illustrate that she is different. Viewed in this way, it can only lead us to the conclusion that Allah knows His creation best and has prescribed precise laws in keeping with the nature of humankind. Allah, the Creator is All-Knowing.

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w.s.) was neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist. Rather, he merely transmitted to us the Word of God, the Quran, literally and exactly as it was revealed to him.

It is in the context of this quotation and the one before it that the following saying of the Prophet Muhammad (sal-Allaahu `alayhe wa sallam) can be understood: {Treat your women kindly. The woman has been created from a rib, and the most curved part of a rib is its upper region. If you try to straighten it, you will break it, and if you leave it as it is, it will remain curved. So treat women kindly}.

And in alternative reported narration of the same saying, Prophet Mohammad (s.a.a.w.s.) says: {If you try to straighten her, you will break her and breaking her means divorce}. [Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

This saying of Prophet Mohammad (s.a.a.w.s.) is a very important advice for men – that men should be patient in dealing with women (i.e. their wives, sisters, mothers, etc.)  and  that they should not to try to 'reform' the behavioural patterns of women during the difficult periods women pass through i.e. ' attempts to straighten her out'. Men are not likely to be successful in their attempts as the behavioural patterns of women have a biological origin. According to Prophet Mohammad’s saying mentioned above, men will risk ruining their relationships with the women. Instead, Prophet Mohammad instructs men to maintain and protect his relationships with women by treating them with kindness.

 

Footnotes

[1] Psychiatry in Practice, April 1993, p.14.

[2] Psychiatry in Practice, April 1993, p.18.

[3] Psychological Medicine, Monograph Supplement 4, 1983, Cambridge University Press, p.6.

[4] Psychological Medicine, Monograph Supplement 4, 1983, Cambridge University Press, p.7.

[5] Psychiatry in Practice, October-November, 1986, p.6.

[6] Psychiatry in Practice, May, 1987, p.18.

[7] Psychiatry in Practice, May, 1987, p.18.

[8] Psychiatry in Practice, November, 1987, p.26.

[9] Psychiatry in Practice, Winter, 1989, p.16.

[10] Psychiatry in Practice, Winter, 1989, p.17.

[11] Katherine Blick Hoyenga and Kermit T. Hoyenga in 'Sex Differences in Mental Health', p.336.

 

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