Great uproar was provoked when Dr. Zaynab Radwān, the deputy speaker of the Egyptian People’s Assembly announced that “the testimony of a woman is legally equal in weight to a man’s testimony.”
The statement takes dead aim at an established interpretation of Islamic law which holds that a man’s testimony in most judicial cases caries twice as much weight as the testimony of a woman. This interpretation has been based on a controversial Qur’ānic verse dealing with transactional obligations between parties, which reads: “And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not (at hand) then a man and two women, of such as ye approve as witnesses, so that if the one erreth (through forgetfulness) the other will remember” [2: 282, The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’ān by Marmaduke Pickthall, http://www.geocities.com/askress2009/quran/pickthall/surah2.html].
Radwān explained that the Qur’ānic verses on the issue of the testimony of women were related to specific and limited historical occurrences and the changes in today’s situation have led to changes in that ruling. Radwān considers dealing with women’s testimony as equal to that of a man’s to be part of citizenship rights.
In his comment on the issue, Dr. ‘Abd al-Mu‘tī Bayyūmī stated in al-Musawwar of March 21, 2008 that “justice and chivalry” rather than gender are conditions of a valid testimony. Dr. Bayyūmī stated that the rule that a man’s testimony is equal to two women’s was a product of a given time period and context. He further called on the faqīhs of nowadays to try harder to adjust the legislative rules in Islam which are the products of their own time and context.
Dr. Bayyūmī stressed the fact that men and women are equal, citing the Qur’ānic verse reading: “O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women.” [4: 1, The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’ān by Muhammad Marmadule Picktall, http://www.geocities.com/askress2009/quran/pickthall/surah4.html].
Dr. Mahmūd Hamdi Zaqzūq, the Egyptian minister of endowments agreed with Dr. Radwān on the equity of man and woman in Islam concerning testimony. Dr. Zaqzūq stated that a woman’s testimony is equal to that of a man in all issues except financial ones, according to verse 282 of al-Baqarah reading: “O ye who believe! When ye contract a debt for a fixed term, record it in writing. Let a scribe record it in writing between you in (terms of) equity. No scribe should refuse to write as Allah hath taught him, so let him write, and let him who incurreth the debt dictate, and let him observe his duty to Allah his Lord, and diminish naught thereof. But if he who oweth the debt is of low understanding, or weak, or unable himself to dictate, then let the guardian of his interests dictate in (terms of) equity. And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not (at hand) then a man and two women, of such as ye approve as witnesses, so that if the one erreth (through forgetfulness) the other will remember. And the witnesses must not refuse when they are summoned. Be not averse to writing down (the contract) whether it be small or great, with (record of) the term thereof. That is more equitable in the sight of Allah and more sure for testimony, and the best way of avoiding doubt between you; save only in the case when it is actual merchandise which ye transfer among yourselves from hand to hand. In that case it is no sin for you if ye write it not. And have witnesses when ye sell one to another, and let no harm be done to scribe or witness. If ye do (harm to them) lo! it is a sin in you. Observe your duty to Allah. Allah is teaching you. And Allah is Knower of all things.” [2: 282, The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’ān by Marmaduke Pickthall, http://www.geocities.com/askress2009/quran/pickthall/surah2.html].
Islamic thinker, Dr. Muhammad ‘Imārah also agreed that the current rule that a woman’s testimony is of half the value of that of a man only applies in financial issues related to debts, however, Muslim faqīhs had made it refer to all other issues.
Conversely, a considerable number of Muslim scholars rejected Dr. Radwān’s argument. Figures such as; Dr. Muhammad Ra’fat ‘Uthmān, lecturer of comparative fiqh at the Faculty of Sharīc ah and Law at the Azhar university and member at the Academy for Islamic Research who refuted Dr. Radwān’s argument and Dr. Ahmad Tahah Rayyān, lecturer of comparative fiqh at the Azhar University, Dr. ‘Abd al-Fattāh al-Shaykh, lecturer of fiqh and member of the Academy of Islamic Research who refused to refer to the context of the Qur’ānic text, arguing that this means abolishing the Qur’ān and creating new rules.
However, Dr. Radwān discussed another subject that created no less uproar than that created by her arguments on women’s testimony. She discussed non-Muslim women’s inheritance under Islamic legislations.
Dr. Radwān called for giving a non-Muslim widow of a Muslim husband the right to inherit from him. Islam allows Muslim men to marry women who belong to one of the heavenly religions; namely Christianity and Judaism. However, in Islam these wives do not have the right to inherit anything from their Muslim husbands.
Muhammad al-Bāz of al-Fajr of March 24, 2008 supported Dr. Radwān’s argument, refuting the current rule of inheritance in Islam. Al-Bāz wrote that Islam rules that believers should not marry unbelievers. However, Islam permits a Muslim man to marry a Christian or Jewish woman, but would not allow a Muslim woman to marry a Christian or Jewish man.
This rule does not depend on a Qur’ānic text, but rather on an ijtihād of faqīhs who estimated that a non-Muslim should not have authority on a Muslim. Since man has the authority on woman in marriage, so a non-Muslim man should not have authority over a Muslim woman. When a Muslim man marries a Christian woman, he can still be in the superior position and have authority over her.
Moreover, the Qur’ān permits marriage between Muslims and members of the heavenly religions because, as the author of ’Fiqh al-Sunnah’ [the Jurisprudence of Sunnah] states it is good for Muslims to mix with Ahl al-Kitāb because these are people who believe in God and fear God. Moreover, mixing with these people through marriage enables Muslims to advocate their religions and spread their Islamic values.
However, Muhammad al-Bāz argues that since Ahl al-kitāb are respected in marriage, this applies to all of them and not only women. Islam only prohibits Muslims’ marriage to unbelievers.
Al-Liwā’ al-Islāmī of March 20, 2008 published some Muslim scholars’ points of view on this matter. Dr. Musbāh Hammād, the former deputy of the Faculty of Sharī‘ah and Law and the Azhar University stated that it is proved in hadīths and faqīhs’ agreement that a non-Muslim partner does not have the right to inherit anything from a Muslim.
Dr. Mukhtār al-Mahdī considered Dr. Radwān’s statements in this response to be mistaken and believes that the rule of inheritance in Islam does not permit any ijtihād or change.
Dr. Maryam Dāghistānī stated that according to clear texts from the Sunnah a woman of Ahl al-kitāb does not have the right to inherit.