Are two female witnesses equal to one in Islam?


Farhan Iqbal, Missionary, Canada

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Gender equality is one issue that critics of Islam bring up quite often. In order to paint the narrative that Islam discriminates and oppresses women, many critics bring up the example of testimony, alleging that the testimony of a woman is considered half of that of a man. The verse that is presented by them is:

یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡۤا اِذَا تَدَایَنۡتُمۡ بِدَیۡنٍ اِلٰۤی اَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّی فَاکۡتُبُوۡہُ ؕ وَ لۡیَکۡتُبۡ بَّیۡنَکُمۡ کَاتِبٌۢ بِالۡعَدۡلِ ۪ وَ لَا یَاۡبَ کَاتِبٌ اَنۡ یَّکۡتُبَ کَمَا عَلَّمَہُ اللّٰہُ فَلۡیَکۡتُبۡ ۚ وَ لۡیُمۡلِلِ الَّذِیۡ عَلَیۡہِ الۡحَقُّ وَ لۡیَتَّقِ اللّٰہَ رَبَّہٗ وَ لَا یَبۡخَسۡ مِنۡہُ شَیۡئًا ؕ فَاِنۡ کَانَ الَّذِیۡ عَلَیۡہِ الۡحَقُّ سَفِیۡہًا اَوۡ ضَعِیۡفًا اَوۡ لَا یَسۡتَطِیۡعُ اَنۡ یُّمِلَّ ہُوَ فَلۡیُمۡلِلۡ وَلِیُّہٗ بِالۡعَدۡلِ ؕ وَ اسۡتَشۡہِدُوۡا شَہِیۡدَیۡنِ مِنۡ رِّجَالِکُمۡ ۚ فَاِنۡ لَّمۡ یَکُوۡنَا رَجُلَیۡنِ فَرَجُلٌ وَّ امۡرَاَتٰنِ مِمَّنۡ تَرۡضَوۡنَ مِنَ الشُّہَدَآءِ اَنۡ تَضِلَّ اِحۡدٰٮہُمَا فَتُذَکِّرَ اِحۡدٰٮہُمَا الۡاُخۡرٰی ؕ وَ لَا یَاۡبَ الشُّہَدَآءُ اِذَا مَا دُعُوۡا

“O ye who believe, when you take a loan, one from another, for a term, reduce the transaction to writing; and let a scribe record it in your presence faithfully. And no scribe should refuse to set it down in writing, because Allah has taught him, so he should write. And let him who undertakes the liability dictate; and he should fear Allah, his Lord, and not diminish anything therefrom. But if the person incurring the liability should be of defective intelligence, or a minor, or unable to dictate then let his guardian dictate faithfully. And procure two witnesses from among your men; and if two men be not available, then one man and two women, of such as you like as witnesses, so that if either of the two women should be in danger of forgetting, the other may refresh her memory. And the witnesses should not refuse to testify when they are called upon to do so.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch:2: V.283)

The bold portion of this verse above is often presented as “proof” to allege that, in Islam, the weight of two female witnesses is equated to the weight of a single male witness. What is further alleged is that this is due to Islam not considering women “wise enough” or “intelligent enough” to give proper testimony.

In this article, we shall focus primarily on the issue at hand, that is, witness testimony, and explore the issue comprehensively, without distracting ourselves with other verses or Ahadith which speak of gender differences.

First of all, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV, may Allah have mercy on him, has noted that these verses apply to financial matters only and do not at all mean that in all legal and other affairs, two women should be requested in case a male witness is not available. Secondly, he has listed the following important points which are necessary to fully understand their true import:

The verses do not at all require both women to testify

The role of the second woman is clearly specified and confined to be that of an assistant

If the second woman who is not testifying finds any part of the statement of the witness as indicative of the witness not having fully understood the spirit of the bargain, she may remind her and assist the witness in revising her understanding or refreshing her memory

It is entirely up to that woman who is testifying to agree or disagree with her assistant. Her testimony remains as a single independent testimony and in case she does not agree with her partner, she would have the last word. (Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues, p. 198)

One female witness equal to one male witness

The first point that Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh has brought up is that the verse does not imply anywhere that two female testimonies are equal in weight to one male testimony. The relevant portion of the verse only implies testimony from a single female witness, not two. It is only when she requires assistance and needs any help in recalling something that she can employ the help of her assistant. Evidently, the role of the assistant is to “refresh her memory” as the verse notes, not to provide testimony in her own right.

If a single female witness had not been considered enough, or had been deemed deficient in some way, it would have applied to several other scenarios and circumstances. For instance, in Chapter 4, verse 16 of the Holy Quran, when witnesses are mentioned, the language used is gender-neutral and there is no qualifier given in regard to maintaining a ratio of one male witness to two female witnesses. It implies that a single female testimony is indeed equal to a single male testimony. The same is the case in terms of receiving testimony of a wife against her husband regarding inappropriate behaviour, as discussed in Chapter 24, verses 7-9. Here, too, the weight of a single female witness (the wife) is considered sufficient and equal to a single male witness (the husband).

Moreover, giving testimony in religious matters is far more important than giving testimony in worldly matters. When it comes to religious matters, such as those found in Ahadith, we find that one of the most common narrators is Hazrat Aishara, the wife of the Holy Prophetsa. Many other women have also narrated traditions from Prophet Muhammadsa. In none of these cases has a Muslim ever suggested that the testimony of a woman is not acceptable unless corroborated or confirmed by another woman.

In fact, many companions and others from the early days of Islam often consulted Hazrat Aishara in matters of religious significance. If the testimony of a single woman was only half of that of a man, none of the narrations from single a woman would have ever been accepted. Yet, they are not just accepted, but also revered. It is important to understand the significance of this matter. The verse under discussion, chapter 2, verse 283, is in relation to financial matters only, pertaining to worldly wealth, and these are not as important as religious matters, where a person’s salvation and connection with God is at stake. However, in every case – and there are hundreds of them – a single woman’s testimony about what the Prophet Muhammadsa said or did, is accepted without question!

The prime witness and the assistant

Commenting on Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV’srh four-point summary of chapter 2, verse 283, one critic has attempted to raise some doubts. For instance, he alleges that the Holy Quran does not have any evidence for the differentiation made between the “prime witness” and the “assistant witness”. He also asks why there is a need for a female witness in the first place? Further making an attempt to make his case, he questions why the English translation of the verse under discussion use the words, “either of the two women”, without identifying which one of the two is the main witness and which one is the assistant.

The problem is that critics who make such allegations do not have a good grasp of Arabic. It should be noted that the Quranic language is what is called mubeen – eloquent, articulate and powerful. Multiple meanings can be driven from a single phrase, even a single word. Keeping this in mind, we turn to the questions raised by such critics, which are directed towards the following phrase of the Holy Quran:

اَنۡ تَضِلَّ اِحۡدٰٮہُمَا فَتُذَکِّرَ اِحۡدٰٮہُمَا الۡاُخۡرٰی

The words translated as “either of the two women” are “ihdaa humaa” and they appear twice in the above phrase. A literal translation of ihdaa humaa is “one of the two women”. Consequently, a literal translation of the entire phrase above would be:

“If one of the two women should be in danger of forgetting, one of the two women may refresh the memory of the other woman.”

To make it easier and lucid for modern English readers, the translation writes out the full sentence as follows:

“If either of the two women should be in danger of forgetting, the other may refresh her memory.”

However, regardless of the above adjustment for easier reading, the phrase “ihdaa humaa” literally means “one of the two women” and has been used in other parts of the Quran such as the following verse:

فَجَآءَتۡہُ اِحۡدٰٮہُمَا تَمۡشِیۡ عَلَی اسۡتِحۡیَآءٍ ۫ قَالَتۡ اِنَّ اَبِیۡ یَدۡعُوۡکَ لِیَجۡزِیَکَ اَجۡرَ مَا سَقَیۡتَ لَنَا

“And one of the two women came to him, walking bashfully. She said, ‘My father calls thee that he may reward thee for thy having watered our flocks for us.’ So when he came to him and told him the story, he said, ‘Fear not; thou hast escaped from the unjust people.’”(Surah al-Qasas, Ch.28: V.26]

Here, the translation does not require the adjustment to “either” and is written out as follows:

And one of the two women came to him, walking bashfully. She said, ‘My father calls thee that he may reward thee for thy having watered our flocks for us.’”

The word ihdaa comes from the root letters A-H-D (a-ha-da), meaning “one”. Hence, the literal translation of ihdaa is “one” and an implied interpretation is “either”. This does not mean that the translation, “either of the two women”, is wrong. It simply means that what Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh has concluded from the actual Arabic wording of this verse is perfectly valid and an accurate understanding and interpretation of this verse. In fact, it is closer to the literal meaning of the phrase ihdaa humaa.

What he has essentially argued is that the Quran does not directly say that either one of the two women can remind the other. The Quran instead says that one of the two women may remind the other. This may seem trivial in the English language, but it is an extremely important difference clearly seen in the original Arabic wording. Without having some rudimentary knowledge of Arabic, a person cannot truly appreciate this subtle difference.  

As far as the issue of identifying the prime witness and her assistant is concerned, the Quran has indicated this arrangement by adding the word “Al-Ukhraa” at the end of the phrase. The word “Al-Ukhraa” means, “the latter, ultimate, last, other” (Lane’s Lexicon).

Hence, the prime witness is pointed out in the phrase ihdaa humaa (mentioned at the beginning), and the assistant is qualified by using the phrase ihdaa humal-ukhraa (i.e., one of the two women who is the other/latter/last).

In fact, the wording of the full phrase even provides a chronology that further elaborates this issue. Dividing the verse into four portions, it goes as follows:

An-Tadhilla – if she forgets

Ihdaa humaa – one of the two women(Let’s call her Aisha)

Fa-tuzakkira – she may remind

Ihdaa humal-ukhraa – the other one among the two(Let’s call her Maryam)

In essence, the phrase is saying: “If Aisha forgets, Maryam may remind her.” This is something that a literal, plain reading of the Arabic verse of the Holy Quran easily reveals. Here, Aisha is the prime witness and Maryam is the assistant.

Why the need for an assistant in the first place?

Why has the Quran felt the need to have two female witnesses – one prime and one assistant – in financial transactions? Are women deficient in some way in regard to business? Are they considered less efficient in remembering numbers?

All these questions seem fair but draw from a lack of understanding of what the Quran is teaching at a broader level. It should be noted that there indeed do exist differences in the genders in terms of how they remember things. As a result, the premise of the Quran is indeed correct. Men and women remember things differently. While men have the upper hand in keeping certain types of memory, women have the upper hand in other types of memory.

Those who have researched this subject argue that in general terms, neither gender is superior in memory. However, subtle differences appear in the way things are remembered by men and women.

One researcher, Elizabeth Loftus, makes the following observation:

“The results were clear-cut. Males were more accurate and less suggestible about the male-oriented items while females were more accurate and less suggestible about the female-oriented items. This finding provided clear support for the hypothesis that females and males tend to be accurate on different types of items, perhaps indicating their differential interest in particular items and corresponding differential amounts of attention paid to those items.” (Who Remembers What? Gender Differences in Memory. Michigan Quarterly Review, 26, pp. 64-85)

It is quite remarkable that the premise the Quran uses for providing an assistant to the female witness is pointing to a memory difference between the genders, something that is only being researched and proven 1400 years after the revelation of the Quran. However subtle the differences, there is no denying that they do exist.

This brings us to the broader question of acknowledging gender differences which Islam speaks about. Islam teaches gender equality in the best sense, acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of both genders, and not turning a blind eye to them.

All this does not mean that Islam teaches that women are deficient in their memories of certain items such as those related to financial matters. It only means that Islam creates a social climate which intends to empower and favour women.

Empowerment of women

By ensuring that a female prime witness has an assistant, Islam has empowered women and taught them to work together in the face of patriarchy. There is no denying the fact that patriarchy has always existed and many argue that even in the free societies of the West today, it continues to persist. In light of this fact of life, Islam has dismissed any notion that women should be deprived of being part of the process of witnessing financial transactions. At the same time, it has recognised that patriarchy may come in the way and discourage women from being part of such proceedings. As a result, women are told to go as a pair and not feel any intimidation in such proceedings. This however remains as an option for the prime witness, who, as pointed out earlier, may not choose to accept any help from the assistant witness.

Islamic social climate

Secondly, it must be noted that Islam is a religion where men and women do not interact in a free manner as is done in some cultures. Islam safeguards women and men from promiscuity and other evils by ensuring that there is some distance between the two in social gatherings.

All of this points to an Islamic social climate as an ideal for Muslim men and women to seek. As such, if a financial transaction is taking place where several men are involved, a single female witness may feel uncomfortable in such an environment, given the social climate that Islam seeks. Hence, she is empowered through the presence of the second assistant witness. It is essentially a supportive system which Islam seeks to establish not to oppress but to empower women. Due to the revelations brought about by the #MeToo movement in recent years, we are no strangers to the fact that women are sometimes exploited in certain situations, and feel more comfortable, relaxed, and empowered when they are in the company of other women. 

We must also acknowledge that the Quran was revealed initially to an Arab society where women were treated very badly and had no rights at all. It was necessary then to consider the circumstances of such women and to create the means for what Khalil calls “breaking down barriers for women in Islamic society”. A new civilisation was being born with the coming of Islam where women were going to enjoy equal status with men. This change was going to take great courage and efforts to challenge the norms.


In conclusion, it is completely wrong to assume that Islam considers the testimony of a woman as half of that of a man. The one verse where this teaching is supposed to have come from does not imply this at all. It only speaks of a prime witness and her assistant, who may help her with some details if the prime witness deems it necessary. Such a teaching is there in Islam to help empower women as part of an Islamic social climate.

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  1. Great write, and I hope people read it all the way through to see the merit in the argument.

    One question arises in the end: in this specific Shariah matter, do you reckon that a man may bring another man to support their memory in case they forget? Here, Allah specifies it to women, so I wonder if that right is not given to men here.


    • Towards the end of the article, she mentioned the study on the memory of the 2 different genders —->
      One researcher, Elizabeth Loftus, makes the following observation:

      “The results were clear-cut. Males were more accurate and less suggestible about the male-oriented items while females were more accurate and less suggestible about the female-oriented items. This finding provided clear support for the hypothesis that females and males tend to be accurate on different types of items, perhaps indicating their differential interest in particular items and corresponding differential amounts of attention paid to those items.” (Who Remembers What? Gender Differences in Memory. Michigan Quarterly Review, 26, pp. 64-85)

      • To add on, this implies that men are more adept in remembering somethings while women are in another hence the reason for an assistant for the woman in the legal matter.

  2. That’s kind of interesting because in almost every relationship, I think couples would agree that the WOMEN remembers everything and the MEN TENDS TO FORGET most of the things…. so if anyone has a better memory, I think we can generally agree that it’s women. Men are the ones who need the assistant.

    • That’s why two men are asked for in the first place though. To better ensure that the testimony is accurate.

      As the verse clearly states, “if two men be not available”, then the women are required. (So if two men were available, two of them would be required. So that their testimony is more accurate.) Thus if two men are not available, then one man and the woman, and another woman to remind her.

  3. We can all agree that a woman’s testimony is equal to that of a man’s but you cannot say this verse empowers women in any such way. I mean no disrespect when I say this.

    1) Nowhere does it say having 2 women is optional and not a requirement, that’s just an interpretation based on modern day society. Let me know if I am mistaken and it does say so.

    2) You can find studies anywhere that show women have a superior memory than men and are less susceptible to memory loss. The study mentioned here is not really appropriate for the argument. It may as well say men are better at remembering the male anatomy and women are better the female anatomy. If you say it does apply here, you are essentially saying that financial matters are strictly a male issue which is why women require assistance, in itself a patriarchal idea.

    3) You are confusing empowering women with patronising them. Suggesting that women would feel more comfortable with other women while men stand in the matter alone views them as weak, not strong nor empowered.

    4) You mention in the society at the time, women had few rights. Correct me if I am wrong but isn’t this the word of Allah? Why should it be a ‘sign of the times’? Would you agree that this part at least is outdated?

    This interpretation is a list of delusions. Take the verse at face value; it suggests principally that two men serve as witnesses and, if only one is available, two women will do as his replacement. That’s all it says. Would you agree that the verse would be better if it just said from the start, two people – no mention of gender – must be present, as in the religious matters you mention? We must recognise the flaws in religion that come as a result of society at the time in order to be better people today. You already do, that is why you view men and women as equal.. But you insist on manipulating what is said in the verse because you cannot bring yourself to say that any part of Islam isn’t perfect.

    • Replier: “I mean no disrespect”
      Also Replier: “The whole argument is a list of delusions, you are manipulating the verse, and are in denial about Islam.”

    • Exactly, your comment summarises me quite well. This guy went on to say that those are assistants. And then he says, those are only for financial matters and later goes on to say its just their assistant. On the face value, the verse just says, while financial witnesses if among two men one man is not available, two women does his replacement.
      Also rather than reading his notes, we should better read what has tafsirs like ibn Kathir, ibn Abbas and Jalalayn got to say about this. Its just pure hypocritical to say, “Islam empowers women while there are Sahih hadiths where the Prophet(pbuh) says that the mind of a woman is deficient considered to man”

    • You’re thinking about it from your free mixing western life style point of view..

      This is religion a pure way to live so the women interact with each other not some random men…

      And women can forget how does that mean they are inferior? It’s human to be forgetful or make a mistake… But of course if you have an ego issue you will look at things in the wrong manner… The problem isn’t the verse the problem is in the disbelievers chests… And the Ahmadi community should stop Believing in someone who claimed to be a prophet after the seal of Prophethood Muhammad peace be upon him..

  4. Let’s say that women and men remember things differently but this has to do more with individual perception rather than their gender. The likelihood of one man remembering things differently from another man is the same as it being remembered differently by a woman. They don’t remember things differently because they’re of different genders but rather because we are all different people and have our own way of observing the world. So, why shouldn’t men have an assistant as well?

    • Men are the ones translating and men are the one’s whom dominate Islam. They have conducted the hadith and the shariah law. No surprises why men don’t suggest 2 men witnesses as wel. Very biased.

  5. Women have a natural microchip that can record conversations, to all past events including all of their partners follies. It’s so accurate, that’s why on the day of judgement Allah will ask the wife to testify against/for the husband, as the primary witness in his court.

    But in financial matters the slight advantage, is towards the males. Look up generally most maths related courses, mostly it’s not an equal split. I had a friend studying a physic degree at prestigious university not that long ago, there were 2 girls in the entire class!.

  6. This really doesn’t clear any myths at all. You have just made it all even more complicated for anyone to comprehend the facts stated. Its all about men dominance and is always narrated and taught by men. Makes no sense what so ever. Undermining the understanding and intelligence of women.

  7. The reason is that in nature whenever two things come together to make an operation then the mixing ratio is 2:1. Hydrogen and Oxygen in water. Ocean and Land on Earth. Forearm and upper arm in hand. Similarly man and woman are pair at 2:1 in everything. Just proves islam is correct.

  8. That is all nice and honky dory, but in the end it boils down to it that there is no suggestion made for a man to have an assistant, while it’s made for women as if they are half wits when it comes to matters of finances. Yet the prophet himself had a very business savvy wife in Khadija. Nice try to explain the reasoning away, though.

  9. Secondly, it must be noted that Islam is a religion where men and women do not interact in a free manner as is done in some cultures. Islam safeguards women and men from promiscuity and other evils by ensuring that there is some distance between the two in social gatherings.

    This is a more important point, that many Muslims and others miss. In this setting, where it’s possible that the men and women are not related, they are not to be alone, together . The fact that 2 men are required in the absence of women, should make it plain that in business, one witness is insufficient, be they male or female. 2 men are needed so the need for accuracy in what takes place. The 2 women are there as more like a chaperone so that incidents like the one that caused Aisha to be slandered, are avoided. In most cases, the woman is slandered as in the wrong, not the man.

  10. A good read. But I’d like to mention that the verse number is quoted wrongly. It’s verse 282 of chapter 2 while you have mistakenly written 283.

  11. In Fiqh-e-Ahmadiyya on the topic of witnesses required for nikah ceremony, (page 43) , it specifically states two men are to be witnesses, but if only one man is available, two women are required as witnesses. Can someone explain this?

  12. Hi, I’m a cognitive neuropsychologist and the text that you cited is incorrect as it has been disputed ages ago, over and over again. We don’t even talk about gender differences in cognition anymore because it is considered ridiculous at this point.


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