What Does Islam Teach About Gender Bias?

08 March, 2022
Q As-amalamu `alaykum. There is an allegation against Shari`ah law that it is very unjust and gender-biased regarding the rape case. It is said that, according to classical fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence): if any female rape victim can't bring forth four male adult witnesses who saw the rape, then the accused can go free. Isn't it very much weird to demand four male witnesses to be brought forth because, it is inconceivable that four adult just males will see the rape happening, do nothing until the rape is complete. Moreover, the witness of female is also rejected in the case of hudud (prescribed punishments). Isn't it very much gender-biased? Please, enlighten on this issue.


Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. 

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

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In this fatwa:

1- It is not correct to depict Islamic Shari`ah as gender-biased. A reflection on Islam’s teachings and values makes it clear that Islam considers both women and women as equals.

2- Men and women in Islam enjoy equal rights and bear the same responsibilities.

3- Though Islam considers the different physical and even psychological natures of men and women, it secures fair and equal treatment for both genders.

Answering your question, Dr. Wael Shehab, PhD in Islamic Studies from Al-Azhar University and currently the Imam of the Downtown Toronto Masjid in Canada, states:

Islam considers men and women as equals, though not similar or identical. There is a great difference between equality, which is Islamically secured for women and men, and similarity.

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All people are equal, irrespective of their gender, culture, or race. However, people are not generally similar.

Men have a different nature than women. Therefore, Islam considers the different natures of both genders in a way that secures the well-being of both men and women.

For example, women are exempted from praying and fasting during their menses for health and other significant reasons. Women enjoy equal financial, social, and devotional rights as men.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

Verily, women are the twin halves of men”. (Abu Dawud)

Also, the Qur’an states,

O Mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you in the Sight of Allah is the believer who has Taqwa (piety and righteousness). Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (Al-Hujurat 49:13)

Therefore, it is not acceptable for anybody to claim that Islam differentiates between men and women on the basis of gender. Women and men are equally considered and respected in Islam.

As for the issue of rape, a victim of rape deserves the community’s help, care, and consideration. A rape victim is not to be punished; she should be kindly and honorably treated.

She is not required to bring four witnesses, men or women. It seems that you confuse the cases of adultery and rape. A criminal, who commits the crime of rape, is to be punished as long as he is proved guilty.

A judge could inflict a suitable legal punishment on the criminal even if there are no witnesses as long as the court gets proofs—such as DNA tests and other modern scientific evidences—that prove the crime.

Witnesses in many legal cases could be women. Islam has no problem with women witnesses. On the contrary, in some cases, Islam prefers women witnesses. For example, in cases that needs checking or looking at some parts of a woman’s body, women experts and witnesses are generally preferred.

Islam gives preference to experts and professionals in every field. So, in some cases, men witnesses may be preferred and vice versa. What matters, therefore, are the adequacy, authenticity, and assurance of testimonies for the wellbeing of people, women and men.

Almighty Allah knows best.

Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.