The Integrity of the Witness

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | Quranic Wisdom | Al Risala, September 1988

The Quran tells us that on the Day of Judgement the only people who will be called as witnesses will be those who speak the truth, and who are fully in possession of all the facts:

Those whom they invoke besides God have no power of intercession, only those who bear witness to the truth and they know. (43:86)

In worldly matters, the requirements for giving testimony are equally exacting. Prophet Mohammad made this clear to a potential witness in a case which had been brought before him when he said: “If you saw what happened as clear as daylight, then give evidence; if not, you had best not be a witness.” (Shu’abul Iman by Al-Baihaqi, Hadith No. 10469)

It is on the basis of the Prophet’s dictum that Muslim jurists have made factual knowledge a basic condition of eligibility as a witness. Unless an individual has first-hand knowledge of the case in hand, he should not appear as a witness. If he does, his testimony will carry no weight in the eyes of the Islamic Shariah.

In stressing this point, the Islamic Shariah encourages the greatest integrity in human affairs. It lays down a principle which is a guiding light to an individual in his social dealings in that it clarifies when he should come forward and speak up, and when he should remain in the background and hold his peace.

If one’s knowledge of the matter in hand is, in fact, based on direct, personal experience, one can, with a good conscience, speak up; if not, one should remain silent.

Sometimes an individual merely has the impression of being fully informed, and it is only after further investigation, or deeper reflection, that the gaps in his knowledge come to light. Before bearing witness, he should feel absolutely certain that what he has to offer as testimony is actual fact and not just an opinion; that it is verifiable data and not just hearsay. If someone neglects to put himself through these mental processes before appearing as a witness, he is likely to do incalculable damage to the life of another human being–although unwittingly. It is even worse if someone scrutinizes his evidence and finds it wanting in substance or veracity, but nevertheless proceeds in court to offer it as testimony. In that case even if it is accepted in the courts of this ephemeral world, it will be summarily rejected in the divine court of Almighty God and cause the individual to be cast out forthwith among the guilty and the dammed.