Al-Muwatta on the Legal Testimony of Children
The legal practice described in the source relates the opinion of jurists on the use of children's statements in the courts. According to the source, children may be called upon to testify in cases of personal injury inflicted on one child by another, but only under the condition that the child's version of what happened is given in front of witnesses at the time and scene of the incident, and before leaving or talking to anyone who might influence their version of the story. Furthermore, the source indicates that children cannot be called to testify in any other matters, nor under any other conditions, such as an incident involving adults, whether civil or criminal. This practice gives children a measure of protection from becoming parties to adult disputes in ways that might harm them in present or future. Even if a child witnessed a murder or theft, for example, he or she would be spared from offering testimony that might convict or exonerate the defendant. Such protection would be very important in the context of extended families and clans, where memories of individual acts were long and partisan clan or tribal behavior might outweigh the cause of justice.
Al-Muwatta is among the earliest written compendia of legal interpretations based on the two pre-eminent sources of Islamic knowledge, the Qur'an, or scripture, and the hadith, or reports of the sayings and deeds of Muhammad. Al-Muwatta, compiled and edited by Malik ibn Anas (c. 711 – 795 CE), means "well-trodden path" for its authoritative documentation of legal opinion and practices in Madinah, the city where Islam was established. The hadith covers both religious duties and social practices such as contracts, family matters, civil and commercial matters, and customs.
"Yahya said, 'Malik said from Hisham ibn Urwa that Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr gave judgment based on the testimony of children concerning the injuries between them.'[ Al-Muwatta Hadith, 36:9]
[Legal interpretation of the hadith:] Malik said, 'The generally agreed on way of doing things in our community is that the testimony of children is permitted concerning injuries between them. It is not accepted about anything else. It is only permitted between them if they testify before they leave the scene of the incident and [might] have been deceived or instructed. If they leave the scene, they have no testimony unless they call just witnesses to witness their testimony before they leave.'"
Al-Muwatta, Hadith. WinAlim Islamic database. ISL Software: Silver Spring MD, 1997-2008; and "CRCC: Center For Muslim-Jewish Engagement: Resources: Religious Texts," http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/engagement/resources/texts/muslim/hadith/muwatta/ (accessed April 20, 2009). "Al-Muwatta," Encyclopaedia of Islam CD-ROM Edition. Edited by P.J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. E.J. Brill, 2004.