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And speak in a customary manner

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A comprehensive introduction to the
Islamic textual evidence against the
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prohibition of Muslim women speaking
in public
heyconsidertheQur’anwithcare?Hadit
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nit.VerilyhaveWerevealedtheRemind
Da’wah Institute of Nigeria
Islamic Education Trust

erandverilyWeshallpreserveit.Don’tt
heyconsidertheQur’anwithcare?Hadit
beenfromanyoneotherthanAllahthey
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nit.VerilyhaveWerevealeditandverily
SHOULD MUSLIM
WOMEN SPEAK?

A comprehensive introduction to the Islamic textual


evidence against the prohibition of Muslim women
speaking in public

(Module 101 of the Train-the-Trainers course in Islam and Dialogue)

Da’wah Institute of Nigeria


Islamic Education Trust

2
©Islamic Education Trust, 1429/2008
ISBN 978-2159-55-7

All rights reserved: No part of this book may be reproduced in any


manner except with written permission from the publisher.

Da‟wah Institute of Nigeria


Islamic Education Trust Headquarters
PMB 229, Ilmi Avenue, Minna, Niger State, Nigeria.
Phone: +234-803-600-5535
Email: dawahinstitute@yahoo.com
Website: www.ietonline.org

3
CONTENTS
Foreword

Acknowledgements

Notes on Terminology and Transliteration

Preface

“Should the voice of a woman be heard by men outside her


family? Some scholars have said that her voice is part of her
„awrah”
Part I: Arguments for the voice being „awrah
1. The Hadith: “Men should say „subhānallah‟ while
women should clap”
2. Women perform their salāt silently.
3. Women do not call the adhān.
4. The Saying: “A woman is „awrah”.
5. The Hadith: “the voice of a woman is „awrah”.
6. The Qur‟anic verse: “stay quietly in your houses”.
7. The Qur‟anic verse: “do not speak in a soft or seductive
way”.
8. The avoidance of fitnah (corruption and mischief) in
society.
Part II: Arguments against the voice being „awrah
1. A woman‟s voice in congregational salat
2. Women speaking in places of worship
3. Women making the adhan (call for prayer)

4
4. Woman‟s voice in salat, and when leading other women
5. Women reciting Qur‟an aloud
6. The Saying: “the voice of a woman is „awrah”
7. The Hadith: “A woman is „awrah”
8. Women spoke to the Prophet ()
9. Women spoke to non-mahram Companions
10. Saying “salam” to and by women
11. Hadith narrated orally by women
12. Women singing
13. Women giving oral testimony

Conclusion

Bibliography

Recommended Websites

Other Publications of the Da‟wah Institute of Nigeria (DIN)

5
FOREWORD TO THE SERIES

Islam is considered by many observers to be the fastest


growing religion in the world, yet it is the most misunderstood of
the world‟s major faiths. Some misconceptions about Islam stem
from calculated propaganda against Islam, but a good amount of it
is attributable to the ignorance of many Muslims whose limited
knowledge and practice of Islam perpetuates these
misconceptions.
Due to the deficiencies of the common, restricted way of
teaching Islam to children, many Muslims grow up believing that
Islam requires only blind faith and invites no intellectual
challenges. Often such Muslims manage with minimal knowledge
of their faith until they interact with larger circles of people, in
higher institutions or the work place, where they are confronted
with many misconceptions about Islam, and face questions they
cannot answer.
It is in response to the need for empowering Muslims to know
their religion, and to share its beautiful message with the rest of
humanity, that this work was begun.
This effort is part of a wider project of intellectual
empowerment of the global Muslim world. Among the programs
designed by the Islamic Education Trust over the past decade and
a half is the Train the Trainers Course (TTC) in Islam and
Dialogue. As its name indicates, the course is designed to train
da‟wah volunteers in clarifying misconceptions about Islam,
handling differences of opinion among Muslim scholars, and
extending personal leadership training to others. The contents of
this series of books evolved from teaching manuals from the TTC.
It is hoped that this publication will serve as intellectual resource
material for Muslims of different backgrounds.

6
Justice Sheikh Ahmed Lemu, OFR
National President
Islamic Education Trust
November 2008/Dhul-Qa‟dah, 1429 AH

7
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
All praise and gratitude is due to Allah Who has made this
work possible. And may the peace and blessings of Allah be in His
last messenger, Prophet Muhammad.
The Prophet () said: “Whoever does not show gratitude to
people does not show gratitude to Allah”. It is therefore with great
pleasure that the Da‟wah Institute of Nigeria (DIN) takes this
opportunity to express its sincere gratitude to all the brothers and
sisters from all over the world, who have in various ways
contributed to the development of the Train the Trainers Course
in Islam and Dialogue (TTC) and its study material of which this
book is a part.
The material has evolved into its present form over a long
period before and after the TTC became an organized course in
1994.
The contributions to the course and its material have come in
many ways, through numerous channels, both formally and
informally, and from all over the world. They have come from
contributors of various backgrounds, age-groups, organizations,
and specializations.
It has unfortunately become practically impossible to cite all
who deserve mention - but Allah has counted them all, and we
continue to pray Allah to bless them with the best in this life and
the next. We will however mention at least the countries where the
major contributors have come from, and may Allah forgive us for
any omissions.
Contributions to the development of the course have come
from Australia, Bahrain, Burundi, Cameroun, Egypt, the Gambia,
Ghana, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Niger, the
Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri
Lanka, Sudan, U.K., U.S.A., and most importantly, Nigeria.

8
In Nigeria, we would like to acknowledge the following
organizations for their key support in the development of the TTC
material. They include the Da‟wah Coordination Council of
Nigeria (DCCN), the Federation of Muslim Women‟s Associations
in Nigeria (FOMWAN), the Movement for Islamic Culture and
Awareness (MICA), the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria
(MSSN), the Muslim Corpers Association of Nigeria (MCAN), and
the Nasirul Fatih Society of Nigeria (NASFAT). Others include
numerous University departments, Colleges of Education, Colleges
of Arts and Islamic Legal Studies, etc.
We wish to acknowledge those who, to the best of our
knowledge, had the greatest input to the TTC 101 Series. The chief
editor of the material was Asiya Rodrigo, who also located most of
the references and citations in this work. Others who greatly
assisted in important capacities such as structure, content, clarity,
style and preparation of the materials for printing include Justice
Sheikh Ahmed Lemu, B. Aisha Lemu, Abdullahi Orire, Isa Friday
Okonkwo, Muhammad Dukuly, Salatu Sule, Bashir Mundi,
Nuruddeen Lemu, and Aliyu Badeggi.
Finally, and on behalf of all the research team and staff of the
Da‟wah Institute of Nigeria (DIN), I would like to pray for the
Trustees and minds behind the Islamic Education Trust (IET), and
the DIN in particular, Justice Sheikh Ahmed Lemu and B. Aisha
Lemu, whose wisdom, support, encouragement and leadership
have helped bring the DIN to where it is today alhamdulillah and
jazākum Allahu khair.
As only the Qur‟an is perfect, this material will by Allah‟s leave
continue to evolve through revisions and improvements with
better contributions from people like you, the reader, inshā Allah.
May the reward for whatever benefit comes from this material
go to those who have in any way contributed to it. The Da'wah
Institute of Nigeria (DIN) takes full responsibility for any

9
imperfection in this work, and we pray that such will be forgiven
by Allah and you the reader.

Alhaji Ibrahim Yahya


Director
Da‟wah Institute of Nigeria
January, 2009
Muharram, 1430 A.H.

10
NOTES ON TERMINOLOGY AND
TRANSLITERATION

 Use of “”
It is a time-honored and cherished tradition among Muslims
that whenever the name of any of the numerous Prophets of God
is mentioned, peace and blessings of God are invoked upon him.
In line with this tradition and the injunction in Qur‟an 33:56,
wherever the title “the Prophet,” “Messenger of Allah,” “Apostle
of Allah,” or the Prophet's name, “Muhammad,” appears in this
text, the blessing in Arabic () appears next to it. It means “may
the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.” Contemporary
writings on Islam by Muslims use many variations and
abbreviations of this benediction in Arabic or English or other
languages such as “S.A.W.”, “s.a.s.”, “s”, “p”, “pbuh” and others.
In deciding which customary symbol to use, it is worth mentioning
that in manuscripts belonging to the first two centuries of Islam‟s
intellectual heritage the writers did not rigidly adhere to the custom
of writing a benediction after the Prophet‟s name1, and hence,
there is no „best‟ way of representing it.

 References to ahadith2 and commentaries drawn from


computer software
Efforts have been made to ensure that all ahadith (narrations
or reported actions of Prophet Muhammad ()) in this material
are drawn from reliable and well-respected collections.
1
Jeffrey Lang, Struggling to Surrender: Some Impressions of an American
Convert to Islam (Beltsville, USA: Amana Publications, 1994), p. ix.
2
Plural of hadith, i.e., a report about the actions and sayings of the Prophet
Muhammad ().

11
Reservations expressed by respected authorities about the
authenticity of any hadith have been indicated in footnotes, even
as its presence in this text indicates that it is considered authentic
by other scholars of repute. An abundance of Islamic classical
texts and some of their translations now exist on CD-ROMs.3 The
present material has made use of some of these CD-ROMs for
obtaining ahadith and their commentaries (tafasir). The most
commonly utilized CD-ROM database of hadith in English has
been the Alim Version 6.0 software. Hence, references to hadith
collections that end with the phrase “in Alim 6.0” throughout this
material refer to those obtained from the Alim Version 6.0
database (ISL Software Corporation, 1986-2000). References to
collections of hadith commentaries which have been drawn from
other CD-ROMs have been noted in footnotes throughout the
text.

 Transliteration of Arabic words


Modern Islamic literature in English utilizes a number of
transliteration systems for Arabic words. With a few exceptions,
this material has followed the system used by the majority, the
details of which may be found in the International Journal of
Middle East Studies.4 However, for our ease and simplicity, we
have omitted the diacritical dots and dashes which facilitate exact
pronunciations. It is expected that this should not render the
words unreadable.

3
Database software for viewing information on computers.
4
With a few exceptions.

12
PREFACE

The participation of women in society is a frequent theme of


discussion at international development conventions. Throughout
the world, women‟s voices have played a significant role in the
recognition of numerous issues of community concern. Traditional
Islamic jurisprudence and educational circles were also founded
upon the oral traditions of many learned women of earlier
generations. Today, however, though women constitute no less
than 50% of the Muslim community‟s human resources, their
positive public contributions in many Muslim societies have been
discouraged and even condemned. One of the reasons for this is
the opinion held by some Muslims that a woman should not speak
in public. With the Muslim community (Ummah) presently under
immense internal and external challenges, the idea that a woman‟s
voice is „awrah5 (private) and therefore should not be heard by any
man outside her immediate family is one of the greatest
impediments to mobilizing more human resources for Islamic
propagation (da’wah) and societal development.

Women have been prevented from contributing in public


lectures, or asking their questions verbally. Those who cannot
write or express themselves well in writing have thereby been
denied access to a learned person. In some places, women have
been prevented from participating in Islamic quizzes and Qur‟an
recitation competitions. Many women who face issues that require
communication between men and women have had to bear a sense
of guilt over their interactions.

5
„Awrah, in this context, means private, concealed, and not to be heard or
revealed to the public.

13
The restriction of women and girls from making use of the
opportunities provided by Islam also threatens their participation
in Islamic propagation, cooperation with males in the co-
ordination and implementation of various activities at grassroots
and professional levels, and the fulfillment of numerous social
responsibilities (fardu-kifāyah) where female involvement is crucial.

This book aims to clarify the position of Islam regarding


communication between men and women, and to present evidence
from the Qur‟an, the Sunnah and the lives of the Companions as
to whether or not women are permitted to speak in public. The
issue is evaluated on the basis that a prohibition in the area of
social transactions (mu’āmalāt) requires explicit categorical evidence
from the Qur‟an or Sunnah.

14
Should Muslim Women Speak?

“Should the voice of a woman be heard by non-mahram6


men? Some scholars have said that her voice is part of her
awrah”
A popular view in some Muslim societies is that a woman
should not speak aloud because her voice is „awrah‟ (private,
concealed, and not to be heard or revealed to the public). The
basis for this view includes the following arguments:
1) The Prophet () said women should correct an imam when
he makes a mistake in prayer by clapping, and not by saying
“subhānallah” like men.
2) Women customarily perform their salāt silently.
3) Women generally do not
make the adhān (call “As in all the Churches of the
for prayer). Saints, the women should keep
4) The Prophet () is silence in the churches. For they
reported to have said, are not permitted to speak, but
“A woman is „awrah.” should be subordinate, as even
the law says. If there is anything
5) There is a common
they desire to know, let them ask
saying attributed by
their husbands at home. For it is
some people to the
shameful for a woman to speak
Prophet () that “sawt
in church.”
al-mar‟ati „awrah” (i.e.
“the voice of a woman 1Corinthians 14:34-35

6
A Mahram man is a man that is prohibited for a woman to marry, such as
her father, son, brother, father - in – law, son – in – law, uncle, etc.

15
is „awrah”).
6) Allah says in the Qur‟an, “stay quietly in your houses...”
(Q.33:33)
7) The Qur‟an says, “do not speak in a soft or seductive way…”
(Q.33:32). It is assumed that all women‟s voices are
inherently soft and seductive, and therefore the Qur‟an is
indirectly telling women not to speak to men at all.
8) The lack of taqwa (God-consciousness) of today‟s Muslims
necessitates extra
restrictions on women In matters which have to do with
to avoid fitnah social norms and affairs
(corruption and (mu‟āmalāt), the principle in
mischief) in society. Shari‟ah is that “everything is
permissible except what is
prohibited by an explicit and
Though the view that categorical text of the Qur‟an or
the voice of a woman is Sunnah”
„awrah is common, the
supporting arguments above, upon further investigation, suffer
from some defects. Indeed, abundant evidence exists from the
Qur‟an and Sunnah to the contrary. These proofs will be
examined in the light of the general juridical principle that in
matters which have to do with social norms and affairs
(mu‟āmalāt), “everything is permissible except what is
prohibited by an explicit and categorical text of the Qur‟an or
Sunnah”7.

7
This well-known universal principle of Islamic jurisprudence (Usul al-Fiqh)
states: “the legal premise of everything is permissibility” (in Arabic, “Al-„asl
fil ashya„i al-ibaahah”). See Yusuf al-Qaradawi‟s discussion of this principle
in The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam (London: Al-Birr Foundation,

16
1. A woman’s voice in congregational salat
One of the most frequently repeated hadith that is used as
evidence for the voice of a woman being „awrah relates to the
rules for interrupting the imam in salat (ritual prayers) if it is
necessary to direct his attention to something.
This story is narrated by both Sahl ibn Sa'd and Abu
Hurayrah. Sahl reports, “The news about the differences
amongst the people of Bani 'Amr bin 'Auf at Quba reached
Allah‟s Apostle and so he went to them along with some of his
companions to affect a reconciliation. Allah‟s Apostle was
delayed there and the time for the prayer became due. Bilal
came to Abubakr and said, „O Abubakr! Allah‟s Apostle is
detained (there) and the time for the prayer is due. Will you lead
the people in prayer?‟ Abubakr replied, „Yes, if you wish.‟ So
Bilal pronounced the Iqāmah and Abubakr went forward and
the people said Takbir. In the meantime, Allah‟s Apostle came
piercing through the rows till he stood in the (first) row and the
people started clapping. Abubakr would never look hither and
thither during the prayer but when the people clapped much he
looked back and saw Allah‟s Apostle. The Prophet beckoned
him to carry on. Abubakr raised both his hands, praised Allah
and retreated till he stood in the row and Allah‟s Apostle went
forward and led the people in the prayer. When he had finished
the prayer, he addressed the people and said, „O people! Why
did you start clapping when something happened to you in the
prayer? Clapping is for women. Whenever one is confronted
with something unusual in the prayer one should say, “Subhān
Allah”.‟ Then the Prophet looked towards Abubakr and asked,

2003), pp.3-7; Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Qawa‟id al-Fiqh: The Legal


Maxims of Islamic Law, (The Association of Muslim Lawyers, UK, 1998),
p.2.

17
„What prevented you from leading the prayer when I beckoned
you to carry on?‟ Abubakr replied, „It does not befit the son of
Abu Quhāfah to lead the prayer in the presence of Allah‟s
Apostle.‟”8
The argument of those who infer a woman‟s voice to be
„awrah is that, in the above-mentioned hadith, the women would
have been commanded to speak up with “Subhān Allah!” (Glory
be to Allah) if this were permitted for them, but since the
Prophet () did not tell them to do so, it must be because their
voices are „awrah.
It is difficult to conclude a universal rule on speech at all
times based on the Prophet‟s specific instruction on how a
woman may call the attention of the imam during
congregational prayer. The only ruling that may be extrapolated
from the hadith above is that a woman should avoid saying
“Subhān Allah!” to call the imam‟s attention towards a matter
when worshippers are concentrating on congregational prayer.
However, scholars have not prohibited her correcting his
recitation aloud if he makes a serious mistake or needs help in
recollecting what verses to recite in salat.9

A woman openly disagreed


with Caliph „Umar in the
mosque over the issue of the

8
Sahih al-Bukhari, book 22, no.309. Other versions of Sahl's report may be
found in Sahih al-Bukhari, book 11, no.652, Sahih Muslim, book 4, no.845
and al-Muwatta, book 9, no.9.20.64. Abu Hurayrah's narration may be found
in Sahih al-Bukhari, book 22, no.295 and Sahih Muslim, book 4, no.850, etc.
9
For more discussion on juristic deductions and analysis of this hadith, see
Khaled Abou El-Fadl, Speaking in God‟s Name: Islamic Law, Authority and
Women (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2001), pp.185-188.

18
2. Speaking in places of value of bridal gift (mahr)
worship given to the bride.
In a well-known incident - Ibn Kathir
during the Caliphate of „Umar
ibn al-Khattab, a woman openly disagreed with him in the
mosque over the issue of limiting the value of the bridal gift
(mahr) given in marriage. Being convinced of her argument,
„Umar agreed with her and publically reversed his opinion. He
even went so far as declaring, “… everyone‟s knowledge is
better than mine”.10 In another version, „Abdul-Razaq cites
„Umar as saying, “A woman debated with „Umar and outdid
him in the debate.”11
Had the voice of a woman been part of her „awrah, and had
women been prohibited from speaking in public, or in the
mosque, the lady would surely have been corrected by „Umar or
any of the several Companions present.12

3. Women calling the Adhan for prayer


Al-Baihaqi further reported that Aisha, the wife of the
Prophet (), would make the adhan (call for prayer), and lead

10
Tafsir Ibn Kathir 1/468
11
Tafsir Ibn Kathir 7/180. A similar narration is found in Ibn Hajr‟s Fath al-
Bari, vol.9, p.191; cited in Afzalur Rahman, The Role of Muslim Woman in
Society (London: Seerah Foundation, 1986), p.79
12
Prohibiting women from speaking in church is a teaching found in early
Christianity, as observed in the New Testament of the Bible, 1Corinthians
14:34-35 that, “As in all the Churches of the Saints, the women should keep
silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be
subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let
them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in
church.” This is a view that is not found in any of the two foundational
sources of Islamic Law (i.e. the Qur‟an and Sunnah).

19
women in congregational prayer. „Ata also reported from Aisha
that she called the adhan, recited iqamah before prayers, and led
the women in prayers while standing in the middle of the row as
their imam.13 The authenticity of such hadiths have been
verified by other contemporary hadith scholars such as
Nasiruddin al-Albani, who quotes other hadiths which show that
some of the companions of the Prophet (), such as Abdullah
ibn „Umar even discouraged those who felt uncomfortable with
women calling the adhan from trying to stop them. In one
incidence, a man approached Ibn „Umar, requesting, “Will you
not stop the women from making the adhan”, whereby he
responded by repeating to the man three times, “Do you want
me to stop women from calling people to the dhikr
(remembrance) of Allah?” 14

The fact that some men The fact that some men were
were complaining about complaining about women
women calling the adhan calling the adhan indicates that
indicates that the adhan was the adhan was called to the
called to the hearing of men, hearing of men, even if it was
even if it was not for the not for the congregational salat
congregational salat of men. of men.
Accordingly, the Shafi„i and
Hanbali Schools of jurisprudence consider the adhan of women
as permissible.15 This is provided that the women hold their

13
Mustadrak, vol.1, p.204; cited in Afzalur Rahman, The Role of Muslim
Woman in Society (London: Seerah Foundation, 1986), p.91; also reported in
al-Baihaqi as cited in Fiqh us-Sunnah, vol.1, no.104a in Alim 6.0
14
See al-Albani‟s book Silsilat al Hadith Daeef, hadith no.879, p.269-271,
for an example of a “fabricated hadith” prohibiting women from calling the
Adhan, and hadith strengthening its permissibility.
15
Fiqh-ul-Sunnah, vol.1, no.104a in Alim 6.0

20
congregational prayer separately from men, and that it does not
cause any chaotic consequences.

4. Using the voice in private salat, and when leading


other women
Another argument also brought as evidence for the woman‟s
voice being „awrah is that whenever a woman performs her
salat (ritual prayers), she does so in silence, while a man
performs some of them aloud. This observation, if admissible
for any ruling, may apply to salat only, and should not be
generalized to include situations other than salat. Significantly,
it is also narrated that Aisha led women in the compulsory
Maghrib salat just after sunset, while reciting aloud.16 Aisha17
and Umm Salamah18 are also reported to have led women in
tarawih prayers.19
The Prophet () commands believers to “Pray as you see me
praying” (Bukhari). This Prophetic command does not
differentiate between males and females. Women‟s silence in
salat may be viewed as a custom carried down from the early
generations of Muslims to the present times.
16
See Al-Muhallah, vol.3, p.126 by Ibn Hazm; cited in Afzalur Rahman, The
Role of Muslim Woman in Society (London: Seerah Foundation, 1986), p.90
17
Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-Athar al-Iman, Hadith No.212, p.41, cited in Afzalur
Rahman, The Role of Muslim Woman in Society. London: Seerah Foundation,
1986, p.91.
18
Ibn Hazm, Al-Muhalla, Vol.3, p.127, cited in Afzalur Rahman, op. cit.
19
For numerous other examples of women leading other women in
obligatory and optional salat (such as tarawih prayers), see Afzalur Rahman,
The Role of Muslim Woman in Society, op. cit., pp.86, 90-91. For example,
Abdullah ibn Umar used to order his slave-women to lead the women of his
household in tarawih prayers during the month of Ramadan (Ibn Hazm, Al-
Muhalla, vol.3, p.128; cited in Afzalur Rahman, The Role of Muslim Woman
in Society, p.86).

21
The assumption, therefore, that women‟s silence in salat is
due to their voice being „awrah does not have a clear
authoritative basis from the Qur‟an or Sunnah. And Allah knows
best.

5. Women reciting Qur’an aloud


Yahya ibn Layth reported that Imam Malik20 was asked
whether a man in the company of a woman who was reciting a
passage of Qur'an requiring a prostration should prostrate with
her, and he said, “He does not have to prostrate with her. The
prostration is only obligatory for people who are with a man
who is leading them. He recites the piece and they prostrate
with him. Someone who hears a piece of Qur'an that requires a
prostration being recited by a man who is not leading him in
prayer does not have to do the prostration”.21
Here Imam Malik was clearly dealing with a situation where
a man is able to hear a woman reciting the Qur‟an, and the
Imam says nothing about it being unlawful. Some have said that
though the female voice is not „awrah, women may still not
recite the Qur‟an aloud near men. The fatwa (legal ruling) of
Imam Malik stated above lends no support to this view.

Another example of a woman reciting Qur‟an aloud is the


narration of Ibn Abi Malaika that Aisha used to recite the
Qur‟an 24:15 and she used to say “al-walaq” means “the telling

20
Imam Malik ibn Anas was the founder of the Maliki Madhhab (juristic
school of thought). The Maliki Madhhab is one of the major schools of
Islamic jurisprudence.
21
Al-Muwatta, book 15, No.15.5.16

22
of a lie.” Ibn Abi Malaika explained that she knew this verse
more than anybody else because it was revealed about her.22

6. The common saying: “Sawtul mar‟ati „awrah”


(meaning “the voice of a woman is „awrah”)
A common saying attributed to the Prophet is “sawtul
mar‟ati „awrah”. However, this saying is not found in any of
the authentic hadith collections, and indeed, evidence to the
contrary position is overwhelming.

7. The Hadith: “A woman is „awrah‟”

A common saying attributed


to the Prophet is “sawtul
mar‟ati „awrah”. However,
this saying is not found in
any of the authentic hadith
collections, and indeed,
evidence to the contrary
position is overwhelming.

The Qur‟an actually commands


that when women speak, they
should “speak in a way that is
customary” (“wa qulna qawlan
ma‟rūfā”).

22
Sahih al-Bukhari, vol.5, no.465

23
Some quote the Qur‟an 33:32
following hadith narrated
by Ibn Mas‟ud as evidence
that the woman‟s voice is „awrah: “The Prophet () said, „A
woman is „awrah (and thus should be concealed), for when she
goes out the shaytan looks at her.‟”23
Regarding this hadith, however, Ibn Qudama in Al-Mughni,
said that, “the face and hands constitute a specific exemption to
the general meaning of this hadith”. This is supported by Imam
al-Razi, who states, “Since the showing of the face and hands is
necessary, the jurists had no choice but to agree that they are not
„awrah.24 In addition, the fact that there are at least two
authentic hadiths making it explicitly clear that the hands and
face are not part of a woman‟s „awrah25, and the fact that
women at the time of the Prophet () did speak in public to
„non-mahram‟ men as discussed below, means that the above
hadith must have restrictions to its apparent general meaning.
Moreover, this hadith is referring to physical attributes and not
to sound. The hadith, therefore, may not be used as evidence to
prohibit women from speaking in public.

8. Women’s voices were heard by the Prophet ()


without condemnation

23
Tirmidhi, no.3109 in Alim Version 4.5
24
Tafsir al-Kabir of Fakhr al-Deen al-Razi, vol.20, pp.205-206
25
See the book, “The Hijab Q&A” , or the topic on “Hijab” in the relevant
sections of the Train-the-Trainers Course in Islam and Dialogue by the
Da‟wah Institute of Nigeria (DIN). Also, for more details on the face and
hands not being part of a woman‟s awrah, see “To Veil or Not to Veil: The
Niqab Debate” by the Da‟wah institute of Nigeria (DIN); also, Nasiruddeen
al-Albani‟s Jilbab Al-Mar‟ah Al-Muslimah fil Kitab was-Sunnah (Beirut: Al-
Maktab al-Islamiyyah, 1994), pp.57-59.

24
The Prophet () used to
listen to the voices of women Women at the time of the
other than his wives. In Qur‟an Prophet () did speak in
58:1, reference is made to a public to „non-mahram‟ men.
woman who came to lodge her
complaint verbally to the Prophet (), and a revelation came to
him about it. This is an obvious proof that the Prophet () never
considered women‟s voices as part of their “awrah”.
The Qur‟an actually commands that when women speak,
they should “speak in a way that is customary” - “wa qulna
qawlan ma‟rūfa” (Qur‟an 33:32). This is a clear command to the
Prophet‟s wives to speak to non-mahram men in a particular
way, and thus cannot be interpreted as a prohibition to be heard.
In fact, it is evidence that women are permitted to speak to men
who are not their mahram (i.e., men that are prohibited for them
to marry, such as fathers, sons, brothers, fathers - in – law, etc).
Women are not prohibited from speaking to non-mahram
men. However, they are advised not to speak in a seductive tone,
as Allah indicates in Qur‟an 33:32: “... be not over-soft in your
speech, lest any whose heart is diseased should be moved to
desire (you), but speak in a
customary way.” “... be not over-soft in your
speech, lest any whose heart is
Similarly, women are
diseased should be moved to
not prohibited from raising
desire (you), but speak in a
their voices. In a hadith,
normal/customary way.”
Ibn Abi Hatim reported
that the Prophet () heard Qur‟an 33:32
a woman reciting the first
verse of Qur‟an 88 (Surat al-Ghashiyah) aloud at night as he
was walking in the streets of Madina and he did not stop her.
Women during Hajj and Umrah also regularly join in the

25
chanting of the Talbiyyah aloud – an act which is recognized as
lawful and not prohibited by any known text (nass) from the
Qur‟an or Sunnah – and Allah knows best.
There is no record that the Prophet or any of his
Companions disapproved of women speaking publically.

9. Women spoke in the presence of non-mahram


Companions at the time of
the Prophet () There are numerous hadith
The Companions of the found in Sahih al-Bukhari and
Prophet () used to ask the Sahih Muslim of conversations
wives of the Prophet () between male and female
questions, and they used to Companions that were non-
answer them. Other women mahram to each other.
also initiated discussion in
their presence. An example is the case of the girl who
complained about being forced into marriage by her father, who
was heard by the narrator of the hadith.26 Numerous other hadith
may be found in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim of
conversations between male and female Companions that were
non-mahram to each other.27 If women‟s voices were „awrah,
these incidents would not have been permitted.

10. Saying “salam” to and by women


It is a highly recommended practice for all Muslims to greet
others, and the right of all Muslims to receive a greeting from
fellow believers. Women are not omitted from this directive.

26
Ibn Majah, also Sahih al-Bukhari vol.2, hadith no.95, etc.
27
E.g. Sahih al-Bukhari vol.1, no.340 in Alim 6.0), and of a woman standing
up in the mosque in the presence of men and asking the Prophet () a
question (Sahih Muslim Book 4, No.1926).

26
For example, the Prophet () said, “A Muslim has six
obligations to another Muslim.” When asked what these were,
he replied, “To greet another Muslim when you meet him; to
respond when he invites you; to give him your (sincerest) advice
when he seeks it; to say „may Allah have mercy upon you‟ when
he sneezes and says „may Allah be praised‟; to visit him when he
falls ill; and when he dies, to attend his funeral.”28 He also said,
“The young should greet the old, the passerby should greet the
sitting one, and the small group of persons should greet the
large group of persons.”29 None of these obligations mentions
gender as a condition.
Another example of greeting women is mentioned by Kuraib
who narrated, “I was sent to “… I (Umm Hani) offered him
Aisha by Ibn Abbas, Al- (the Prophet) the salutation of
Miswar bin Makhrama and peace.”
Abdur-Rahman bin Azhar.
They told me to greet her on their behalf....”30
Sahl ibn Sa„ad relates that, “There was a woman among us
who would put beetroot in a kettle and add some ground barley
and cook them together, When we returned from the Friday
service, we would greet her and she would offer it to us.”31
Umm Hani bint Abu Talib narrates, “I went to the Holy Prophet
on the day of the fall of Makkah. He was taking a bath while
Fatima was holding up a cloth to screen him. I offered him the
salutation of peace.”32

28
Fiqh us Sunnah vol.4, no.3 in Alim 6.0
29
Sahih al-Bukhari, vol.8, no.250
30
Sahih al-Bukhari, vol.2, no.325
31
Bukhari, cited in Riyadh us-Saliheen, no.867
32
Muslim, cited in Riyadh us-Saliheen, no.868; See also Sahih al-Bukhari,
vol.2, no.60 in Alim 6.0

27
11. Hadith narrated orally by women

If the voice of women was


“„awrah”, we would not have
today so many hadith
originally narrated orally by

28
If the voice of women was female companions and wives
“„awrah”, we would not have of the Prophet (p)
today so many hadith narrated
(orally) by female companions and wives of the Prophet.33
Indeed, the names of Hafsa, Umm Habiba, Maymuna, Umm
Salama, and A„isha, are familiar to every student of hadith as
being among its earliest and most distinguished transmitters.
Furthermore, many great scholars of Islamic history also had
female teachers. Among the most notable early women scholars
found in the books of Seerah and al-Rijāl are names such as
Rubaiyy‟ bint Mu„awwidh34, Fatimah bint Qais (Tahdhīb al-
Tahdhīb, vol.12, p.44435), Umm „Atiyyah (al- Isti‟ab fi Asma al-
Ashab36), „Amra bint Abd al-Rahman (Ibn Sa‟d, Tabaqāt, vol.8,
p.35337), A„isha bint Sa„d ibn Abi Waqqas whose pupils
included Imam Malik and other jurists (Tahdhīb al-Tahdhīb,
vol.12, p.43638), and Nafisah the grand-daughter of Hasan ibn
Ali who taught hadith to Imam Shafi‟i (Ibn Khalikan, Wafayat
al-A„yān, vol.2, p.12939).

33
Bukhari Vol.2, No.26; Bukhari Vol.2, No.545; Bukhari Vol.5, No.168;
Vol.7, No.192 “Ubaid ibn Umar narrates “I heard Aisha saying…”; Bukhari
Vol.2, No.757; al-Muwatta Vol.20, No.170; Bukhari Vol.5, No.539 which
includes the words, “Asma' later on said, „I saw Abu Musa and the other
people
of the boat coming to me in successive groups, asking me about this
narration‟; Muslim No.1373
34
Al-Isti‟ab fi Asma al-Ashab, cited in Afzalur Rahman, The Role of Muslim
Woman in Society (London: Seerah Foundation, 1986), pp.62-63
35
Cited in Afzalur Rahman, The Role of Muslim Woman in Society. London:
Seerah Foundation, 1986, p.63
36
Cited in Ibid.
37
Cited in Ibid.
38
Cited in Ibid.
39
Cited in Ibid.

29
12. Women Singing
The fact that women Men and women sang together
sang songs and poetry at the while welcoming the Prophet
time of the Prophet and the (and Abubakr) to Madina from
Companions is well- Makkah. In the ninth year A.H.,
documented and just a year before he passed
authenticated. This included away, the people of Madina also
girls singing during „Eid welcomed him in a similar way
festivals and weddings in on his return from Tabuk.
the presence of the Prophet
().40 Men and women sang together while welcoming the
Prophet () (and Abubakr) to Madina from Makkah.41 In the
ninth year A.H., the people of Madina also welcomed him in a
similar way on his return from Tabuk.42 Therefore, if it is
assumed that the first incident was a pre-Islamic practice which
was later abrogated as unacceptable, it is unlikely that the
Prophet () would permit the second incident to occur.
If a woman‟s voice was „awrah, women‟s singing in the
presence of men would certainly have been prohibited. What is
prohibited in a woman‟s voice, therefore, is not the sound of
melody43, but for her to sing with the intention to seduce or
encourage what is prohibited. The same applies to men as well.

40
Sahih al-Bukhari Vol.5, No.336; Tirmidhi, No.943; An-Nasa‟i and al-
Hakim also transmitted it; Ibn Hibban transmitted it in his Sahih; and again
Tirmidhi, No.940 in the Alim 6.0
41
Muntaqan Nuqool, p.329; Al-Raheeq al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar:
Biography of the Noble Prophet), by Safiur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri,
Revised edition (Riyadh: Darussalam Publications, 2002), p.193
42
Ibn Qayyim, Zaad al-Ma‟ād, Vol.3, p.551
43
For more on the topic of women singing, refer to Nayl al-Awtar by Imam
Shawkani, vol.8, pp.264-266, and Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi‟s Fatawa al-

30
13. Women giving oral testimony
The fact that women were permitted by the Qur‟an to stand
as witnesses (Q.2:282) who may have to testify in court to what
transaction they witnessed is evidence that women at times were
not merely permitted, but even legally required to speak.

In conclusion, the position that


“the voice of women is The position that “the voice
„awrah” is not a statement of women is „awrah” is not a
found in the Qur‟an or Sunnah. statement found in the
Rather, the directives in the Qur‟an or Sunnah.
Qur‟an on how women should
speak to men other than their husbands, and the practice of the
Prophet () and his Companions suggests that women may
speak in public, provided it is done in the appropriate manner
and context.

Ma‟asira (Al-Mansura, Egypt: Dar al-Wafa‟, 1996), vol.2, pp.491-492,


where most of these examples along with others are also mentioned.

31
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RECOMMENDED WEBSITES44

www.altafsir.com
www.discoverislam.net
www.ietonline.org
www.irf.net
www.islam.about.com
www.islam-guide.com
www.islamic-awareness.org
www.islamicgarden.com
www.islamicity.com
www.islamicweb.com
www.islamonline.net
www.islamunveiled.com
www.jannah.com
www.jannah.org
www.masud.co.uk
www.muhaddith.com/index.html
www.muslimtube.blogspot.com
www.renaissance.com.pk
www.shamela.ws (Arabic)
www.soundvision.com/info
www.sunnipath.com
www.uga.edu/islam
www.witness-pioneer.org/
www.zaytuna.org

44
These online resources have very useful information and products on
Islam. This list is, however, far from being exhaustive, as new websites debut
on the internet daily. Other Islamic websites may be even more informative
than the above listed, and whereas these websites are recommended, not all
the views and opinions expressed in them necessarily reflect those of DIN or
the IET.

44
PUBLICATIONS OF THE DA’WAH INSTITUTE
OF NIGERIA (DIN)

1. Understanding Misconceptions about Islam

2. Diversity in Muslim Scholarship

3. The Authenticity of the Qur‟an

4. What is “Islamic” Culture?

5. The Hijab Q&A

6. Should Muslim Women Speak?

7. Is Polygamy Fair to Women?

8. Muslim Women in the Public Space

9. Relations with non-Muslims

10. Jihad and the Spread of Islam

11. Sharing Islam through Dialogue

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BLANK PAGE

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“Should the voice of a woman be heard by men outside her family?”
Some Muslims have said that her voice is part of her „awrah‟ and
should therefore not be heard by any man outside her immediate
family.” Is this truly a teaching of Islam from its sources of the Qur‟an
and authentic Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (p)?

This book, Should Muslim Women Speak?, aims to clarify the


position of Islam on the communication between men and women, and
to elicit available evidence from the Qur‟an, Sunnah and the lives of
the Companions as to whether or not women are permitted to speak in
public. The issue is evaluated on the basis that in the principles or
methodology of Islamic jurisprudence (Usul ul-Fiqh), a prohibition in
the area of social transactions (mu‟āmalāt) requires explicit
categorical evidence from the Qur‟an or Sunnah.

The Da’wah Institute of Nigeria (DIN) is the research and Islamic


propagation department of the Islamic Education Trust (IET). The DIN
partners with other organizations for comprehensive capacity building and
improved da‟wah effectiveness. It conducts training programs on Islam and
Dialogue for Peaceful Coexistence, as well as Personal Development and
Leadership, Business and Financial Literacy, Pre-marital and Marital
Counseling, Da‟wah Resource Management, and other courses. DIN also
organizes a rural Da‟wah Grassroots Program, Imam training courses, and
produces audiovisual and other multimedia content. In addition DIN partners
with other organizations, Muslim or non-Muslim, governmental or NGO, in
furthering its objectives and the strategic good of society at large. DIN‟s
partners have bee organizations based in Nigeria as well as other countries in
Africa, North America, Australia, South Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Da’wah Institute of Nigeria


Islamic Education Trust Headquarters PMB 229, Ilmi Avenue,
Minna, Niger State, Nigeria. Phone: +234-803-600-5535
Email: dawahinstitute@yahoo.com Website: www.ietonline.org

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