The Voice of a Woman in Islam
By Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
Many Muslims have adopted the Judeo-Christian ethic which views women as the source of human tragedy because of her alleged biblical role as the temptress who seduced Adam into disobedience to his Lord. By tempting her husband to eat the forbidden fruit, she not only defied Allah, but caused humankind's expulsion from Paradise, thus instigating all temporal human suffering. Those misogynists who support this Biblical myth, dredge from the archives of psuedo-Islamic literature such as false and weak hadiths.
This Old Testament myth is a widely circulated belief in the Islamic community despite the fact that Allah in the Qur'an stresses that it was Adam who was solely responsible for his mistake. In 20:115 it is stated: "We had already, beforehand, taken the convenant of Adam, but he forgot; and we found on his part no firm resolve." Verse 20:121-122 continues: "In result, they both ate of the tree...thus did Adam disobey His Lord, and fell into error. But his Lord chose for him (From His Grace): He turned to him, and gave him guidance." Therefore, there is nothing in Islamic doctrine or in the Qur'an which holds women responsible for Adam's expulsion from paradise or the consequent misery of humankind. However, misogyny abounds in the pronouncements of many Islamic "scholars" and "imams."
The result of such misinterpretation of hadiths and spreading negativity is that entire societies have mistreated their female members despite the fact that Islam has honored and empowered the woman in all spheres of life. The woman in Islamic law is equal to her male counterpart. She is as liable for her actions as a male is liable. Her testimony is demanded and valid in court. Her opinions are sought and acted upon. Contrary to the pseudo hadith: "Consult women and do the opposite," the Prophet (SAW) consulted his wife, Um Salama on one of the most important issues to the Muslim community. Such references to the Prophet's positive attitudes toward women disprove the one hadith falsely attributed to Ali bin Abi Talib: "The woman is all evil, and the greatest evil about her is that man cannot do without her."
The promotion of such negativity against women has led many "scholars" and "imams" to make the unsubstantiated ruling about female speech. They claim that women should lower their voice to whispers or even silence except when she speaks to her husband, her guardian or other females. The female act of communication has become to some a source of temptation and allurement to the male.
The Qur'an, however, specifically mentions that those seeking information from the Prophet's wives were to address them from behind a screen (33:53). Since questions require an answer, the Mothers of the Believers offered fatwas to those who asked and narrated hadiths to whomever wished to transmit them. Furthermore, women were accustomed to question the Prophet (SAW) while men were present. Neither were they embarassed to have their voices heard nor did the Prophet prevent their inquires. Even in the case of Omar when he was challenged by a woman during his khutba on the minbar, he did not deny her. Rather, he admitted that she was right and he was wrong and said: "Everybody is more knowledgeable than Omar."
Another Qur'anic example of a woman speaking publicly is that the daughter of the Shaykh mentioned in the Qur'an in 28:23. Furthermore, the Qur'an narrates the coversation between Sulayman and the Queen of Sheba as well as between her and her subjects. All of these examples support the fatwa that women are allowed to voice their opinion publicly for whatever has been prescribed to those before us is prescribed to us, unless it was unanimously rejected by Islamic doctrine.
Thus, the only prohibition is the female talking softly and flirting in a manner meant to excite and tempt the male. This is expressed in the Qur'an as complacent speech which Allah mentions in 33:32: "O consorts of the Prophet! Ye are not like any of the other women: If ye do fear Allah, be not too complaisance of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak ye a speech that is just."
What is prohibited then is alluring speech which entices those whose diseased hearts may be moved with desire and that is not to say that all conversation with women is prohibited for Allah completes the verse: "...but speak ye a speech that is just." (33:32)
Finding excuses to silence women is just one of the injustices certain scholars and imams attempt to inflict upon women. They point to such hadiths as narrated by Bukhari about the Prophet which says: "I have not left a greater harm to men than women." They assume that the harm implies that women are an evil curse to be endured just as one must endure poverty, famine, disease, death and fear. These "scholars" ignore the fact that man is tried more by his blessings than by his tragedies.
And Allah says: "And We test you by evil and by good way of trial." (21:35). To support this argument Allah says in the Qur'an that two of the most appreciated blessings of life, wealth and children, are trials. Allah says: "And know ye that your posessions and your progeny are but a trial." (Anfal 28) A woman, despite the blessings she bestows on her relations, can also be a trial for she may distract a man from his duty toward Allah. Thus, Allah creates awareness how blessings can be misguided so that they become curses. Men can use their spouses as an excuse for not performing jihad or for eschewing sacrafice for the compiling of wealth. Allah in the Qur'an warns: "Truly among your wives and children are enemies for you." (64:14)
The warning is the same as for the blessings of abundant welath and offspring (63:9). In addition, the sahih hadith says: "By Allah I don't fear for you poverty, but I fear that the world would be abundant for you as it has been for those before you so you compete for it as they have competed for it, so it destroys you as it has destroyed them." (Agreed upon) This hadith does not mean that the Prophet (SAW) encouraged poverty.
Poverty is a curse from which the Prophet sought refuge from Allah. He did not mean for his Ummah to be bereft of wealth and abundance for he said: "The best of the good wealth is for the pious person." (narrated by ahmed and Al-Hakam) Women are also a gift for the pious person for the Qur'an mentions the Muslim men and women (the Muslimat), the believing men (Mumins) and women Muminat as aids and comforts for each other here and in the hereafter. The Prophet did not condemn the blessings Allah provided for his Ummah. Rather the Prophet wished to guide the Muslims and his Ummah away from the slippery slope whose bottomless pit is a mire of callousness and desire.