Is a woman’s voice her awrah?
O wives of the Prophet, you are not like anyone among women. If you fear Allah, then do not be soft in speech [to men], lest he in whose heart is disease should covet, but speak with appropriate speech. (33:32)
يَٰنِسَآءَ ٱلنَّبِىِّ لَسْتُنَّ كَأَحَدٍ مِّنَ ٱلنِّسَآءِ إِنِ ٱتَّقَيْتُنَّ فَلَا تَخْضَعْنَ بِٱلْقَوْلِ فَيَطْمَعَ ٱلَّذِى فِى قَلْبِهِۦ مَرَضٌ وَقُلْنَ قَوْلًا مَّعْرُوفًا
Ya nisaa alnnabiyyi lastunna kaahadin mina alnnisai ini ittaqaytunna fala takhdaAAna bialqawli fayatmaAAa allathee fee qalbihi maradun waqulna qawlan maAAroofan
Command for the wives of the Prophet (peace be on him)
Every ayah has a context, the command not to speak in a soft tone, wa la takhdana, is specifically addressing the wives of the Prophet (peace be on him). They were being told that they were not like any other women, and that they should observe extra piety by not speak too softly, so that men would not incline towards them from their voice.
There is a disagreement about whether this ayah applies to women in general as well as the wives of the Prophet (peace be on him).
The wives of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) were the Mothers of the Believers and they had to act with the utmost modesty and purity. The responsibility placed on them was high and they were also reminded that their eternal reward did not depend on their being the wives of the Prophet (peace be on him) but from their own moral conduct.
The ayah says la takhdana, ‘do not make it soft’. The sunnah was that out of extra piety, women would put their finger in their mouth to change their voice, as they did not want to incur a sin by leaving their voices unchanged. This is not obligatory, lie the niqab, it is extra. It is not an obligation for women to do this. I witnessed old women doing this in Syria, because they had seen their mothers and grandmothers doing this and they copied them without thinking. They would dress in black and when they spoke they put their hand or garment in front of their mouth to change the tone of their voice.
Women aspire to be like them and learn from them, but is this ayah a command for all other women? No.
A woman’s voice is not her awrah
If you take this out of context and say the Quran is saying women should not speak, that is wrong. Sometimes the translation does not do justice to the meaning.
The concept that the voice is awrah began when people did not think this ayah alone was enough to prevent fitnah between men and women, so they fabricated the narration that a woman’s voice is her awrah.
A woman has the right to express herself
Though culturally there is a popular myth that the Prophet (peace be on him) said, ‘You should not speak. Your voice is ‘awrah’ (nakedness). To say a woman’s voice is part of her awrah is not a hadith. This is completely wrong. If this had been the case the Prophet (peace be on him) would not have listened to women. 50% of the population would have no voice. However he listened, answered their questions, understood their concerns and the revelation often came to answer their questions. Women even delivered speeches at the time, but were not told to sit down and not speak because they would cause fitnah (temptation).
There is no authentic evidence that women’s voice is their awrah. The literature that is widely quoted is not authentic. Sadly, in some communities the mentality that women should not speak still exists today.
Can women recite the Quran or sing in public?
There are many women reciters who have recited in international competitions in front of male and female Qaris in the Arab world and South Asia. Though people may object, there is no evidence to suggest that they may not do so. If there is a need women can recite in public but reciting the Quran is not meant to be a show or entertainment.
Women are permitted to sing in public, provided the songs and their lyrics are decent, for example, singing the national anthem. As long as there is nothing that contains temptation, (which some nasheeds do), and the circumstances around the singing are decent and within the shariah, it is permissible. The Prophet (peace be on him) himself was present when women sang, and he would listen to the lyrics and correct them if they went against the Shariah, for example, when he heard them sing, ‘Rasul allah knows what is in tomorrow.’
The voice is a tool of attraction – be careful not to misuse it
A woman’s voice is not her awrah, but can lead to temptation and fitnah. If she is speaking normally and not beautifying her voice, or using a special tone then that is perfectly fine. She has not been silenced by Islam, she has not been barred from public positions or public speaking.
The voice has the potential to used for good or bad. The way you use your voice can gain compassion and attract others. When a woman softens her voice with a salesman, she is more likely to get a cheaper price than a man.
If you have a nice voice be careful when you speak. Sometimes the way you laugh can be attractive. Some people have an ugly laugh, and some people have a lovely laugh. Everyone knows himself. Friends will tell you.
Certainly a woman is not allowed to beautify her voice in order to flirt or attract attention. Women often use a special tone when conversing with each other. Apart from body language, men and women modulate the pitch and timbre of their voice subconsciously depending on whom they are talking to.
Studies also show that women sometimes modify their voices to sound most attractive during the most fertile part of their menstrual cycle. Men also modify the pitch in their voice, specifically when confronted with potential competitors.
The ayah highlights that two sides are involved in a verbal exchange – the one who speaks and the one who listens. If there is illness in the heart of the one who is listening, he will be captivated by even a normal voice. So the Quran is saying be careful not to let your voice be a tool for temptation.
A woman should not soften her voice and make it seductive when conversing with non-mahrams. Women were created with softness and they have many more notes in their voice than men. This is a matter of taqwa and being aware of staying within the boundaries that Allah put in place.
Allah Almighty is teaching His creation, as He knows them and their capability best, new rules. He is showing them boundaries and warning them not to lead others on or take advantage of them. He is making us aware that we should be cautious, not just in our dress but how we speak, as the voice can be a powerful way to attract others.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Ladies Tafseer Class 2020
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October 11, 2022