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Does the Qur'an Prohibit Muslim Women from Reciting the Qur'an or to Sing in Public as the Clergy teach us?

Unfortunately, the religion of the Qur'an has been severely tainted by clergymen of the past, who have interpreted many verses in the Qur'an in a very twisted way. One such example of their wrong interpretations is of a Verse they use to pass their "verdict (fatwa)" that Muslim women cannot sing or recite the Qur'an in front of unrelated men i.e. in public generally.

Today, there are many Muslim women, despite the above, sing and own albums in the Muslim world. However, they are only able to do so because they do it outside the 'religious realm'. That is, the platform on which they are able to utilise and express their talent is one which is not identified with Islam. On the other end, Islamic gatherings and events are held worldwide, and even 'nasheed' events but women have no platform there. 'Nasheeds' have become a popular phenomenon among the young Muslims of today. However, their is an obvious lack of female artists in the arena. This is not because there are not any talented Muslim female singers, rather that the majority of the Muslims insist on adhering to wrong interpretations of the Qur'an because their predecessors have 'interpreted' the verses for them. They will not think over the verses for themselves lest they disobey their predecessors, thus they continue to thrive in teachings that do not really originate from the Qur'an. Allah states this condition of the mind in a verse:<

"When they are told: 'Follow what Allah has sent down to you,' they say: 'We are following what we found our fathers doing.' What? even though their fathers did not understand a thing and were not guided? (Qur'an: 2:170)

The verse of concern in this article is Verse 32 of Surah Al-Ahzab. It is not difficult to understand for a believer who has studied the entire Qur'an thoroughly, but some one who is not acquainted with the Qur'an can easily fall into the twisted interpretations of the clergymen. The original verse is quoted below:

يَا نِسَاءَ النَّبِيِّ لَسْتُنَّ كَأَحَدٍ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ إِنِ اتَّقَيْتُنَّ فَلا تَخْضَعْنَ بِالْقَوْلِ فَيَطْمَعَ الَّذِي فِي قَلْبِهِ مَرَضٌ وَقُلْنَ قَوْلا مَعْرُوفًا

(Qur'an 33:32)

Here is a translation of the verse which 'they' may show you and which the common reader would have most likely read:

"Oh wives of the prophet, you are not like any other women. If you are righteous, then do not speak too softly (فلا تخضعن بالقول / falaa thakhdha'na bil-qawl), lest one in whose heart is a disease (في قلبه مرض / fee quluubihi maradh) >will move with desire; you shall speak in an honourable manner." (Qur'an 33:32)

From the above verse, the points which the clergy make are:

  1. the Prophet's wives must not 'soften' their voices when speaking to strange men and should rather make it firm / rough.
  2. the strange men will be moved with desire (due to their 'soft' voices) if the voice is not made firm / rough.
  3. the 'disease in his heart (في قلبه مرض / fee qalbihi maradh)' mentioned in the verse refer to the pervert-ness in strange men, the reason to which the prophet's wives need to alter the sound of their natural voices and make it sound firmer / rougher.
  4. because singing requires "softening the voice" and since prophet's wives are the role models for all women, singing is forbidden in front of unrelated men.

All of these points are actually completely not what the verse really means. We will have to systematically analyse the verse to understand it correctly.

1st Point: Those with Disease in the Heart

First of all, who is the 'one with disease in the heart' (fee qalbihi maradh / في قلبه مرض) mentioned in the verse? At face value, it is easy to give into the above interpretation of the clergy. But Quranically, we are faced with an intriguing aspect to this expression. The word "مرض / maradh" means 'illness', 'sickness' or 'disease'. It has been used in the Qur'an in the common form as is used in spoken Arabic to refer to physical illness. We find that in the Qur'an, "disease in the heart" is a unique and special term used several times through out the Qur'an. The expression describing disease (مرض / maradh) in the heart (قلب / qalb) is used to describe a set of people, consisting of both men and women, and this verse is another example of its use. The special meaning can be deduced only when we look at all the verses of the Qur'an which uses this expression.

Below are all the verses of the Qur'an that use this expression - it is fully comprehensive. The meaning is obvious. Can you find the meaning?

"There are some people who Say: 'We believe in Allah and in the Last Day,' but they are not really believers. They seek to deceive Allah and those who believe, but they only deceive themselves without noticing. There is a disease in their hearts (fee quluubihim maradhun / في قلوبهم مرض), and Allah increases their disease, they will have a painful retribution for what they have denied." (Qur'an 2:8-10)

"O you who believe, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies, for they are allies to one another; and whoever takes them as such from amongst you is one of them. Allah does not guide the wicked people. You will see those who have a disease in their hearts (fee quluubihim maradhun / في قلوبهم مرض) hurrying to them, saying: "We fear that a disaster will befall us!" Perhaps Allah will bring a victory or a decree from Himself, then they will become regretful over what they had kept hidden within themselves." (Qur'an 5:51-52)

"The hypocrites, those who have a disease in their hearts (fee quluubihim maradhun / في قلوبهم مرض)said: "These people have been deceived by their religion." But whoever puts his trust in Allah, then Allah is Noble, Wise." (Qur'an 8:49)

"We have never sent a messenger or prophet before you (Muhammad) into whose wishes Satan did not insinuate something - but Allah removes what the Satan insinuates and then Allah affirms His message. Allah is All-Knowing and All-Wise. He makes Satan's insinuations a temptation only for those with a disease in their hearts (fee quloobihim maradun / في قلوبهم مرض) and whose hearts are hardened. The evil-doers are profoundly opposed (to the truth). (Qur'an 22:52-53)

"Do they have disease in their hearts (fee quloobihim maradun / في قلوبهم مرض)? Are they full of doubts? Do they fear that Allah and His Messenger will deal with them unjustly?" (Qur'an 24:50)

"The hypocrites, those with disease at the heart (fee quloobihim maradun / في قلوبهم مرض) say 'Allah and His Messenger promised us nothing but delusion!" (Qur'an 33:12)

"Those who believe ask why no chapter (about fighting) has been sent down. Yet, when a decisive chapter (that mentions fighting) is sent down, you can see those with disease in their hearts (fee quloobihim maradun / في قلوبهم مرض) looking at you and visibly fainting at the prospect of death - better for them would be obedience and fitting words, it would also be better for them to be true to Allah when the decision to fight has been made." (Qur'an 47:20-21)

"Do those with a disease in their hearts (fee quloobihim maradun / في قلوبهم مرض) assume that Allah will not expose their malice? We could even point them out to you if We wished, and then you could identify them by their marks, but you will know them anyway by the tone of their speech. Allah knows everything you (people) do." (Qur'an 47:29-30)

"So that those who have been given the Scripture will be certain and those who believe will have their faith increased: neither those who have been given the Scripture nor the believers will have any doubts. However, those with a disease in their hearts (fee quloobihim maradun / في قلوبهم مرض) and the disbelievers say, 'What could Allah mean by such a description?' Allah leaves whoever He wills to stray and guides whoever He wills. (Qur'an 74:31)

"If the Hypocrites, those with a disease in their hearts (fee quloobihim maradun / في قلوبهم مرض) who spread lies in the city do not desist, We shall rouse you (Prophet) against them and they will only be your neighbors in the city for a short while." (Qur'an 33:60)

What Allah means by this expression is apparent. In every single mentioning of the term, it has been used with only one meaning: It refers to 'hypocrites' - those who do not posses faith in Allah and the Last Day and who try to deceive and manipulate the believers. There is not even a single exception in the way this term has been used, as can be seen clearly from the above. In some verses, Allah explicitly states "the hypocrites, those with a disease in their heart" confirming that "those with a disease in their hearts" are hypocrites, and in other verses He uses the special term and then describes their markedly hypocritical behaviour, "you can see those with disease in their hearts (fee quloobihim maradun / في قلوبهم مرض) looking at you and visibly fainting at the prospect of death". In certain other verses, the term is used in an isolated manner in passing, and the believer is expected to know that Allah is referring to the hypocrites through his or her knowledge of the Qur'an and wisdom. Note that, in the verses above, the mischievous acts of such hypocrites to deviate the believers of the time are highlighted.

Allah also states that the hypocrites consist of both men and women, not just men:

"The hypocrites, both men and women, are all the same. They order what is wrong and forbid what is right, they are tight-fisted. They have ignored Allah and Allah has ignored them. The hypocrites are the disobedient ones. Allah promises the fire of Hell for the hypocrites, both men and women, and the disbelievers. Allah rejects them, and a lasting punishment awaits them." (Qur'an 9:67)

"On that Day, the hypocrite men and women will say to the believers, 'wait for us!, let us have some of your light!' They will be told, 'Go back and look for a light.' (Qur'an 57:13)

The believers and the Prophet are frequently warned to be cautious with these people and are warned that they really harbor bad intent in their hearts.

"Prophet, be mindful of Allah and do not give into the disbelievers and the hypocrites: Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. Follow what your Lord reveals to you: Allah is well aware of your actions." (Qur'an 33:1-2)

"The Hypocrites are afraid lest a chapter should be sent down about them, showing them what is (really passing) in their hearts. Say: "Mock! But Allah will bring to light all that you fear (should be revealed)." (Qur'an 9:64)

It is also important to note that it is possible for true believers to identify the hypocrites by analysing their choice of words and behaviour which do not meet the fine standards of a believer:

"Do those with a disease in their hearts assume that Allah will not expose their malice? We could even point them out to you if We wished, and then you could identify them by their marks, but you will know them anyway by their tone of their speech. Allah knows everything you (people) do." (Qur'an 47:29-30)

We have seen all the verses which makes use of the expression "disease in their hearts", which always referred to hypocrites. Given this knowledge, if we were to say that the use of this expression verse 33:32 ("signing" verse) does not mean hypocrites, it would be the only verse out of the entire Qur'an that would be so and would be an anomaly.

2nd Point: Deceptive Translation: 'Not be soft when speaking'

There is another point to be made. The portion of the verse which allegedly says to not speak in a soft tone to the Prophet's wives is this: لا تخضعن بالقول (laa thakhdha'na bil qawl). The meaning of the word تخضعن (thakhdha'na) with the root خضع (kha-dha-'aa) is first and foremost 'to not submit to, yield to, surrender to, give into, give way to etc.' and not "soften" (the voice) as the clergy would have us believe.

Furthermore, we find that the expression لا تخضعن بالقول (falaa thakhdha'na bi qawl) uses the word قول (qawl). This word means 'utterances, words, statement', used frequently to mean this in the Qur'an, not voice! For example,

"It is the words (قول qawl) of a noble messenger" (Qur'an 69:40)

It refers to the actual words being spoken and not the sound of the voice. Otherwise, the appropriate word would have been صوت (sawth) which means 'voice, sound', which is not used here but has been used elsewhere in the Qur'an. For example,

"It is those who lower their voices (صوت sawth) in the presence of Allah's messenger and whose hearts Allah has proved to be aware - they will have forgiveness and a great reward" (Qur'an 49:3)

The combination of تخضعن (thakhdha'na) and قول (qawl) ie. لا تخضعن بالقول (laa thakhdha'na bil qawl) - gives the clear meaning 'do not give in with words' or 'do not give in with your choice of words' addressing 2nd person feminine plural group (i.e. the Prophet's wives). Therefore, knowing what we know now, we see that the verse has nothing to do with softening voices of the Prophet's wives.

Combining our Knowledge of 1st and 2nd Point

With our knowledge of who 'those with a diseased heart' are and that the verse is not saying 'do not soften your voices' rather do not yield with words, or choice of words, we deduce the following:

This Verse of the Qur'an is telling the wives of the Prophet to be cautious in front of hypocrites, both men and women when speaking to them as they are out to harm the believers, to plot against them and will seek ways to verbally take advantage of them to make bigger plots.

"Wives of the prophet, you are not like any other women. If you are righteous, then do not give in (to them) with your words (لا تخضعن بالقول (laa thakhdha'na bil qawl), in case 'one in whose heart is a disease (في قلبه مرض)' (hypocrite man or woman) will be tempted (to plot, take advantage and make mischief). You shall speak well-chosen words (وقلن قولا معروفا / wa qulna qawlan ma'roofa)" (Qur'an 33:32)

3rd Point: You shall speak 'well chosen words'

Now notice the last bit "You shall speak well-chosen words (وقلن قولا معروفا / wa qulna qawlan ma'roofa)". This portion reinforces what we have stated so far. This is because the wives of the Prophet are told to instead say "words (قول / qawl)" which are "معروف (ma'roof)". Notice the word "قول / qawl" is used once again, which corresponds to the earlier mentioning of the word when the verse said "do not give in to them with your words". This reinforces our Point 1 that the previous use of the same word was to do with the choice of words and has nothing to do with the voice or the sound of the female voice. Because if it did mean voice or sound, it would bizzarely read in this verse "You shall speak well chosen voice" - but ofcourse, "قول / qawl" means "words (the speach uttered)". This part of the verse is commonly translated as 'but utter customary speech', or 'speak honorably' most probably to conform with their understanding that the previous portion was to do with the sound of the voice.

Also, the word used to describe the "words (قول / qawl)" they should speak is "معروف / ma'roof" from the root "عرف (aa-ra-fa)" - which means 'to know'. The word "معروف / ma'roof" firstly means 'well known, recognised, renowned' as well as mean 'good', 'grace' etc. وقلن قولا معروفا, has thus more correctly been translated to 'You shall speak (قلن / qulna) well-chosen (معروفا / ma'roofa) words (قولا / qawlan)" given the context. This tallies very well with our previous understanding that لا تخضعن بالقول (laa thakhdha'na bi qawl) means "do not give in (to them) with your words" because the verse is ending with a command to choose words carefully i.e. be alert with these people (hypocrite men and women).

It is surprising that such a verse has been turned upside down in such a way to mean something completely different to the true meaning of the verse which is so clear to the genuine non-biased reader of the Qur'an. If we were to show a non-word-for-word translation based on what we have analysed, it would be as follows:

"Wives of the prophet, you are not like other women. If you are truly righteous, do not yield to them with your words, in case the hypocrite man or woman will be tempted (to plot, take advantage and make mischief). Pick well-chosen words when speaking to them."

The Verse is actually just like another verse which tells the Prophet to do the same:

"Prophet, be mindful of Allah and do not give into the disbelievers and the hypocrites: Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. Follow what your Lord reveals to you: Allah is well aware of your actions." (Qur'an 33:1-2)

The true meaning of the verse in concern is abundantly clear in the original Arabic verse, provided the reader bears in mind who those with a disease in their hearts are and employs his or her God-given wisdom.

Conclusion

  1. This is one of the many verses of Qur'an warning the believers to beware of the hypocrites.
  2. The verse does not tell the Prophet's wives to not be soft in their tone of the voice, rather to not yield to the hypocrites with their choice of words when speaking to them. Although they are hypocrites, they can be identified as stated in a verse because they do not match the sincerity, and humbleness in the way of Allah true believers carry.
  3. 'The one with a disease in the heart' is not referring to men with a perversion with women's voices but hypocrites, both men and women.
  4. Therefore, the verse has nothing to do with women's voice or the sound of their voices
  5. The verse can in no way be used to restrict women from singing in public as it has nothing to do with what the clergy claim it means.

Finally, knowing this interpretation based on the Qur'an, based on Allah's actual words, we must turn away from interpretations that are not based on the Qur'an:

Hijab and Niqab in the Qur'an

"Do they then seek the judgment of the Time of Ignorance? Who could be better at giving judgment than Allah for people with certainty?" (Qur'an 5:50)

And be not like the following:

"And they will say: 'Our Lord, we obeyed our masters and great men, and they misled us from the Path." (Qur'an 33: 67)

"Is it not enough for them that We have sent down to you the Book that is recited to them? There is certainly a mercy and reminder in that for people who believe." (Qur'an 29:51)

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See also:

 The Plight of the Hypocrites

Love for Allah

Understanding "Obey Allah & the Messenger"

Reading the Qur'an but Practising Something Else

Understanding the Arabic Language does not Mean One Understands the Qur'an

 

Are "Those with Knowledge" referring to Clergy / "Ulama"?

Misconceptions link


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