The promotion of negativity against Muslim women has led many scholars to make an unsubstantiated ruling about female speech. They claim that women should lower their voice to whispers.
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 mankind’s expulsion from Paradise, thus instigating all temporal human suffering. Those misogynists who support this Biblical myth, dredge from the archives of 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 Surah 20, Verse 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.” It continues in the same Surah, Verses 121-122: “In the 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.
The result of such misinterpretation of hadiths and spreading negativity is that entire societies have ill-treated their female members despite the fact that Islam has honoured 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. The Prophet (Pbuh) consulted his wife, Umm Salma (RA) on important issues of the Muslim community. Such references to the Prophet’s positive attitudes towards women disprove 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 to make an 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 women. They have made the female act of communication some sort 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 whoever wished to transmit them. Further, women were accustomed to question the Prophet while men were present. Neither were they embarrassed to have their voices heard nor did the Prophet prevent their enquires. Even in the case of Hazrath Umar (RA) when he was challenged by a woman during his sermon 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 Umar.”
The Qur’an narrates the conversation between Prophet 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 style of talking. The speech of the woman should not be such that it tempts or excites the male. This is expressed in the Qur’an as complacent speech which Allah mentions in Surah 33, Verse :32: “O consorts of the Prophet! Ye are not like any of the other women: If ye do fear Allah, be not too complacent 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 attempt to inflict upon women. They point to many hadiths and distort it. They assume 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 possessions and your progeny are but a trial.” (Surah Anfal, Verse 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 towards 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 not sacrificing, or for the compiling of more than necessary wealth. Allah in the Qur’an warns: “Truly among your wives and children are enemies for you.” (64:14).
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.