Female Reciters of the Qur’an: Un-gendering God’s Word and Questioning the Patriarchal Idea of “Aurah”

Ramadhan mubarak, everyone! 🙂 May this month be one of many of peace, blessings, and light for all, aameen!

Dr. Jerusha Lamptey, professor of Islam and Ministry at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and author of Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism (2014), has just initiated a campaign urging Qur’an recitation websites to include female reciters of the Qur’an among their reciters’ list of hundreds or so. A petition for it can be accessed here.

If you’re on Twitter, please join the conversation and the call for female reciters to be granted their due recognition in popular platforms as well as in the broader religious realm; the hashtag being used is #AddAFemaleReciter.

But Why?

The exclusion of female reciters of the Qur’an, known in Arabic as qari’aat, is a part of the bigger problem of inaccurate claims about women, female sexuality, and male leadership, power, and control over women. That we don’t see any female names on Qur’anic recitation websites is no different from not seeing any women scholars, leaders, speakers at conferences and events or in books. The dismissal of women’s voices, in this case even literally, as either unnecessary, fitnah-inducing (i.e., causing some sort of chaos or distress–or temptation–because men aren’t supposed to be able to know how to respond decently to the public presence of women), or whatever else has been on-going for centuries, and it has to come to an end. It gets tiring constantly being told that “Islam” respects women — and I fully believe this — but never actually seeing this claim put into practice in reality, especially in public. We’re told that women and men are “spiritually” equal, that we’re all equal in God’s eyes, but yet, even when it comes to spiritual things like reciting the Qur’an, we’re still not treated equally. Reciting the Word of God, wherever and whenever, should be an option available to each of God’s worshiper; but, noo – we’ve made even that an all-male territory. We’re also told that God has no gender, and neither does the Qur’an, but yet, all Qur’anic recitations are gendered. We’re told so many lies that no one should be surprised when we stop trusting those who teach us Islam because we note these double standards and lies and attempt to rise above them.

Challenging the Claim of Women’s Voice as ‘Aurah

We need to challenge the traditional claim that because (all) women’s voices have the tendency to sexually attract (all) men, women’s voices are `aurah–i.e., private because of their potential to attract the “opposite” gender/sex; all human private parts of the body are also included in aurah, and so there is an element of shame attached to the term as well. Because our voice is aurah, we’re not only not religiously permitted to sing in public but we can’t even recite the Word of God in public. (Okay, yes, singing is a different matter, somewhat, since some scholars consider it haraam for all genders – but still, men’s voice isn’t declared aurah so no problem for men to do it.) With due respect to the all-male`ulama, this claim that women’s voice is aurah is preposterous for several reasons. This is one of the major problems with traditional Muslim (and other religious) ideas on gender: They were developed in a time when our knowledge of gender, sexuality, and women specifically was very much flawed, and our jurists and scholars weren’t exactly experts on gender/sexuality/women studies (admittedly, this is a recent field of study). Now, in 2015, our knowledge on many topics has improved and progressed, though still incomplete and imperfect, and many past claims about women have now even been proven false or countered otherwise. Because our knowledge about such matters as gender/sexuality/women/men has evolved and been updated with time, our attitude towards them, too, needs to be upgraded – if our intentions are sincere, if our efforts to understand what’s prohibited and permissible are for God.

Then again, when you have basically an all-male group issuing guidelines for and about women, with women themselves virtually missing from the conversation, it only makes sense that they not consider what women themselves feel about those guidelines. Where were the women to say, no, no, wait, why is woman’s voice aurah just because some of you men find it attractive, when we have men like Mishari al-Afasy with his irresistibly hot voice that distracts women, too? (Okay, fair enough: Women did speak up, and the Prophet’s wives Umm Salamah and Aisha were among those who repeatedly contested patriarchal claims about women, but I’m pointing here to the fact that 1) few Muslims are actually aware of these women’s statements–and Umm Salamah even had her own legal school, I learned recently! (More on this another time, once I’ve got more info, inshaAllah.); 2) How many women were involved in the process of law-making when the Shari’a was being developed for centuries? 3) How many tafseers are done by women? Every tafseer that has survived has been done by men. This matters.) That way, they could’ve come up with a more fair way to deal with the problem. But, nooo, the law had to work in ways that benefit the male ego and ignore women’s perspective.

The first time I admitted openly that I am crazy about Mishary Al-Afasy’s voice, some people looked at me like I was the most shameless creature they’d ever seen. Why, exactly, though? Why can’t I have an opinion on how sexy or unsexy a man’s recitation of the Qur’an is, but NO woman is allowed to publicly recite the Qur’an (according to the all-male `ulama industry) entirely because, as falsely claimed, men  find women’s voice naturally seductive? No one goes around telling men to stop thinking indecently when  actual laws have been created on the premise–and the entire Qur’an has been interpreted from a lens–that celebrates and promotes the hypersexuality of men? I listen to Mishary because I love his voice. Sure, Qur’anic recitations soothe me, and it feels wonderful spiritually and mentally to listen to them, but if I’m going to listen to a man’s recitation of the Qur’an–because I’m not given the option of women’s recitations–it might as well be one that I find attractive. (But know that I prefer my own recitation of the Qur’an. But I don’t want to recite in public. Too shy, etc.!) It was never God Who said women can’t recite in public or that women’s voice naturally seductive; it was some men.

Besides, if men are constantly thinking about sex, why do women have to be restricted because of them? Why not just keep all men restricted to the privacy of their homes and then all our problems regarding rape, molestation, harassment, and potentially indecent thoughts about women coming from men will come to an end. God, humanity, you tire the qrratu out of me. Patriarchy is SO illogical and stupid. Just admit already that what women are allowed and not allowed to do has nothing to do with Islam or God but with the greed for power by those who claim to be speaking in God’s name. In fact, every religion’s gender-related laws are based on (men’s) emotions – and trust no one who claims otherwise. Think about it: those laws are based entirely on men’s (mostly emotional) insecurities, fears, anxieties, particularly about what will happen to men’s power if women were given an iota of power. And then patriarchy turns around and tells women to “stop being so emotional.” Please. Look who’s talking. And it’s not that men used the more positive emotions to create laws; they just used the negative ones, like their insecurities. Because, when done right and responsibly, using emotions to create laws (in the case of religions or politics) can actually be a beautiful thing. It’s just that when our male scholars were creating Islamic laws, they didn’t use emotions like compassion, sympathy, etc. for women and other historically marginalized genders; they used the more negative emotions like their own insecurities because patriarchy allows them to do that and even assures them that their insecurities don’t fall under the zip code of emotions. And, of course, they get away with it all because they lie to us that this is what “God” says when God is above and beyond such lies, such false knowledges.

Knowing patriarchal claims about women and gender rather well, I suspect that some Muslims will come forth to say:

– “Ugh, you feminists. You just want women to be like men.”
Oh, is that so? Please, enlighten me some more on what else we feminists want.

– “But it’s unnatural for women to recite the Qur’an in public!”
Uh, no. Let’s understanding that the word “natural” often means familiar, traditional, popularly accepted, etc. These descriptions actually don’t have anything to do with “nature”; in fact, they’re anything but: These claims are man-made, not natural. There’s nothing scientific, biological, physical, or otherwise natural about a woman’s voice being seen as any more attractive than a man’s voice. Some women’s voices are more attractive than other women’s voice, but “attractive” is a very subjective term – you know how we all have different favorite singers? Yeah, like that. But just as some women’s voices are attractive to their listeners, so are some men’s voices to theirs.

– “No, sister, trust me. We men get attracted to women’s voices if they recite the Qur’an.” So? Listen to an unattractive voice, then. Listen to men’s recitations, then; there are plenty of those, you know. Most importantly, we women get attracted to men’s voices when they recite the Qur’an, too, but no one cares about that. So, what, let’s have no one reciting the Qur’an then because someone out there might find them attractive?

– “But when men get distracted, it’s really bad. They get more distracted than women.”
Okay, don’t get me started on this, bruh. Let’s not compare our distractions. And who measures this distraction and how? How do you know that *I* don’t get distracted more than you do? But if a man can’t focus on God or the Qur’an when he’s listening to a female recitation of the Qur’an, the problem lies in him and his failure to focus on God, not in women’s supposed ability to tempt men. Such men shouldn’t be listening to women’s recitation of the Qur’an in the first place. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be allowed to do it just because men are incapable of worshiping God properly. Again, if men supposedly can’t “control” themselves, they need to be the ones secluded from women, not the other way around; men, then, should be the ones confined to the privacy of homes since they’re clearly the ones who have no control over their emotions. Women got things under control. Besides, so what if men get distracted and can’t control themselves? What’s the fear, again?

And don’t get me started on the patriarchal claims that women don’t have sexual urges, or strong enough sexual urges, and therefore, it’s okay for men to recite publicly and for women to hear them. Don’t. Just don’t. Let’s just say, women are no dolls, and patriarchy needs to stop treating us like we are. And go catch up on female sexuality. (By the way, since we’re talking about Islam, Islam actually fully recognizes female sexual desire. I KNOW!!). But, actually, patriarchy needs to make up its mind because on the one hand, women are such sexual creatures that they have to be kept hidden because they go crazy when let out, but on the other hand, we are so asexual that when we admitting to having feelings upon hearing the seductive voice of a man, we’re told our response is “unnatural.”  So which is it? Are we or are we not sexual beings? Are we really dolls and objects, or are we actual humans with sexual capacity that you’re just deliberately denying because you know what we women are fully capable of? (I sort of talk about this in a blog post I wrote some years ago – so don’t judge the writing and stuff. Thanks.) Then again, no one ever claimed that patriarchy made any sense, so no surprise there.

Also, if the argument that women don’t get tempted by men or men’s voices persists, what about men’s voices attracting gay men? Oh, right: Gay men don’t exist. Never mind.

Look, if you don’t want to hear a woman reciting the Qur’an, please don’t. No one is asking you to and no one’s demanding you do so. We’re simply demanding balance on Qur’anic recitation websites, which currently don’t recognize women reciters of the Qur’an. Some of us do want to hear women reciters, and we should have that option.

More on Female Reciters

I’ve wanted to write on this subject for so long on my blogs. But it’s one of those topics that overwhelms me. (Other such topics are women’s spaces in mosques and our treatment of LGBTIQ+ Muslims. These topics overwhelm me because I’ve too much to say, and I don’t even know where to begin.) But know that the conversation of female reciters of the Qur’an is taking place already. Malaysia and Indonesia are a step ahead of much of the rest of the Muslim world, since these two countries publicly accept women reciters of the Qur’an. Here are some links to articles/etc. on the subject:
– Omid Safi: Words of God in women’s voices: Women reciting the Qur’an in public
– Wood Turtle: The keeper of God’s words (I find these words of the author’s very beautiful and powerful: “The Qur’an is beautiful. I’m not a native speaker of Arabic and sometimes the only way I can relate to the words is through the beauty of the recitation. Anyone who thinks that a person can’t be affected by a powerful voice is kidding themselves. That’s what makes a reciter good — their ability to sway the hearts of others, irrespective of gender.”)
– The website Qur’anic Path on whether or not women are Islamically prohibited from singing and reciting the Qur’an in public (P.S. It’s rather polemical in tone and rebuttals, but still a generally informative article nonetheless.)
– When, in 2013, Tahera Ahmad became the first female to recite the Qur’an at an ISNA convention

Some Female Reciters of the Qur’an

So, let’s urge Qur’an websites to include female reciters in their lists of reciters. In case anyone claims, “But there aren’t any!” here are several names. But the below are all piece-meal recitations. What we need are full recitations by women, not just of certain verses or surah.

*Note: There’s a whole Youtube channel for women’s recitations of the Qur’an*

The following names, found through a random Youtube/Google search, are listed in alphabetical order of the reicter’s first name. The links are intended as mere samples of their recitations.

Amina Zubairu (Nigeria) (the link here is to an al-Jazeera report about her winning the Qur’an competition in 2010 – can’t find samples of her recitations so far.)
Farida Mat Saman (Malaysia)
Fatima Zahra Tahour (Morocco)
Hajjar Boosuq (Morocco)
Hanisa Abdullah (Malaysia)
Maghfirah Hussein (Indonesia)
Maria Ulfa (Indonesia)
Mazna Awang Johan (Malaysia)
Samia Khanan (Pakistan)
Sharifah Khazif Fadzilah (Malaysia)
Sumayya Eddeeb (Egypt)
Tahera Ahmad (U.S.)
Umm Kulthum (Egypt) (the link here is to a recitation of hers in a film – I don’t know how appropriate it is to include it here, but the point is: here’s another woman reciter of the Qur’an)

There! Now no one can say women reciters of the Qur’an don’t exist. But stop asking us to find them for you! Look them up just like you did the men reciters.

Basically, to quote Wood Turtle:

This lack of recognising female talent is an indication of a larger, negative spiritual attitude toward women. Arguing that public recitation is forbidden because God made our voices naturally charming and alluring to attract the opposite sex is horrendously sexist, heterocentric as well as objectifying.2 It’s okay for women to become famous by singing secular and corruptible non-religious songs but it’s not okay to recite the pure and heavenly Qur’an.

P.S. Talk about unity, y’all – the Qur’anExplorer website folks seem willing to add female reciters to their reciters list! … Though, I wonder what they mean by having them evaluated by “some scholars” and whether they evaluate male reciters of the Qur’an as well. At any rate, I hope the “some scholars” include female scholars.

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About Orbala

Pashtun. Interested in all things Pashtuns, feminism, and Islam/religion. And I want it to rain on my wedding day, pliss, inshaAllah.
This entry was posted in Death to patriarchy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Female Reciters of the Qur’an: Un-gendering God’s Word and Questioning the Patriarchal Idea of “Aurah”

  1. rosalindawijks says:

    Salam jan, beautiful & interesting post, and you wrote it so quickly! I’m glad to see that our twitter conversations bore this fruit. 😉 😀 The struggle continues!

    Like

    • orbala says:

      Quick because I was literally itching to do it! Did you see some of those tweets to me?! Girls being like “but women are naturally shy so we don’t wanna recite publicly” … I’m like, okay, then please don’t recite publicly but also don’t speak for all women.” Others (including men) being like “but woman’s voice is aurah” – screw this thought, really. So tired of it. Hence the lengthy discussion above on aurah alone. PATRIARCHY TIRES ME!!!!
      Thanks for reading, jaan ❤

      Like

  2. TrueMuslim says:

    Hmm, nice post. But listen sis, it is not haraam at all for women/ girls to recite Al-Quran in public, it’s just like getting rewards if we do, and if we want to. And yeah, in our school, every year there is Quran competition. And there is Inter-school Quran competition as well. And there is a boy, his name’s Ahmad Saud, the best with the most blessed voice I’ve ever heard; it’s totally *incredible!*
    ((In YouTube)).
    So, yeah, there’s no prob if there are female reciters or we want to be a female reciter. Just imagine of it. If you want to be one, you should have confidence, oh come on Orbala, there’s no reason of being shy. If others can, why can’t you? I mean not only you, but everyone, see, we, we should follow the things which Prophet (SAW) does, right? So that’s Sunnah. I’m trying too, with all my mighty best.
    It’s okay, I mean now it’s all your wish, not forcing.
    Good luck for your future 😉

    Like

    • orbala says:

      Thank you for your insight, TM! 🙂
      I appreciate the encouragement to put my voice out there – I really am uncomfortable doing that right now, especially because I do not have the voice for it, but inshaAllah I hope to develop the confidence to do so one day once I’ve received some training, etc.!

      Thank you for the well wishes ❤ I wish you and your loved ones a beautiful future as well!

      Like

    • TrueMuslim says:

      Your welcome and thank you for that. Hmm, wondering what’s TM??

      Like

    • orbala says:

      TM = short for your name here lol

      Like

  3. TrueMuslim says:

    Oh God!! Seriously?!?! LOL!!!

    Like

  4. TrueMuslim says:

    Yeah, the first time ever in my whole life I mailed you. Waited every night for your reply! 😦
    So yeah, you probably should.

    Like

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