Is it permissible for women to sing and is it permissible for men to listen to them?

The Details of the Question

a) Is a woman’s melodious voice haram for men?
b) Is it permissible for a woman to call adhan and to recite the Quran aloud?
c) Is it permissible for men to listen to a hymn sung by a woman?
d) Is it permissible for men to listen to women singing?
Will you give detailed information according to madhhabs with their sources?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

1) Women’s Voice:

According to the majority of scholars, a woman’s voice is not regarded as awrah. If a man listens to it, it becomes haram because of the bad feelings he may have in himself. If he does not have such bad thoughts, it is not objectionable. The conversation of the Companions with women is this kind of listening. (see al-Mawsuatul-Fiqhiyya, 4/90)

Its evidence:

a) “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.” (al-Ahzab, 33/32) It is also possible to understand from the verse above that a woman’s voice is not forbidden.

b) The situation of the woman who came to the Prophet (pbuh) complaining about her husband and talking to him is expressed as follows in the Quran:

“Allah has indeed heard (and accepted) the statement of the woman who pleads with thee concerning her husband and carries her complaint (in prayer) to Allah. and Allah (always) hears the arguments between both sides among you: for Allah hears and sees (all things).” (al-Mujadala, 58/1)

c) The View of Madhhabs Regarding the Issue:

- According to the preferred view of Hanafi madhhab, a woman’s voice is not regarded as awrah, and it is not haram for her to speak to men (by observing hijab rules and being careful about the way she speaks). (see Ibn Abidin, 1/406) According to another view of Hanafis, a woman’s voice is regarded as awrah. However, the fact that it is regarded as awrah does not mean that she must not speak to men. Rather, it means that she must not raise her voice in a way that causes fitnah (mischief). (see al-Bahrur-Raiq, 1/205; Ibn Abidin, ibid)

- According to the soundest view in Shafii madhhab a woman’s voice is not regarded as awrah. (see Nawawi, Majmu’, 3/390; Zakariyya al-Ansari, Asnal-Matalib, 1/176)

According to Shafii madhhab, a woman’s voice is not regarded as awrah and there is no harm in listening to it when no fitnah is in question. (see Shirbini, Mughnil-Muhtaj, 4/210)

- Imam Ghazali states that a woman’s voice is not haram - except when it causes fitnah. (see Ihya, 2/278)

In conclusion, according to the majority of scholars, a woman’s voice is not regarded as awrah and is not haram. (W. Zuhayli, al-Fiqhul-Islami, 1/665)

2) Women’s Melodious Voice:

a) According to what is narrated from Aisha (r.a.), two girls from Ansar were singing in her presence some of the elegies that Ansar sang on the day of Buath. Abu Bakr, who came there at that time, said, “The devil’s whistles in the house of the Prophet?” That day was the day of Eid. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “O Abu Bakr! Every nation has an eid. This day is our Eid.” (Bukhari, Eidayn, 2, 3; Muslim, Eidayn, 16)

It is understood from this hadith that the Prophet (pbuh) did not object to the two girls singing elegies on the day of Eid, which is a season of joy; on the contrary, he pointed out that it was a good custom.

b) Acting upon the hadith above about “the singing of two female slaves...” and similar hadiths, the great majority of Islamic scholars stated that a woman’s voice, even if it was melodious, was not haram as long as it did not cause fitnah (see Ibn Hajar, Fathul-Bari, 2/443; Tuhfatul-Ahwazi, 10/122, W. Zuhayli, al-Fiqhul-Islami, 2/116)

- According to the information given in fiqh books, it is not haram for a non-mahram man to listen to a woman’s voice if he does not get a pleasure that arouses his lustful feelings and does not have a fear of fitnah. (see al-Mawsuatul-Fiqhiyyah, 4/90)

If there is a fear of fitnah, it is haram to listen to a woman’s melodious voice in all cases, including the recitation of the Quran. (see W. Zuhayli, al-Fiqhul-Islami, 1/665)

3) Women’s Calling Adhan and Reciting the Quran:

It is not permissible for a woman to call adhan because it is not legitimate for a woman to call adhan, and it is haram for her to call adhan because of the possibility of her melodious voice causing fitnah. (see W. Zuhayli, ibid, 1/615)

According to Hanafi madhhab, since a woman is forbidden from raising her voice, it is makruh (tahrimi) for her to call adhan. (al-Bahrur-Raiq, 1/277)

It is because a woman’s voice is regarded as awrah. If a woman lowers her voice when she calls adhan, it is against the announcement of adhan; if she raises it, she will have committed haram. (Shurunbulali, Maraqil-Falah, 1/80)

According to Malikis, one of the conditions for the caller of adhan is to be a man. Therefore, it is not appropriate for a woman to call adhan. (see Fiqhul-Ibadat Alal-Madhhabil-Maliki, 1/126; Hashiyatus-Sawi, 1/252)

According to Shafii madhhab, it is not permissible for a woman to lead prayers as an imam for men, nor is it permissible for her to call adhan for men. Since adhan involves the raising of the voice, it is haram or makruh for a woman to call adhan, as it may be a cause of fitnah for men. (see ash-Shirazi, al-Madhhab fi Fiqhil-Imam ash-Shafii, 1/111; Nawawi, Majmu’, 3/100)

According to Hanbalis, it is not permissible for a woman to call adhan because of the possibility of causing fitnah. That is also the reason why it is not permissible for a woman to warn the imam with her voice in prayer like a man, but it is permissible for her to warn him with tasfiq (clapping her hands). (Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni, 3/305; ash-Sharhul-Kabir, 1/414)

4) Women’s Singing Hymns:

In general, scholars have different interpretations about whether a woman’s voice is regarded as awrah or not. According to some scholars, a woman’s voice is not regarded as awrah (though it is more likely to be related to speaking).

According to the scholars who say that a woman’s voice is regarded as awrah, it is haram for her to sing in a loud voice, even if it is a hymn, in such a way to make non-mahram men hear it. If there are obscene things in the lyrics, the state of being haram and sinfulness increases. (al-Jazari, al-Fiqhu Alal-Madhahibil-Arba’a, 5/53-54)

According to Hanafis, it is haram for a woman to sing a tune in such a way to make non-mahram men hear it, whether it is accompanied by musical instruments or not. If those songs include illegitimate things, such as praising alcohol or depicting women, it becomes even more haram. (see Jazari, ibid)

According to Malikis, it is forbidden for women to utter any melodious words, and it is forbidden for men to listen to them. (see ibid)

According to Shafiis, it is forbidden for men and women to sing melodies accompanied with musical instruments. (ibid)

According to Hanbalis, it is forbidden for both men and women to sing melodies that will arouse the sensual feelings of those who listen to them. The decree on the listeners may vary according to their imagination. For example, if the listener thinks about the drinking tables and women, it is haram for him to listen to it. (see ibid)

5) Women’s Singing – Men’s Listening:

It will be useful to draw a general framework first regarding the issue.

The majority of scholars unanimously agrees that it is haram to listen to songs, whether they are sung by a man or a woman, in the following cases:

a) If they are accompanied by illegitimate things,

b) If they arouse bad feelings that may cause fitnah in the listener,

c) If they distract a person from his religious (such as abandoning the daily prayer) or worldly (such as doing his job) duties. (al-Mawsuatul-Fiqhiyyah, 4/90) Women’s singing of songs, folk songs or hymns can also be evaluated according to those criteria.

A woman’s singing songs or hymns can be evaluated based on the criteria above.

“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.” (al-Ahzab, 33/32)

It is possible to understand the following from the verse above:

If it is inappropriate for a woman to speak in an attractive manner in normal conversation, it is even more inappropriate for her to sing songs, or hymns.

- As for the songs that do not have those drawbacks;

a) According to some of the scholars, including Hanafis, it is still haram because all songs are regarded as entertainment.

b) According to Shafiis, Malikis and some Hanbalis, it is makruh, not haram, to sing or listen to songs that do not have those drawbacks. Listening to them from a non-mahram woman is more makruh.

c) According to some other scholars, including Imam Ghazali of Shafiis and Abu Bakr al-Khallal of Hanbalis, it is permissible to sing and listen to songs that do not have those drawbacks. (see al-Mawsuatul-Fiqhiyyah, 4/90-91)

d) Imam Ghazali allocated 35 pages of his book named Ihya to this issue, analyzing all that has been said, comparing the evidence, and reached the following conclusion:

Music, whether vocal or instrumental, is not subject to a single decree: It can be haram, makruh, mubah and mustahab.

1) For young people who are filled with worldly desires and lustful feelings, music that arouses only those feelings is haram.

2) It is makruh for the one who spends most of his time on music and makes it a habit.

3) Music is mubah/permissible for the person who does not feel anything other than taking pleasure from the nice sound.

4) It is mustahab for the person who is overwhelmed with the love of Allah and in whom the nice sound arouses only good attributes. (see Ihya, II/302)

Ghazali continues his analysis by stating that music is either permissible or mandub depending on the situation, and that what makes it haram is not the music itself, but five external causes:

1) If the singer is a woman and the listener fears that her voice will arouse his lust, it is haram for him to listen to it. The decree of haram does not come from the music, but from the woman’s voice in this case. In fact, a woman’s voice is not haram, but if it arouses lust, it is haram to listen to her even while reciting the Quran.

2) If the musical instrument is one of the symbols of drinking parties, it is haram to use it; the others are permissible.

3) If the lyrics of a song are corrupt and contrary to Islamic faith and ethics, it is haram to sing or listen to it with or without music.

4) If a person who is a prisoner of sensual feelings due to his youth is excessively interested in music, and music only arouses his sexual desire, he must stay away music.

5) If music does not arouse a person’s either lust or divine love, but takes up all his time and distracts him from other activities, it is also haram. (see II, pp. 279-281, summarized)

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