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Closed-minded and extremist thinkers surrounded women from all sides. They made women the victim of the forbidden and the taboo that they suddenly approved at a point in time. Those people prohibited the voice of women. They prevented women from reciting Quran in Egypt, despite the testimony of history that it is the country of religious recitation and chanting in the Arab world.
Since the time of Muhammad Ali Pasha, and perhaps before him, women have been famous for their recitation. One of them competed with Sheikh Muhammad Rifat, one of the most famous reciters of the Quran in contemporary Egypt, as Mahmoud Al-Saadani mentions in his book Melodies of Heaven. Some of the female voices reached the radio stations in London and Paris. Interestingly, the recitation fees for the reciter Munira Abduh were close to those of the most famous sheikhs and reciters. During the reign of Muhammad Ali Pasha, the reciter Umm Muhammad became very famous, so he ordered her to travel to Istanbul to commemorate the nights of Ramadan. This reciter has received many awards. When she died, they built a private cemetery for her. Since then, her body has lied in a massive ceremony.
A short time later, the reader Sakina Hassan (1892-1948) became famous. Nevertheless, historians did not mention her in their books because of the fatwas banning and forbiddance. Sheikha Sakina had moved from recording and reciting the Quran to singing and chanting, so she recorded a group of traditional poems in an ancient lyrical style. In this way, her name changed from Sheikha Sakina to singer Sakina. Shortly before World War II, some senior sheikhs issued a fatwa that considered female voice as awrah. This fatwa was the reason behind the disappearance of women from the radio. Radio Paris and Radio London stopped broadcasting CDs for women, fearing the wrath of the senior sheikhs.
Why did the sheikhs not discover that a female voice is awrah before that? The whole woman, not just her voice, is awrah to them. However, at that time, women were denied education, work, and most legitimate human rights. Despite this, women had a day dedicated to reciting the Quran, live on the radio in 1925. They used to distribute the Quran among all the present women, and each one recited her part. Suddenly, someone came with that fatwa. Not long after, the state of religious recitation and chanting almost closed its doors to all women completely. The prohibition was massive: it included their appearances and voices. So, it became forbidden for female reciters to appear on satellite channels. To this day, the Egyptian radio still refuses to record a female reciting due to the fatwas that are nearly a century old. In Melodies of Heaven, Al-Saadani says that an astonishing chapter of the art of recitation and religious chanting was closed with the death of Mrs Nabawiya al-Nahhas in 1973.
An enlightened sheikh named Abu Al Enein Shaisha finally appeared in 2009, and he was the head of the Egyptian syndicate for Quran reciters. Shaisha called for an initiative to include 30 female readers in the Egyptian radio and announced his readiness to adopt any singer whose voice is good and who wants to record the Quran after knowing the tajweed, which brought back the prohibiting and banning. Those who say that a female voice is awrah do not mention that the Prophet Muhammad allowed women to narrate hadiths and fatwas. Women were also among the companions who memorized the Quran and covenanted with it. Among them was Hafsa bint Omar, who was entrusted with the scriptures because she knew how to write. They also forgot Umm Waraqah al-Ansariya, which Omar Ibn al-Khattab said after her death: “By God, I did not hear the recitation of my aunt yesterday.” Such a story clarifies that Umm Waraqah was reciting the Quran and that people used to listen to her. There are many other names mentioned in history 1400 years ago. Will the hands of the sheikhs reach them as well to erase them and silence their voices?
Was the fatwa issued because the female reciters rivalled the men, and their wages were close to theirs? It may be this way, no more than personal grudges, grudges that have changed the destinies of many women, including blind and poor women. One of these women was Munira Abdo. She decided to alienate themselves at home after her psychological trauma until she died. Some of these women, such as Sakina Hassan, decided to switch to singing. Banning and prohibition have changed the destinies of women, killing their dreams and distorting their lives, and if closed-minded people were able to erase them from history, they would have done so.
These female voices have had to stop reciting because they are awrah. Will they remain silent forever?
- Al-Saadani, Mahmoud, Melodies of Heaven, Kitab Al-Yaoum, 1996 (Arabic version).
Al-Khitam, Raba’a, Female Quran Reciters in the Battle of the Past Rebirth. Al-Arab Newspaper, 2018 (Arabic version)
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