The Pretension of Women Reciting the Quran
Al Jazeera recently posted online a report entitled “Muslim women are reviving forgotten tradition of Quran recitation” showing how in certain Islamic-majority countries, such as Algeria, Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, it is common for women to recite the Quran in public spaces for both men and women to hear.
The fact that a woman in the Muslim world, who is considered less than a man, is allowed to publicly recite verses from the Quran would seem as a huge breakthrough, lest they are having their monthly menstrual cycle.
With respect to the issue of women in menses reciting Quran, there are differences of opinion among the great Imams of Fiqh and scholars of Hadith. The following is narrated from these scholars:
- Imam Abu Hanifah and the scholars of his madhhab, Imam Shafi’ee and the scholars of his madhhab, Imam Ahmad and the scholars of his madhhab, the overwhelming majority of Sahabah, and the overwhelming majority of Taabi’een have all given the official verdict that it is not permissible for a woman in menses to recite the Quran. The same prohibition is given for one who is in the state of major ritual impurity (Janabah). According to scholars of the madhhab of Imam Abu Hanifah, it will be allowed for a woman in menses to recite something of the Quran which is less than a verse without the intention of reciting Quran. It will also be allowed for her to recite Dhikr and duas with the intention of Dhikr and duas even if it be from the Quran.
- Abdullah bin Umar [reported] that the Prophet said: “A woman in menses and one in Janabah must not recite anything from the Quran.”
The general consensus of Islamic jurists who argue that a woman cannot recite the Quran during her menstrual cycle is because they are deemed impure and men must stay away from them:
They ask you about menstruation. Say: “It is an indisposition. Keep aloof from women during their menstrual periods and do not approach them until they are clean again; when they are clean, have intercourse with them whence God enjoined you….” —Sura 2, 222
The fact that in certain Islamic environments a woman can recite the Quran, lest it is her time of the month, is as ludicrous as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia granting women the right to drive a car, despite the fact that they still need permission from their male guardians to do so. A woman cannot take it upon herself to pick up the Quran inside a mosque or a madras and recite it—men, of course, need do not need permission from a woman.
A woman can recite the Quran from memory during her menstrual period without handling it, since touching it, directly in that period is prohibited. The evidence for a woman being prohibited from touching the Quran in menstrual cycle is: None can touch but the purified. (Sura 56, 79)
Notwithstanding the aforementioned exceptions, Islamic scholars have judged it to be unworthy for a woman to recite the Quran based on the following verse:
“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), lest one in whose heart is a disease (في قلبه مرض) will move with desire; you shall speak in an honorable manner.” —Sura 33, 32
Again, women are inferior to men in the Islamic world and must always submit to the will of their husbands or male guardians:
- Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and forsake them in beds apart, and beat them. —Sura 4, 34
- Women shall with justice have rights similar to those exercised against them, although men have a status above women.
There is also a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad said that men are far superior in intelligence than women:
[Muhammad] said: “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said: “This is the deficiency in her intelligence.“ —Sahih Bukhari 6, 301
Yes! There are women who recite the Quran alongside men, nay, teach men a thing or two. However, the issue at hand is not whether a female can or cannot teach or publicly recite the Quran, in as much as reciting their noble book in the public realm grants the inferior sex equity—something that Muslim feminists like Linda Sarsour or House Rep. Ilhan Omar willingly refuse to acknowledge.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.