Video: 'Why Invite Her Here? Her Voice is 'Awra!'': The Female Voice and 'Vocal Nudity' Debates in Northern Nigeria

January 10, 2022
Rahina Muazu
Rahina Muazu
As part of the 2021-22 WSRP Lecture Series, Rahina Muazu, (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient Berlin), Visiting Lecturer on Women's Studies and Islam, gave the lecture, "Why Invite Her Here? Her Voice is 'Awra!'": The Female Voice and 'Vocal Nudity' Debates in Northern Nigeria."



SPEAKER 1: Harvard Divinity School.

SPEAKER 2: Why Invite Her Here? Her Voice is "Awra!"-- The Female Voice and Vocal Nudity Debates in Northern Nigeria, November 18, 2021.

ANN BRAUDE: My name is Ann Braude and I'm the director of the Women's Studies in Religion Program here at Harvard Divinity School. I'm very pleased to welcome you to this afternoon's lecture from Dr. Rahina Muazu, who will be speaking to us today about the female voice and vocal nudity debates in Nigeria. I'm so pleased to be able to welcome Rahina's friends and family and colleagues from Jos, Nigeria, as well as from Berlin and London, as well as our entire audience throughout the United States and elsewhere, and all the friends of the WSRP.

Thank you for joining us for today's very special lecture. I hope you all had a chance to hear Dr. Muazu chanting and reciting the Quran in our intro music, [INAUDIBLE] which was such a wonderful treat. I am going to ask everyone in the audience to mute your audio and also to use the speaker view, which will give you the most effective view of today's presentation on Zoom.

This will be our last lecture for the fall semester. We hope to see all of you again in February when we look forward to Heather White's lecture on the Church of the Holy Apostles that became the epicenter for New York's gay organizations following the Stonewall riots in 1969. And then, in April, we will be hearing from Zat Jamil, who will tell us about Islamic self-help and gender disciplining in contemporary Singapore.

But today, it is our privilege to hear from Dr. Rahina Muazu who, as you heard, in addition to being a scholar of the Quran and Islamic studies, is herself both a reciter of the Quran and a teacher of Quran recitation to women. She started in learning to recite at a young age. She went on to gain her bachelor's degree in Islamic studies from the University of Jos. And she then went on to the Aga Khan University in London where she got her master's degree in Muslim cultures. And finally, she received her PhD in Islamic studies, magna cum laude, from the Free University in Berlin.

In Berlin, she studied what the Quran says about women's voices in reciting the Quran. In her master's degree, she did ethnographic research on female Quran reciters in Jos. The project she's working on here with us at Harvard, and which she has published several articles about already in peer-reviewed journals, brings these projects together to look both at the experience of women Quran reciters and at what the law in the Quran tells us. So without further ado, let me turn the podium to Rahina.

RAHINA MUAZU: I'm so pleased. [SPEAKING ARABIC] Thank you, Ann. [CHUCKLES] Thank you, Ann, thank you, Tracy, for your kindness and for making things go smoothly here. I'm so thankful to my colleagues here at the WSRP and to family and friends and colleagues joining from different parts of the world.

This is really a special day for me. So today, as a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School, I'm giving a public lecture considering that about two decades ago, my main wish and hope was to be able to be allowed to complete a secondary school education, which is an equivalent of a high school here in the US. So I'm so grateful for today. I'm so grateful for the enormous Harvard resources I have access to. I'm grateful for being in the midst of these wonderful, brilliant and kind scholars.

So I would like to share my screen now. Yeah, so the title of my talk today is "Why Invite Her Here? Her Voice is Awra!-- The Female Voice and Vocal Nudity Debates in Northern Nigeria." So I will be referring to northern Nigeria. I mean, I would be referring to it as Hausa land, as you can see on the map.

And when I say that, I mean the northern part of Nigeria roughly here-- I don't know if you can see me pointing to the area-- and the southern part of Niger, which was historically a group of kingdoms situated between the Niger River and Lake Chad, and whose main area where colonized by Britain and France and led to the creation of modern day Nigeria and Niger Republic. And Hausa is the language spoken by many of the people there who are overwhelmingly Muslims and Sunnis.

So the lecture today revolves around the perception of the female voice as part of a woman's awra. And awra is an Arabic word that is translated as nakedness, genital organs, private parts, genitalia, blemish, defects, and so on and so forth. And under Islamic law, the term has been used to refer to a part of a body of a male, female child, or even former slaves that should not be exposed to those who should not see it. And in the Quran, awra has been used differently. It appears differently in different contexts, ranging from private parts to times of privacy and spaces of vulnerability.

And also, several hadith refer to awra in terms of prohibiting a man from looking at the awra of another man, or a woman from looking at the awra of another woman, and vise versa. So what I want to do today is to give a general background to my research and then link it with the perception of the female voice in Nigeria, where the research is based, through the activities of two female preachers.

So what does the idea of a woman's voice as awra even suggest? It means that the voice of a woman is part of her nakedness or nudity and could cause temptation, or fitna, when revealed. Therefore, it should be covered. And covering the voice means taking the voice out of the public space.

So, for instance, I consider my here as part of my awra. That's why I'm covering it. So if I consider my voice as part of my awra, then I have to cover it, meaning I would not be speaking to a public audience of mixed gender involving men that are not related to me [SPEAKING ARABIC]. So I will say something more about that.

So it's very important, at this stage, to mention that the Quran do not clearly say that the female voice is part of her awra. However, while addressing the wives of Prophet Muhammad, [SPEAKING ARABIC], the Quran 33:32 Those referred to the female voices. And it is this verse that has formed the basis for varying and conflicting understandings on the legal position of the female voice in the public space. So as we can see, we have the verse here on the screen, which says, [SPEAKING ARABIC].

And the English translation I have here from Mohsin Khan says, "O wives of the Prophet. You are not like any other women. If you keep your duty to Allah, then be not a soft in speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire, but speak in an honorable manner."

So the word used in the verse is khadae, which can be translated as submit, give away, or surrender. And [SPEAKING ARABIC] is the clause in the verse that contains the prohibition. So it can be translated as, "Do not be stopped in speech, do not be deceptive in voice, or do not make your voices lenient." And this verse has been interpreted in various ways by leading classical exegists of the Quran, such as Abuja for Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, ibn Kathir, Al-Qurtubi, and others whose works are widely studied and cited in Nigeria.

So while my research is on Northern Nigeria, I focus on two sites. I want to mention something briefly about the sites I worked on. So that's the city of Jos and Kano, which I have shown in the map. And Kano is a large, predominantly Muslim state with more than 20 million inhabitants with a centuries-old tradition of Islamic learning and home to Sufi orders, the Qadiriyya and the Tijaniyya. It's also among the 12 northern states that re-implemented the Sharia in 1999.

And Jos, a relatively small city compared to Kano, was founded-- so that's where I was born and raised-- it was founded in the early 20th century as an economic base for the British. And also, it has a multi-religious population, a good reputation for good climate, and there is no ethnoreligious crises. But what's important for my research is that Jos is the headquarter for the Muslim group, [SPEAKING ARABIC], which is translated as the Society for the Removal of Innovation and Reinstatement of Tradition. So here I am using the translation of the name by Professor Ouseman Kane from his book Muslim Modernity.

So I would like to also talk briefly about my positionality within Izala and also in the field. So, as I said, I was born and raised in Jos, and that's the headquarter of Izala. And as a child, I was educated in one of Izala's Islamic schools and trained as a Quran reciter.

Later, I joined the National Quran Competition representing Izala and my state. I won many competitions. And my parents are also Izala members. And my father, who was and still is a very influential figure, has sponsored some of Izala's projects.

So, on the left here in the photo is my father here. And here on the-- Sorry, on the right here is my father. And here is the founder of Izala, Sheikh Ismaila Idris. And in the picture, my father was given the document of a school he built for Izala, which is up to today one of the largest schools owned by Izala. So here, you see the photo of the school, which captures only part of the school, not all of it.

So, the debate-- OK, I'm going back to this. So the debate on the awra of the female voice was brought to the forefront when Izala, who had been very influential in boosting female religious education, and still is in so many ways, withdrew from the Dan Fodio competition, named after the 19th century reformer that established the largest Islamic caliphate in West Africa.

So the Dan Fodio competition is the body that brings together all Muslims from Sufi and Salafi groups to participate in Quran recitation competition.


RAHINA MUAZU: Izala-- Izala withdrew, giving some reasons which include their perception that the judges of the Dan Fodio competition were biased to Izala members and the assertion that the coming together of both men and women to attend those competitions leads to immorality and the exposure in public of the awra of the female voice. So, of these three reasons, it is the last one that resonates most strongly with many ordinary Izala members. They feel that the female voice in recitation is part of a woman's awra and should not be heard by a non-related male. So that's ghayr mahram. And ghayr mahram, under Islamic law, is someone that is allowed to-- someone a woman is allowed to marry.

So why does it matter? Why does research on awra of the female voice matters? It matters because it is connected to the perceptions of the religiously and socially acceptable roles a women can play in the public space.

And so, to put it in an interrogative form, can a woman give a public lecture like what I'm doing here? Should she be allowed to read the news on TV or on the radio? Is it appropriate that she sings a poem in praise of the Prophet? Can she makes the call to Adhan?

So the answer to all this depends on the way in which the voice is understood. And building on that, part of my current project here at the Harvard Divinity School is to focus on the theological side, looking at verse 33:32, which I have shown on the screen, which is the only verse in the Quran that refers to the female voice and how it's--

So I want to study that and how it's been interpreted. And on this, I want to build on the work of Professor Amina Wadud on the hermeneutics of tawhid to emphasize how the unity of the Quran permits all its parts. So rather than simply applying meanings to one verse at a time, with occasional reference to various verses elsewhere, the framework, as Wadud pointed out, may be developed that includes a systematic rationale for making correlations and sufficiently exemplifying the full impact of Quranic coherence.

And so, however, for my lecture today, I have chosen to focus on the ethnographic side of my research, on two of the main preachers in northern Nigeria in the cities of Jos and Kano, who publicly argue that the female voice is not part of our awra. And the data I'm working on is based on participant observation and interviews I have been conducting since 2011. So Malama Khadija, that we see here on the left, and Malama Zahrau-- I will introduce her later-- both present Ramadan tafsir-- so Ramadan reading and interpretation sessions-- which is a space where Quran is recited and then translated into Hausa language.

And these two preachers rose to prominence through the publicity generated by the audio and videos of their tafsir sessions and fatwas the offer to men-- to women, but also men-- which adds to the body of the literature but, in this case, purely oral on the literature, on female interpretation of the Quran around the globe. So these Ramadan Quran sessions give rise to forms of, what I call here, women's engagement with the Quran. And majority of the female preachers underpins what male scholars and preachers have said, either about reinforcing traditional roles or pushing for more women's rights within the paradigm of Islam, whatever they understand that to mean.

The second, as in the case of Malama Khadija-- So I think she might even be in the audience. So it involves women pushing even harder in their translation and sometimes interpretation of the Quran and in issuance of fatwa. So I want to focus on her and how she understands verse 33:32. As I have said, it's the only verse that make reference to female voice in the Quran.

And so Malama Khadija, she's an outstanding scholar whom I have interviewed on several occasions. I've also attended her public talks in Ramadan tafsir. And since 2007, I have been following her religious and community activities.

She's a mother of six. She was trained in traditional Islamic madrasa and has a bachelor in Islamic Studies at the University of Jos. And she has worked with many NGOs, participated in various local and international research projects, and she is now a peace commissioner for the Kaduna State government.

So the whole title of my today's lecture stems from a conversation I had with her some few years ago. In 2018, Khadija was invited to give a lecture at the graduation ceremony of some Nigerian army officers. And it was one of those occasions to which she was usually invited, not only due to her vast Islamic knowledge, but because she speaks fluent English. And English being Nigeria's official language, it's the medium of communication in those avenues.

So Khadija delivered her talk successfully, after which a male scholar stood up, took the microphone, and addressed the organizers about how disappointed he was because a woman was invited to address men. And after he had finished, Khadija asked for permission to respond, which she was granted. So she started by citing a long hadith of the female companion of the Prophet called Asma Bint Yazeed Al-Ansari.

Asma was a female companion. And she went to the Prophet as a representative of other women to ask him about Islam. And the Prophet listened to her.

She talked to him in presence of his companions. So he listened to her, after which he commended her speech as a beautiful speech of a woman asking about the affair of her religion. So after citing that hadith, Khadija told them, if Asma could address the Prophet and his companion who are better than you, why can't I?

So I have heard Khadija refer to this incident, to the hadith of Asma and to the Quranic parts of 33:32 several times to argue that her voice is not awra. So, for her, this reference is very significant because she uses it to always reject the idea that her voice and the voices of other women are not awra. And second, by employing the hadith as her reference, along with her and with the Quranic verse, she is reconceptualizing, as I argue, she's reconceptualizing the image of a righteous woman, which we call in Hausa, we say [SPEAKING HAUSA].

So I argue that through the public usage of her voice, she is reconceptualizing that image of [SPEAKING HAUSA], who is culturally understood as a pious and quiet woman to a pious woman who is very vocal and assertive. And the attempt to stop Khadija, which has happened to other female preachers such as the wife of the famous male preacher, Sheikh Aminu Daurawa, and to me as well, it's not only the result of a difference in fatwa on vocal nudity, but is connected or linked up with the exercise of social power, the discourse on the production of the female voice as a cultural category, and redefine women's voices as spaces of religious configuration. So, one second, I want to change my slide.

But now I want to give you an idea of how the Nigeria's public sphere is for those that are not familiar with it. But first, I want to make reference to this work on the screen. So the female voice in Hausa lands is carefully and exclusively constructed over a long period of time. And just like Miyako Inoue-- so the book we see here on the screen-- observed in the case of Japan, Hausa women's voices are socially powerful truths.

So we say in Hausa, [SPEAKING HAUSA], or the way women should speak has been a space of a space of discourse in which women are sometimes objectified, condemned, staged, or normalized. And statements such as, "Women should speak politely," or "Women always speak foolishly and illogical" are prevalent. They are part of daily experience.

So I still remember vividly how, as girls, it was carefully cultivated in my sisters and I the right way a real woman talks, [SPEAKING HAUSA] and stories of women enough is part of Nigeria who are said to win anything-- just anything from their husbands by using their sweet and entertaining voices-- has also formed part of our journey into womanhood. And mothers have been charged with the responsibility of preparing their girls for matrimony and teaching them not only marital skills but also the language to sustain the marriage. But-- OK, I think I skipped one slide, one important slide. OK, I'll just keep with this.

But women's voices is also a theme-- so one of the preaching themes. For example, the leading Izala figure, the one we see here on the screen, Sheikh Kabiru Gombe, in his lecture on halaal love charms has not only taught his female audience how to seduce their husbands using their feminine, elegant, sexy voices but has also mimicked the voice. And this careful engendering of the manners in sound of the female voice to attain the status of [SPEAKING HAUSA] is continually taught at home and on preaching podiums, not only by Sheik Kabiru Gombe, but by others, such as the example I will give below. So now, I want to-- Sorry, yeah.

But as I have mentioned before, so I want to give you an idea, especially those that are not familiar with the context. So I want to give the audience an idea of Nigeria's public space so that those that don't know the context would not imagine it as a space we the female voice is completely absent. So, the female voice is definitely not a stranger in northern Nigeria's public space. We see important works of Beverly Mack and Jean Boyd and other scholars portray the public exposure of the female voice in Hausa lands. And the former work-- this one here, Women Sing, is on the singers and performers of the 20th century, such as the famous Barmani Choge and Binta Katsina.

I grew up listening to Barmani Choge on Radio Nigeria at Kaduna and have seen how her songs, particularly [SPEAKING HAUSA] motivated secluded women to seek crafts and trade within the confines of their homes. And these singers were succeeded by Kannywood Hausa cinema female singers such as Binta Labaran and Khairat Abdullah. And even though the latter, along with other Kannywood artists, claim they educate their audience and give moral lessons, they are heavily criticized as characters of the Hausa culture and morality. So whatever effect they may have, both singers like Barmani Choge and Fati Niger are hardly considered role models for [SPEAKING HAUSA].

However, other works of Mark and Boyd-- so like this one here, and even the scholar are more relaxed. So they portray the other side of the exposure of the female voice in Hausa lands as a princess scholar and poet, Nana Asma'u, who is the daughter. She died in 1864 and she was the daughter of Dan Fodio. She had taken up the role of educating Muslim women in the 19th century. And the network of women she created, known as the Yan Taru-- so translated, sometimes as the associates.

They traveled throughout the caliphate, taking education to fellow women in the forms of poems. They publicly sang and chanted. And this vocal role of Nana Asma'u and the Yan Taru is what sometimes Malama Khadija links her activities with to demonstrate that she can also use her voice. And because Nana Asma'u is the [SPEAKING HAUSA] par excellent, so it's also easy, through her, to reshape the image of my category.

And so now, I also want to touch briefly on the other female preacher, Malama Zahrau. So she's this one here. And she's in her 50s. She's married and a mother of seven and has a PhD in Islamic Studies and Hausa from Bayero University in Kano.

She's been in the field of preaching for more than two decades and she had taken very influential positions such as her current role as the Commissioner of Women Affairs and Social Development, and also served formally as the female commander of the Islamic force Hisbah-- the Hisbah Sharia office in Kano. So it's a religious office-- religious police force responsible for the enforcement of Sharia, established with the implementation of Sharia in 1999. And although Hisbah's jurisdiction is limited, as they remain under the Nigerian police force, the scholars heading it have enormous influence.

So Malama Zahrau's position at Hisbah is a significant move in the feminization of religious authority in Nigeria, as existing literature highlights in other places such as Senegal, Niger, and Cote d'Ivoire. And along with that of Syria so that's an interpretation station and the media, her position at Hisbah has played a significant role in helping Zahrau gain public exposure and also establish herself as a religious leader.

So I interviewed Malama Zahrau and Sheikh Daurawa, the male commander, in their Hisbah office in 2006. And I asked them what they think about the female voice and verse 33:32. And both of them believe that Quran allows women to speak publicly and does not imply that the female voice is awra.

They stated that the focus of the verse is not on vocal nudity but on prohibiting women from sexualizing their voices, which is also prohibited for men. So Malama Khadija cited historical references to protray their points, they mentioned how women narrated hadith orally, how the Prophet commanded Muslims to take half of their religion from his wife, Aisha. And based on this position, Malama Zarau uses her voice publicly during her preaching sessions and also for her current role as the Commissioner of Women Affairs.

So the theme of her sermons revolves-- so her preaching-- they revolve around marital relationships, focusing on male superiority and women's obedience. And it's important to mention that outsiders will hardly consider her preaching sessions to exhibit women's full agency when agency is defined in terms of resistance to male authority. So, for Malama Zahrau, for instance, her rhetoric states that men, as superiors, should protect and provide, and women, as subordinates, should be submissive and respectful. And if this balance is maintained, a good marital relationship and a good society will be achieved.

And whenever there's a problem with the balance, usually, she blames women for either negligence in [SPEAKING ARABIC], which is obedience, or [INAUDIBLE]. And the latter, [INAUDIBLE] is understood as a feminine technique in which women have a unique feminine power to seduce all men-- so in this case, husbands-- and pursue their agency. So under [INAUDIBLE] women's voices take a special place in her preaching sessions. For instance, she once preached-- she says, a woman's voice should be elegant and sweet like the voices of women of Paradise, which when the man-- that's the husband-- hears, entices him.

And so, this kind of alluring voice, which entices the husband, is, as she explains, a critical or a crucial character, like part of piety as well as the expected means by which a righteous woman trains herself to be more pious. So upon this notion, Malama Zahrau conceptualizes [SPEAKING HAUSA] as a woman who obeys her husband, who obeys her mother-in-law, who cooks well, who I don't hassle when well is welcoming to the husband's family and friends, and who, if she works, protects her dignity at her workplace, and who is both clean-- both in body and speech. And this cleanliness in speech [SPEAKING ARABIC] is this possibly from the female voice as a cultural category while also portraying it as in a binary distinction, but as a part of a woman's awra, but also as a form of obedience to husbands upon which spiritual reward is expected. And in this context, the female voice, Zahrau described above, should not be confused with the voice which she uses during public preaching because the former is understood as a feminine voice and the latter is for the public-- both of which are legally, Islamically allowed for a righteous woman to use.

So now, I want to go back to the question I raised earlier. So why does it matter? So before Izala withdrew from the Dan Fodio competition, I was already married off. I was not only a married teenager, but I was a teenage mother. And when I heard that Izala had set up its own public competition and girls would not be allowed anymore to participate at the state and national competitions but only boys, I remember feeling very angry.

And I remember I had a hypothesis and it was that the rise of the female reciters and memorizers of the Quran of those belonging to Izala will decline because one of the main incentives for the girls was the competition since women do not perform a public role that recitation is expected, such as the role of imams. And two decades later, this is exactly what is happening. And even though there is an increase in women's visibility in religious leadership in higher education, not only in Nigeria but in various places across West Africa, as many studies have shown within Izala members, there have been a decline in number of reciters and memorizers even though, at the same time in Nigeria, there has been an increase in number of female reciters belonging to non-Izala groups.

So, as I look back, I'm a bit amazed at how, as a teenager, I could see this coming. So I was saying when the news reached me, I felt angry and I thought about the opportunity it-- public recitation-- was giving women. And by this, I'm concentrating on the ability-- the public exposure-- the ability for women to use their voices publicly. So the kind of opportunities it gave me, it gave all the girls the social and economic benefits.

And this is completely exemplified in the lives of these non-Izala female reciters who continue to recite publicly, which is what I analyzed in my doctoral dissertation, using the theory of the forms of capital by the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu. So I look at how public recitation, how the ability to use voices publicly, was and through the award-- the money award-- that the girls received allowed them to not only travel but to own cars, to own houses, and to have a strong network. And they are even symbolically crowned as the Queens of the Sokoto Caliphate.


So, in concluding this lecture, I want to go back to the questions I was raising on the awra of the female voice. At our WSRP colloquium some few weeks ago, my brilliant colleagues helped me on having a clear view of my research, which is that I'm attempting to write a larger story about Islam and female authority from a positionality informed by Hausa culture as women in the Hausa society, like in other contexts, struggle to be heard. And using the notion of the awra of the female voice and the centrality of language in producing gender norms, I'm exploring whether women's voices could be heard as people's voices, not as sexy voices.

So Heather, one of my colleagues, called my attention on how my work connects fundamentally to a question in gender theory and especially in the work of Judith Butler, which addresses how societies determine which people are women, therefore, submissive and sexualized, and which people are men, therefore, dominant and not sexualized. And in looking at the general debate on vocal nudity in Nigeria and outside of Nigeria, usually the scholars are unanimous that the female voice is awra when she speaks with a seductive or deceptive voice. And it's forbidden-- haram-- for a woman to speak with a seductive voice in the presence of an unrelated male, and the female voice becomes mute. So it becomes awra if listening to it could lead to fitna-- could lead to temptation.

So what is largely left out of this discourse is whose intent matters-- the person speaking or the person listening. And how will the interpretive process be different if it proceeded from the assumption that women are people? So Heather's comment suddenly made me understood a question I have been dealing with for many years.

In the debate on awra, one of the questions that the classical jurists raised was whether the female voice-- [SPEAKING ARABIC], we say [SPEAKING ARABIC]-- whether the female voice, [SPEAKING ARABIC], is awra, that whether the voice is inherently awra. And by this, now I understand. So now I'm feeling that it's even now that I'm understanding the question, not even the answer.

So I understand that what they were asking is if the female voice is inherently a person's voice-- a human voice-- or a sexy voice. And a human voice is definitely under the law. Just, yeah, a human voice is just a human voice. It's just a person's voice. And so, what I'm thinking is, is a woman's voice then a human voice?

And from this, I'm deducing that woman is a human. Should she not then have a human voice? I believe the whole interpretive process would have been different if started with the assumption that women are simply human beings. They are simply people.

Yeah, so I'll just say something and not-- Oh, sorry, I wanted to say something about the photos but I think I went out of my slides. Yes, so the photos you've seen are a combination of mine and also photos from Nura Alkali, who has been very helpful and supportive actually. And he's the National Coordinator of the dan Fodio competition on social media. So I'll stop here. And thank you very much for listening.

ANN BRAUDE: Thank you so much, Rahina. This is so illuminating and inspiring. And I know it's going to have a lot of repercussions. And I'm especially gratified to hear how useful the conversations with other research associates have been for you because I know we've learned so much from hearing about your work.

Let's see. We are going to take questions. Please post your questions in the chat. And we have about 15 minutes for questions from this brilliant lecture. The idea that what this really boils down to is the question of whether women are human beings, whether the female is also human-- or simultaneously human-- is such a fundamental and significant question.

So thank you so much for coming to this conclusion. Let's see. I don't see-- A lot of people in the chat are talking about how brilliant the lecture is but I don't see them posting questions yet. So let's see if there's a question for you or if I will get to post the first question.

I guess one thing that I would love to hear you speak a bit more about is how the question of women's engagement with the Quran also figures in this discussion of whether women are human beings. And is there a problem with-- One of the things that we've seen in the history of the Women's Studies and Religion Program is the importance of having women qualified to comment on their scriptures and really immersed in the theological questions in the way that you are. Does women's engagement with the Quran have a similar set of dynamics to the issues you've raised about women's voice?

RAHINA MUAZU: So thank you, Ann. So this is a very important question and a difficult one. But I will limit myself definitely to the context I'm working on to northern Nigeria. We have many women since, I would say, from the last two decades with the women's increased participation in institutions of higher Islamic learning.

So they also go into their activity of what we call the Ramadan tafsir program. And it's a space where they-- So we usually have two women-- one reciting the Quran and the other one translating it. So, basically, what they do there is translating their Arabic Quran into the local language of Hausa. But since translation is, in itself, also an act of interpretation, because one has to make sometimes choices-- at least, the word choice, which one to choose-- and each one has a meaning. It has an implication.

So in that sense, they are also, in a way, interpreting the Quran. But generally, as I have mentioned, their interpretation is for the overwhelming majority, repeats what the gender norms are, what is accepted. Because they're so afraid to cross the limits really. So one scholar that is-- and she's the one I introduced Malama Khadija-- so she's the only one, so far, that I have seen trying to push that limit, trying to engage, and trying to sometimes even offer a contradictory fatwa that is not agreeable by the majority of the male scholars. So, I don't know if that answers your question, (LAUGHING) Ann.

ANN BRAUDE: Well, yes, it does. And it leads to some of the other questions that are starting to appear in the chat about how women can advocate for women's voice to be acceptable while simultaneously advocating for female obedience. And one question in the chat asks if she misunderstood that the woman who is advocating for women as public speakers is also advocating for female obedience in marriage. Do you want to clarify that point?

RAHINA MUAZU: Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. So she's the second preacher I introduced, Malama Zahrau, who which I also find very interesting. She is very popular, very influential. She has this the Hisbah office is this religious [INAUDIBLE]. And she is their-- she was. Her time has ended now. So she was the female commander.

And so she's definitely advocated and in her rhetoric is, men are the superior, they are the providers, and women as subordinate and should be obedient. And whatever that is faulty in the society is because that balance is not observed. So she's definitely also, on the other hand, advocating for at least women's usage of the voice in the public, that the female voice is not awra because she's also using her voice publicly to translate the Quran into Hausa. And she is also currently the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development.

So it's tricky really. It's really tricky. I'm also from the context but sometimes I look at these double positions and I'm trying to understand and make the two come together, yeah.

But I also think what they are doing is still very important, even though they have to go with their majority. They have to go with the accepted gender norm. They have to also go with what is understood currently as-- what I'll borrow here, Joseph Hill's term-- reserved feminine piety.

So there's a certain way a woman is expected to be pious. And even though if the religion allows her to be pious in different ways-- what is accepted by the norm-- she has to go by it. So sometimes, I think because they don't have much room to negotiate, so they just take what they have and they make best use of it. So [CHUCKLES] I hope I'm able to also navigate [CHUCKLES] an answer.

ANN BRAUDE: I think that's very well put and that tells a lot of women's history around the world. I just-- oh dear, I just lost it. I wanted to share a comment in the chat from Dr. Celene Ibrahim, who's a graduate of our school, who is the Muslim chaplain at Tufts University. And she says that she encounters this issue, even in the United States in her role as a chaplain and scholar. So it's not just in Nigeria or just in any particular location.

I'd also like to share a question from your colleague, Zat Jamil, who asks-- She says, "I love how you showed that the women were insisting on reciting, not in order to subvert but, in many ways, to affirm conceptions of obedience, as you've explained. And she asked, "Could you explain how Amina Wadud's hermeneutical approach has been useful in your analysis?"

RAHINA MUAZU: So, thank you so much, Zat. And thank you, Dr. Ibrahim. I'm so glad to see you here.

So that's a very good question as well. So what I'm trying to do is the hermeneutics of tawhid, the hermeneutics of unity is to, as Wadud clearly pointed out, is to use it to show or to demonstrate the full Quranic coherence. So, with particular reference to the verse on vocal nudity, which I have shown on the screen, which is verse 33:32, so before, if one goes to what is called the asbab al-nuzul, the occasion for the revelation, we'll see that there are what I call a set of seven verses. And the occasion for the revelation, why were the verses revealed mentioned that they came as a result of their worldly increase or worldly demands by the wives of Prophet Muhammad [SPEAKING ARABIC].

And then, the verses came. They came addressing them. And then they said many things, starting from telling them how unique they are, how important they are, and giving them option. If they want to stay with the Prophet, then they stay with him. If they don't, then he let them go after-- I don't know, the word now don't come to me-- the English word.

But then, the whole message for me there-- for me, reading it, the most important message in the seven verses is [SPEAKING ARABIC], it's that you are not. Because it says, it praised them as you know they live in the house of Nobua, the prophet, would where the Quran is revealed, and then it added that "you are not like any other woman"-- [SPEAKING ARABIC]. So what I find very interesting is even though the classical works of tafsir such as the work of ibn Kathir, Tabari, Qurtubi and so on, they differed in their interpretation.

Most of them-- It's also very interesting that most of those interpretations did not even make a reference to the female voice as being awra. Usually, this is something that came very, very recent. Usually, they interpret the verses, focusing on the wives of the Prophet. But even if it's generalized to other belief in women, there's this no focus on that the female voice is nude, is part of her nudity or nakedness.

But still, I haven't come across any work of tafsir that consider this-- these verses as a form of what was suggested as a form of tawhid, as a form of unity. So I haven't come across any tafsir that focus not only on that verse that I showed on the screen, but on the verses that came before it and the verses that came after it. And I strongly believe that studying the verses-- the set of only even the set of the seven verses-- a careful study easily reveals that the main message of the seven verses is [SPEAKING ARABIC]-- that the wives of the Prophet are not like any other woman. That's why it says, if you do any good thing, you get double reward. And if you did anything wrong, you get double punishment.

So what I want to start doing, building on the hermeneutics of tawhid by Wadud, is to start realize, studying those verses, and trying to see what kind of wisdom I'll get from it. And then, later, connect it to all the verses. This morning, I was telling myself the next move, I will take the Quran from the verse 1 to the end, trying to point out any verse that I think will add or would make the seven verses come out in a more tawhid form, giving it more coherence. So, yeah, we can continue the discussion, Zat, later. But thank you for your question.

ANN BRAUDE: We're starting to get a lot more questions so I'm not sure we'll get to all of them. So I may give you a few and let you plug-in where you would like to. One question is about whether the female preachers that you interviewed are trying to push the boundaries of what women can do. And maybe I'll just ask you to talk about that. And then I want to-- If you can do that quickly, I want to get to one more question.

RAHINA MUAZU: OK, so the female preachers, as I've mentioned, most of them are not, actually. Most of them are not pushing the boundaries. So most of their preaching is a repetition of what is socially acceptable.

But that's why I took the other preacher I presented, Malama Khadija, she's a very unique preacher and she's, so far of the best of my knowledge, the only one I know that is really, really pushing the boundary and she is-- I gave an example that the whole title for my lecture today is based on a conversation I had with her, where she went to give a lecture and then, a male scholar wasn't happy that she was invited. So that kind of experience and more are a part of her frequent experiences.

And she's usually not afraid to speak back like she did. When that happened, she went back to the podium, citing the hadith, citing the Quran verse, yeah. So-- Yeah, but most of them, it's a repetition of what is accepted, already accepted, yeah.

ANN BRAUDE: Fascinating. I wanted to end with a question from Hauwa Ibrahim, the distinguished jurist who's also a past research associate in the Women's Studies and Religion Program. And I'm just going to read the question. I am not sure I'm understanding it correctly. So, Hauwa, if you need to make any clarification, you can. But I'll just read what you wrote here.

She writes, "Very proud of you and your work, Dr. Rahina. Just wondering if you could speak to tasfir-- tafsir as if it's widely in the northern Nigeria. If not, could it be? Do you understand the question or do we need to get some clarification?

RAHINA MUAZU: Not really. Maybe one word was missed.


RAHINA MUAZU: Widely used or widely what? So I think--

ANN BRAUDE: OK, Hauwa, you have to try again.


ANN BRAUDE: Yes, Hauwa, can you unmute yourself and ask the question?

HAUWA IBRAHIM: Yeah, I unmute. Can you hear me?


RAHINA MUAZU: Yeah, we can hear you.

ANN BRAUDE: Oh yes, that's-- OK. I didn't-- Your name wasn't on there. So, yeah, go ahead, Hauwa.

HAUWA IBRAHIM: Sorry but that was amazing presentation. So you spoke about [INAUDIBLE] and the tafsir in Kaduna. And in where I come from, we don't have a lot of the tafsir and women's voices, as you mentioned.

And I was wondering whether my understanding is a little bit less and, if you know of it, maybe if you can speak to that. But more important, how can we make those voices even louder in the region? Thank you.

RAHINA MUAZU: Thank you so much. [CHUCKLES] I'm so glad you're here. So this is a very important question. So to start with the first part, we are increasingly having more women getting involved in these tafsir sessions I also-- In a number of years, I delivered a tafsir myself.

So it's becoming more common. More women are doing it, especially during Ramadan because that's the period when these sessions happen. And how to make the women's voices more amplified-- Hmm.

That I'm afraid I-- don't think I have the answer. But I think what is very important is to give them more enrolled-- more women to be enrolled in those higher institutions of Islamic learning to know the religion, to have vast knowledge. And I think that is a good starting point. Yeah, I'm not sure I know how to amplify their voices more because it's not easy. It's a challenge. [CHUCKLES]

ANN BRAUDE: Well, I think that challenge is what we are so grateful to you for taking on, where I hope that today's event has made some small contribution to amplifying women's voices-- at least to amplifying one woman's voice that we're very excited to hear from. And it's great that we had other women preachers and scholars and others from Nigeria here with us. We're very grateful to that.

We're grateful to Hauwa Ibrahim for bringing her voice to this conversation. And part of what I hope is that all the people who came together for this lecture will be able to support each other and that that will amplify women's voices as well. So I cannot thank you enough for this wonderful and so illuminating and powerful and important lecture that you presented today, Rahina. Thank you all--

RAHINA MUAZU: Thank you, Ann.

ANN BRAUDE: --in the audience for joining us and providing the audience. Listening to women's voices is important as well. And with that, I bid you all a good evening.

And we look forward to more lectures and to more scholars from Nigeria. So please, please produce more wonderful women scholars that can come to WSRP. Goodbye to all.


SPEAKER 2: Sponsor-- Women's Studies and Religion Program at HDS.

SPEAKER 1: Copyright 2021 The President and Fellows of Harvard College.