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Oh, Woman Thou Shall Not Speak!

August 5, 2016

In the light of the recent news story about Donald Trump and Khan family, I decided to research a little bit. Trump lashed at Khan family by saying that Mr. Khan’s wife did not speak because she was forbidden to. Personally, I could think of two more valid reasons why she did not speak: public speaking phobia and/or poor English speaking skills. However, is it true? Can Muslim husband forbid his wife from speaking?

Saimah Ashraf, from  notes: “The negative stereotypes of Muslim women probably arise from this varying treatment of women. The Western media, for some reason…brand Islam as a backwards and “fundamentalist” religion, especially in its treatment of women, and ignore that it was the first religion to accord women equal rights” (emphasis added). Ashraf continues that with advent of Islam: “ …Muslim women were being given shares in inheritance, were allowed to choose or refuse prospective husbands, and were considered equal to men in the eyes of God.” And all of that starting 7th century Arabia.

Muslim Women’s Public Life

First Muslim woman was a business woman. Her name was Khadija Khuwailid and she was the first wife of Prophet Muhammad pbuh. In terms of business, he answered to her. Once he received Revelation from God, she became his advisor and first supporter. Another respected wife of the Prophet pbuh, Aisha r.a., could be considered one of the first female Islamic scholars. She is believed to be the source of over 2,000 hadiths (written traditions) around which Muslim men and women have based their religious practices and beliefs for centuries. If Muslim men are to forbid their wives from speaking in public, then certainly these women would not have played such an important role in the Muslim world.

Hürrem Sultana was one of the most important political figures in the Ottoman Empire and one of the most powerful Muslim women in history. She was an Orthodox Christian woman who was a war captive and taken to sultan Suleiman I’s harem. The sultan fell in love her and broke traditions and customs by officially marrying her (religiously, there was nothing stopping him from doing that as Islam would allow him to marry her whether she remained Christian or converted to Islam). The new sultan’s wife converted to Islam and changed her name from Roxelana to Hürrem. She played an active role in the political affairs of the empire. Would the sultan allow her to be so involved if his religion made him to forbid her to speak?

Prophet’s pbuh wife, Aisha r.a., led an army in the Battle of the Camel. Now, an army leader must have the capability to speak and lead, as well as gather a group of people for a common cause. And she did that. Would she have done it had she believed that as a believing Muslim woman she is not allowed to speak? Another fierce Muslim female warrior was Nusayba b. Ka‘b al-Anṣārīyya. She participated in the famous Battle of Uhud. In that battle, she saved Prophet Muhammad’s life, sustaining some wounds. Would Prophet Muhammad pbuh allow a woman to fight shoulder to shoulder alongside him if his religion taught that the women are to be meek?

Another role model of a strong, influential Muslim woman was  Zaynab b. ‘Alī. “She was the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fāṭima (d. 633) and her husband ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d. 661). She was among the most illustrious and admirable figures of the Ahl al-Bayt (Family of the Prophet) and played a central role both during and after the Massacre at Karbala (680), where her brother al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī, and 72 of her nephews and other brothers were killed by the Umayyads. For a time, she was the effective leader of the Ahl al-Bayt and served as the primary defender of the cause of her brother, al-Ḥusayn. At Kufa, she defended her nephew—‘Alī ibn al-Ḥusayn—from certain death by the governor of the city  and, when presented to the Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiya at Damascus, gave such an impassioned and forceful speech in the royal court that forced the caliph to release her and the prisoners taken at Karbala. Her strength, patience, and wisdom makes her one of the most important women in early Islam. Her shrine at Damascus remains a major place of visitation by both Sunnis and Shi’as, a fact that emphasizes the universality of her legacy among Muslims” (

We cannot mention other important women without mentioning Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya. She was “one of the most important mystics (or Sufis) in the Muslim tradition. Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya spent much of her early life as a slave in southern Iraq before attaining her freedom. She is considered to be one the founders of the Sufi school of “Divine Love,” which emphasizes the loving of God for His own sake, rather than out of fear of punishment or desire for reward” (

The examples are many. The point is that Muslim women are not encouraged by their religion to be quiet and do nothing. Just like men, they must learn and increase their knowledge, playing an active role in the society. While there are abused Muslim women, and while some countries do impose harsh restrictions on them, it is not the religion of Islam that prevents women from having a voice.


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