From the YouTube video description:
Usthadha Tahera Ahmad, Associate University Chaplain and Faculty Fellow at Northwestern University, opened the first main hall session of the 50th Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention on Aug 30th, 2013 with this recitation of the Holy Quran. This is the first time a female has been invited to recite the Quran
More info on the sister:
Tahera Ahmad is a dynamic young female scholar, and a native of the Chicago land Muslim community. She was raised in Morton Grove, and graduated from Niles West High School where she played varsity basketball. She has served the Muslim Community of Chicago through leadership at the MCC, IFS, CIOGC, IMAN, MYNA, ISNA, etc. As a Dept. Head of Islamic Studies at the Islamic Foundation School, Villa Park IL., she taught courses in Quran, Arabic, and Islamic Studies.
She regularly hosts young Muslim art stages, open mics, and counsels young Muslims through study circles that promote a balanced Muslim life-style. She received graduate certification in Arabic from Al-Diwan, Cairo, Ijaazaat (certification) in Tajweed (art of Quranic recitation) and traditional Islamic sciences from various institutions in USA and abroad. During her graduate studies in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary, she served as the Muslim Chaplain/Advisor at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. She has been featured in several documentary films about Islam and will be depicted as a young female Muslim Advisor/Chaplain in an upcoming PBS documentary about faith and youth leadership in the United States, titled: The Calling.
There is a difference of opinion on the permissibility of whether or not women can recite Qur’an publicly:
The voice of a woman is not considered `awra, so it is permissible to listen to her voice as long as fitna is not feared by it, for then it becomes haram. As for her raising her voice to recite the Koran in the presence of men who are not her mahram, it is not haram according to Imam al-Ramli, but it is disliked out of fear of fitna. Al Khatib al-Shirbini disagreed with him and said, “It is haram, by analogy that it is haram for a woman to raise her voice to call the adhan (call to prayer) in front of non-mahram men, as he expounded in Bushra al-Karim ( 1/76, 60). So for this reason, it is surely better for a woman to lower her voice in front of non-mahram men when she is reciting Koran so that she does not enter into difference of opinions.
Shaykh Hamzah Wald Maqbul
I was recently sent an inquiry by a pious student of knowledge regarding a buzz on the internet hailing the first time a sister had been given the opportunity to recite the Qur’an at an ISNA Convention, this year. I figure that many others have the same question, so I have reproduced the question and answer below I added a few comments to this post that were not included in my letter to the young brother:
RE: Question about listening to a non-mahram’s voice
Salaam Shaykh Hamzah,
I hope you are doing well, it was nice to see you this past weekend.
In light of the recent event of the sister reciting Qur’an at ISNA, there’s been a lot of discussion going around relating to the permissibility of this. I was wondering if you could explain the Maliki position on this topic? And also if you knew the position that allows for its permissibility? I’ve had a hard time finding much information online, other than people saying its haram lol.
Jazak Allah Khair!
From: Hamzah Wald Maqbul
Wa’alaykumussalam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu[Such a fitnah is taken for granted from a young attractive woman.]
The voice of a woman is haram for a man to listen to if it will be a cause for fitnah for him, except in specific circumstances based on dire need.
Likewise, if a woman knows that her speaking to someone or in front of someone will cause a fitnah she is prohibited from doing so, except in specific circumstances based on similar need.
The opening recitation of Qur’an for an ISNA session is not such a need, and given that the young lady in question (whom I have met in the past) is almost surely to have caused some impropriety by having recited in front of a mixed gathering, I am not terribly excited about what happened. Often times Muslims in the west behave like they have something to prove to others, and they thereby misplace their priorities and values. I don’t believe by her having recited, that the honor of Muslim women increased, and if we feel that by putting women in positions traditionally discharged by men is somehow progress, then we ourselves are admitting two things: one is that women will not be honored until they are encouraged to behave like men, and two, that centuries of intervening Muslims society and scholarship have been mired in a patriarchy that has barred them from being fair to women, until ISNA’s enlightened conference organizers elevated them to that status that our `ulama were hitherto unable to accord them.
As for those who would argue that only the most extreme pervert would be put into fitnah by a Qur’anic recitation, I propose that only one who lacks basic fitrah would not be at least charmed by an attractive young lady reciting something as beautiful as the Qur’an. I did not listen to the recording, but assume she recites well. [The fact that a beautiful voice is reciting the Qur’an does not negate the possibility of fitnah, rather it compound the sin therein, as it causes something that is sacred to be violated rather than something mundane like normal speech.]
Anyone who sat in our tasawwuf class, or classes like it from the past 14 centuries knows that the pathways to the enlightening or destruction of the heart cross through the eyes and ears. To fail to vigilantly guard over those gateways to the heart is to slacken in defending one’s deen and will ensure that one is robbed of the maqam of ihsan.
I’m not saying that this sister is evil or that whoever listened is surely going to hell. [In fact, I have much respect for her efforts to serve Islam, as do I for the good intentions held by those who wished to benefit from listening to the speeches of various community leaders at the conference.] I’m just saying that all of the `ulama’ I ever studied with would be mortified by the prospect of young women reciting in a mixed gathering, and that fear is not based on bigoted patriarchy, but on the firm principles established by the sunnah. [Din is nasihah or sincere advice. If we didn’t care or have some hope for good, we wouldn’t have wasted our breath.] The fact that this event is being touted as an achievement of something betrays an attitude that until we behave like them, we are backwards, otherwise I am sure that many other people recited Qur’an at other venues this weekend, and if all things were equal, those recitations would be be received with acclaim. I am happy with the way of the old mashayikh of dar al-Islam and never felt that they were in need of the philosophies of modernity or western feminism in order to rectify their attitudes which are based on an usuli understanding of the sunnah.
… and Allah knows best. (source)
Dr. Kamran Riaz:
Why do we always have to do dumb things to “modernize” Islam to compete with other ideologies that are “modernizing” or “modernized”? I have no problem with progress or thinking outside the box. But when that progress means to blatantly violate Sacred Law in an effort to show that Islam is modern/cool/fair to women/etc (take your pick for a reason here)… then something has gone terribly wrong.
Do we have such an inferiority complex that we feel we must compete in arenas that we don’t need to bother even competing in the first place? This would be like Michael Jordan feeling resentful that he isn’t a Best Buy manager: why bother with a trivial accomplishment when you’ve already reached the pinnacle of your intended craft? Why do modern Muslims feel the need for Islam to compete in artificial arenas of competition when such a competition is not needed nor ever intended in the first place?
And why does the rest of the community watch on and applaud as if this is a great achievement, that by violating Sacred Law, we have advanced the cause of Islam further?
(This is clearly referencing several recent events… I’ll leave you intelligent ones out there to figure which events exactly)
Traditionally, very few classes, if any, were taught with both gender students present in the same class. If so, there was always a partition or some barrier for the sake of adab and also to promote the culture of serious learning. Tajweed, however, was one class in particular that was totally separate for precisely this reason. So if a female student recited to a male teacher, there would not only be a partition/mahram/etc present, but it would not be a melodious recitation, but rather a straight forward recitation focusing on the pronunciation of letters. Melody would be practiced only with other female students/teachers, never in front of a male teacher.
In this case, the recitation was not done in academic setting but rather was to open a session at a convention. There is no historical precedent (if so, these are one-off cases and certainly not the norm) for such an act. As we know, historical precedent (ie, we practice Islam based on how the Sahabah practiced it) is a primary principle in the matters of Sacred Law.
The bigger issue is how American Muslims often feel the need to window dress Islam to show that we’re “just like you” and that misguided effort makes the situation worse. Similar to the woman-led jumu’ah prayer from years ago… why are we trying to make women compete in an area God never intended for them to compete? God has favored women in certain areas and favored men in others so why try to change this setup? So if Sacred Law says only men can melodiously recite in a public gathering, why force women into this arena? Sacred Law says that women get the reward of jamat whether they pray at home or at the masjid, is this unfair to me as a man that I have to go the masjid for this reward?
I should also clarify that I personally know the sister and I greatly respect her. I think she is a wonderful asset to the community. My contention is limited to this single event and has more to do with ISNA’s decision to do something to “advance the cause of Muslim women” in an area, ironically, where women have no need to compete with men.