Question: Is it haram to listen to a woman singing? What is the ruling on mixed gatherings? When is it permissible to look at a woman in the face?
Answer: By default, it is offensive to listen to a woman singing, and it would be sinful if the voice inspires lustful thoughts (Tuhfat al-Muhtaj, Ibn Hajar).
Mixed gatherings for formal purposes like work are permissible, but not for social purposes because they usually lead to the haram.
A man can look at the face and hands of a woman when there is a need for work, trade, and the like (Niyahat al-Muhtaj, Ramli).
A Woman’s Voice
The ulema tell us that the general trend in Allah’s law is that He has based rulings on women such that they are not seen and heard by all. Rulings of dress, travel, marriage, court are all testimony to this.
Allah Most High addressed the wives of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace, and be well pleased with all of them) saying, ‘Wives of the Prophet! You are not like other women. If you fear God, do not be too complaisant in your speech, lest the lecherous-hearted should lust after you. Show discretion in what you say’ (Qur’an, 33: 32).
Imam al Qurtubi explains this saying, ‘Allah commanded them to make the words direct and to the point, and not to leave any sense of attachment or softness towards those being addressed, in contradistinction to the way of the Arab women when they speak to men with affected and softened voices’ (Tafsir al Qurtubi, Qurtubi).
That said, a woman’s voice is not forbidden to hear, and indeed her singing is not out and out forbidden either. The Prophet heard a woman singing on Eid and did not forbid her (Bukhari).
That said, the scholars of the Shafii school tell us that as a default it is nevertheless offensive to listen to women singing (Bushra al Karim, Bashin). ‘And it is obvious that this is only permissible when there is no fear of temptation’ (Fath al-Bari, Ibn Hajar al Asqalani).
As mentioned above, mixed gatherings are necessary sometimes, such as in malls, market places, and for formal purposes like work, and are therefore permissible. But when it comes to purely social occasions, they are not permissible because they frequently lead to the haram.
For more details, please see:
Looking at the opposite sex
In the Shafii school, it is permissible for a man to look at the face of a woman when there is a need for work, trade, and the like. If there is a fear or temptation, or sexual stimulation, one could only look for absolute dire necessity, such as when doing an operation (Niyahat al-Muhtaj, Ramli).
There is a strong position in the Shafi’i school that one can look at the face and hands even without a need, as long as there is no lust or temptation (Minhaj al-Talibin, Nawawi). ‘There wouldn’t be any harm in following this second position, especially in our times [19th century Egypt] in which women are so commonly seen in the streets and market places’ (Hashiya al-Bajuri, Bajuri).
One should still be very careful, and not be tricked into sin. For general advice on following dispensations, please see: Purity and Judging Pigskin
I pray this helps.
[Ustadh] Farid Dingle
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language