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Question: Is it permissible for a woman to stand in front of a crowd and publicly speak?I am aware that certain Islamic laws prohibit this because of a woman's awra. But our society is constantly evolving. Back in the day maybe it wasn't the most modest act for a woman to stand in front of many non-mahram men and address a speech because of their uncivilized behaviour. Today though especially in the West things have changed and without women being allowed to speak out they will be spoken for by the unfriendly media and Muslim male "fanatics" who are unwilling to adapt to the concept of ijtihad.
Answer:

It is not un-Islamic for women to speak in public in front of men; it was even done in the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, as well as during the era of the pious caliphs. Instances like these abound in the sources: Women coming in front of men and asking the Prophet, peace be upon him, questions, often of intimate nature; women offering themselves in marriage and the companions looking at them carefully; women presenting women's issues and the Prophet listening carefully, and thus encouraging them.

The Qur'an also assumes that men and women interact in public spaces; and therefore, what is required of both men and women is to lower their gazes while coming into direct contact. If appearing in public had been forbidden, Allah would have enforced strict segregation upon them.

Our sources tell us: A woman confronted Umar when he once contemplated putting a cap on the amount of mahr a man can offer his wife in marriage. Accordingly, Umar retracted his statement. Umar also appointed a woman as the superintendent of markets in Madinah. Hence she used to go around to enforce Islamic business ethics.

Our sources also tell us: Aishah, the Prophet's wife, addressed men on numerous occasions. Her speech was judged by many as even better than speeches of everyone except the Prophet's.

So women need not apologize for speaking in public as long as they, like men, conduct themselves Islamically. Islamic ethics, let us remember, applies to both genders. Let us keep in mind that the Qur'anic order for lowering gazes is first addressed to men, and only second to women. So it is ironic that some of us seem to think women need to be bridled more than men-- as if men have a monopoly on dictating ethics and morals.

 

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