Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-mrcq8 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-29T11:14:06.130Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

‘Why invite her here? Her voice is ʿawra!’: vocal nudity debates and Muslim female preachers in northern Nigeria

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 June 2022

Rahina Muazu*
Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, USA


This article analyses the debates surrounding the ʿawra (nudity or nakedness in Arabic) of the female voice – what I call here vocal nudity – and the public presence of the female voice in Nigeria. It focuses on the preaching activities of two Muslim female preachers, Malama Khadija Gambo Hawaja and Malama Dr Zahrau Muhammad Umar, who present tafsīr (Qurʾanic interpretation; Hausa: tafsīrin azumi) to the public during Ramadan and rose to prominence through the publicity of their audio and video sessions and fatwas offered to women. I discuss their interpretation of verse 33.32, the only verse that refers to the female voice in the Qurʾan, their understanding of vocal nudity, and how they use the interpretations to reshape the concept of a righteous woman (Hausa: mace ta gari) in twenty-first-century Muslim West Africa.



Cet article analyse les débats autour de la ʿawra (nudité en arabe) de la voix féminine, ce que l’auteur appelle la nudité vocale, et la présence publique de la voix féminine au Nigeria. Il se concentre sur les activités de prêche de deux prêcheuses musulmanes, Malama Khadija Gambo Hawaja et Malama Dr Zahrau Muhammad Umar, qui présentent le tafsīr (interprétation coranique ; en haoussa : tafsīrin azumi) au public pendant le ramadan, et se sont faites connaître à travers la publicité de leurs séances audio et vidéo et fatwas offertes aux femmes. L’auteur traite de leur interprétation du verset 33.32, le seul verset faisant référence à la voix féminine dans le Coran, de leur vision de la nudité vocale, et de la manière dont elles utilisent les interprétations pour refaçonner le concept de la femme vertueuse (en haoussa : mace ta gari) dans l’Afrique de l’Ouest musulmane du vingt-et-unième siècle.

Women in Nigerian society
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ahmed, L. (1992) Women and Gender in Islam: historical roots of a modern debate. New Haven CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
al-Falah, Musaʿid ibn Qasim (1993) Aḥkam al-ʿAwra wa al-Nazr. Riyadh: Maktaba al Maʿrifa li al-Nashr wa al-Tawziʿ.Google Scholar
Alidou, O. (2005) Engaging Modernity: Muslim women and the politics of agency in postcolonial Niger. Madison WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
al-Sabuni, Muhammad ʿAli (1981) Rawaiʿ al-Bayan Tafsir Ayat al-Ahkam min al-Qurʾan. Dimashq: Maktabatu al-Ghazali.Google Scholar
Augis, E. (2005) ‘Dakar’s Sunnite women: the politics of person’ in Gomez-Perez, M. (ed.), L’Islam politique au sud du Sahara: identités, discours et enjeux. Paris: Karthala.Google Scholar
Badran, M. (2008) ‘Between Muslim women and the Muslim woman’, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 24(1): 101–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barkow, J. H. (1972) ‘Hausa women and Islam’, Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue Canadienne des Études Africaines 6(2): 317–28. [Special issue: ‘The roles of African women: past, present and future’.]CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barlas, A. (2002) Believing Women in Islam: unreading patriarchal interpretations of the Qurʾan. Austin TX: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
Borts, B. (2021) ‘The voice in women: subjected and rejected’, European Judaism 54(1): 105–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boyd, J. (1989) The Caliph’s Sister: Nana Asmaʾu, 1793–1865, teacher, poet, and Islamic leader. London: Frank Cass.Google Scholar
Boyd, J. (2001) ‘Distance learning from purdah in nineteenth-century northern Nigeria: the work of Asmaʾu Fodiyo’, Journal of African Cultural Studies 14(1): 722.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boyd, J. and Last, M. (1985) ‘The role of women as “agents religieux” in Sokoto’, Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue Canadienne des Études Africaines 19(2): 283300.Google Scholar
Boyd, J. and Mack, B. B. (1997) Collected Works of Nana Asmaʾu, Daughter of Usman Dan Fodiyo (1793–1864). East Lansing MI: Michigan State University Press.Google Scholar
Boyd, J. and Mack, B. (2013) Educating Muslim Women: the West African legacy of Nana Asmaʾu, 1793–1864. Markfield: Kube.Google Scholar
Buggenhagen, B. A. (2009) ‘Beyond brotherhood: gender, religious authority, and the global circuits of Senegalese Muridiyya’ in Diouf, M. and Leichtman, M. A. (eds), New Perspectives on Islam in Senegal: conversion, migration, wealth, power, and femininity. New York NY: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
Buggenhagen, B. A. (2012) Muslim Families in Global Senegal: money takes care of shame. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
Bukhari, Muhammad ibn Ismail (2010) Sahih al-Bukhari. N.P.: Dar Tawq al-Naja. Dimashq. Maktaba al-Shamila, accessed on 2 May 2017.Google Scholar
Butler, J. (1999) Gender Trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
Callaway, B. and Creevey, L. (1994) The Heritage of Islam: women, religion, and politics in West Africa. Boulder CO: Lynne Rienner.Google Scholar
Callaway, J. B. (1984) ‘Ambiguous consequences of the socialisation and seclusion of Hausa women’, Journal of Modern African Studies 22(3): 429–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Coquery-Vidrovitch, C. (1997) African Women: a modern history. Boulder CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
Danfulani, C. (2013) ‘The re-implementation of sharia in northern Nigeria and the education of Muslim women 1999–2007’. PhD thesis, University of Bayreuth.Google Scholar
Edwin, S. (2016) Privately Empowered: expressing feminism in Islam in northern Nigerian fiction. Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Frede, B. (2014) Die Erneuerung der Tiğānīya in Mauretanien: Popularisierung religiöser Ideen in der Kolonialzeit. ZMO Studies 31. Berlin: Schwarz Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Frede, B. and Hill, J. (2014) ‘Introduction: en-gendering Islamic authority in West Africa’, Islamic Africa 5(2): 131–65.Google Scholar
Gemmeke, A. B. (2009) ‘Marabout women in Dakar: creating authority in Islamic knowledge’, Africa 79(1): 128–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Glapka, E. (2018) ‘“If you look at me like at a piece of meat, then that’s a problem”: women in the center of the male gaze. Feminist poststructuralist discourse analysis as a tool of critique’, Critical Discourse Studies 15(1): 87103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gomez-Perez, M. (1991) ‘Associations islamiques à Dakar’, Islam et Sociétés au Sud du Sahara 5: 520.Google Scholar
Haour, A. and Rossi, B. (2010) Being and Becoming Hausa. African Social Studies Series 23. Leiden: Brill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hill, J. (2016) ‘God’s name is not a game: performative apologetics in Sufi Dhikr performance in Senegal’, Journal for Islamic Studies 35: 133–62.Google Scholar
Hill, J. (2018) Wrapping Authority: women Islamic leaders in a Sufi movement in Dakar, Senegal. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hill, J. (2019) ‘Women who are men: Shaykha Maryam Niasse and the Qur’an in Dakar’ in Hirji, Z. (ed.), Approaches to the Qur’an in Sub-Saharan Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Inoue, M. (2006) Vicarious Language: gender and linguistic modernity in Japan. Berkeley CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Kane, O. (2003) Muslim Modernity in Postcolonial Nigeria. Leiden: Brill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Krawietz, B. (2018) ‘Body, in law’ in Fleet, K., Krämer, G., Matringe, D., Nawas, J. and Rowson, E. (eds), Encyclopaedia of Islam, 3rd edition [online] <>, accessed 13 February 2019.Google Scholar
LeBlanc, M. N. (2009) ‘Nouveaux regards sur la vie des jeunes musulmanes en Côte d’Ivoire: dynamiques de sociabilités chez les jeunes arabisantes au tournant du XXIe siècle’ in Fourchard, L., Goerg, O. and Gomez-Perez, M. (eds), Lieux de sociabilité urbaine en Afrique. Paris: L’Harmattan.Google Scholar
Loimeier, R. (1997) Islamic Reform and Political Change in Northern Nigeria. Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
Mack, B. (2004) Muslim Women Sing: Hausa popular song. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
Mack, B. (2008) ‘Muslim women scholars in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Morocco to Nigeria’ in Jeppie, S. and Diagne, S. B. (eds), The Meanings of Timbuktu. Cape Town: Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa and CODESRIA.Google Scholar
Mack, B. and Boyd, J. (2000) One Woman’s Jihad: Nana Asmaʾu, scholar and scribe. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
Madore, F. (2020) ‘Muslim feminist, media sensation, and religious entrepreneur: Aminata Kane Koné as a figure of success in Côte d’Ivoire’, Africa Today 67(2–3): 1739.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mahdi, H. (2008) ‘The hijab in Nigeria, the woman’s body and the feminist private/public discourse’ in Diagne, S. B. and Umar, M. S. (eds), Islam and the Public Sphere in Africa: selected proceedings of a conference organized by the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa. Evanston IL: Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa.Google Scholar
Mahmood, S. (2005) Politics of Piety: the Islamic revival and the feminist subject. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Masquelier, A. (2009) Women and Islamic Revival in a West African Town. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
Mernissi, F. (1985) Beyond the Veil: male–female dynamics in modern Muslim society. London: Al Saqi.Google Scholar
Mernissi, F. (1992) The Veil and the Male Elite: a feminist interpretation of women’s rights in Islam. Translated by Lakeland, M. J.. New York NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Muazu, R. (2012) ‘The recited Qurʾan and the female voices: ethnography of the women reciters in Jos, Nigeria’. MA thesis, Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations, Aga Khan University, London.Google Scholar
Muazu, R. (2014) ‘Nigerian Muslim women and the interpretation of religion: right, freedom and access’ in Owete, K. I. (ed.), Freedom, Self-determination and Growth in Africa. Africa–Berlin Conference Proceedings. Berlin.Google Scholar
Muazu, R. (2019) ‘Qurʾan recitation and the nudity of the female voice in Nigeria’. PhD thesis, Freie Universität Berlin.Google Scholar
Muslim, al-ḥāfiẓ Abu al-Husayn Muslim ibn al-Naysaburi (2010) Sahih Muslim. Tahqiq Fuʾad ʿAbd-al-Baqi. Istanbul: al-Maktaba al-Islamiyya.Google Scholar
Omar, S. (2014) Ƴantarun Nana Asma’u Ɗan Fodiyo: Tsarinsu da Taskace Waƙoƙinsu. Lagos: Zeetma.Google Scholar
Schulz, D. E. (2008) ‘(Re)turning to proper Muslim practice: Islamic moral renewal and women’s conflicting assertions of Sunni identity in urban Mali’, Africa Today 54(4): 2143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sounaye, A. (2011) ‘“Go find the second half of your faith with these women!” Women fashioning Islam in contemporary Niger’, Muslim World 101(3): 539–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wadud, A. (1996) ‘Towards a Qurʾanic hermeneutics of social justice: race, class and gender’, Journal of Law and Religion 12(1): 3750.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wadud, A. (1999) Qurʾan and Woman: rereading the sacred text from a woman’s perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Wilhelm, L., Hartmann, A. S., Becker, J. C., Kişi, M., Waldorf, M. and Vocks, S. (2018) ‘Body covering and body image: a comparison of veiled and unveiled Muslim women, Christian women, and atheist women regarding body checking, body dissatisfaction, and eating disorder symptoms’, Journal of Religion and Health 57(5): 1808–28.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed