Does Islam promote freedom of speech?
In Islam, women are valued for their intelligence and strength of character. Throughout the Prophet’s life, he respected women by listening to them patiently when they came to him with grievances and seeking out wisdom from his wives. Furthermore, the Qur’an and Hadith speak of both men and women’s right to mind, or the right to to be educated. In essence, it discusses how free speech is a form of education that actualizes and activates the mind through conversation and personal expression. As such, restricting women’s free speech would violate this basic right to mind.
Today, women are voicing their concerns through the internet by discussing and challenging normative behaviors and hierarchies of power and authority on both the transnational and community levels. The proliferation of digital media and online social networks has enabled Muslim women around the world to develop and advance their own understandings and discourses on Islam and their intersections with gender relations.
“And their Lord has accepted (their prayers) and answered them (saying): ‘Never will I cause to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female; you are members, one of another… “(3:195)
The Prophet’s Sayings
“Take half of your religion from this red haired one [Ai’sha]”
Unfortunately, cultural norms, strict censorship and online surveillance prove to be limiting factors in women’s freedom of expression. These restrictions are unjust and do not follow the Prophet’s teachings, which have urged men to not only respect women, but also seek wisdom from them and correct the pervasive social injustices acted against them. Furthermore, the Qur’an and Hadith encourage women to use their voices to further their intellectual abilities and create social good. Preventing women from expressing their agency, uplifting others, growing spiritually, becoming actors for change, and redressing grievances is not permissible in Islam.
A well known contemporary Muslim female blogger, Malala Yousafzai, used the pseudonym ‘Gul Makai’ to blog about her life in Pakistan’s north-western Swat valley when she was only 11 years old. Yousafzai discussed pressing issues that young girls faced under the Taliban, and addressed women’s intrinsic rights to education and freedom of expression that are granted in the name of Islam. Despite being targeted and eventually shot by the Taliban, she made a full recovery and went on to become an ardent supporter of education for women and a strong voice for freedom of expression, writing books and articles about her life and work.
Despite massive barriers, internet access and digital media enable Muslim women to speak out and become agents of their own change. Just as the internet reflects the plurality of Islamic traditions and interpretations, it also highlights a wide spectrum of political, social and religious activity among Muslim women.
In Islam, women have always been regarded with high esteem because of their free will, intelligence, and leadership. Women have the right to freedom of expression, which is entwined with their right to mind. Instead of silencing women, lawmakers and leaders must create legislation that maintains, protects, and encourages women voices, whether in physical space or the internet.
Noor Tagouri, Mona Eltahawy, Saima Hassan, Dilshad D. Ali, L. Heidi Primo,
Mona Eltahawy, “HerSpace: Mideast Women Log on, Speak Out,” Toronto Star, December 19, 2010. Almudena Toral, “Afghanistan: Afghan Female Bloggers Wince and Then Upload,” Women’s Feature Service, March 21, 2011.