According to a fatwa by the respected Egyptian scholar Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars), women are permitted to be singers in Islam provided that Islam’s other commandments are respected. For example, singing songs that promote un-Islamic and immoral things is not permitted.
Many other scholars prohibit women from singing even though there is no clear Quranic or hadith text that forces such a prohibition. Their prohibition is based on general considerations. They believe that it is a danger to a woman’s moral character if she sings, since men may be attracted to her voice and since singing often involves dealing with many male strangers who work in studios.
Some scholars think of women as constant sources of moral hazard to society (sources of “fitna“), therefore they always prefer restrictions on their freedoms in order to minimize what they consider to be a risk. Other scholars, however, start with the principle that women are humans and are respected as such by Islam, therefore it is up to each woman, her family and social circle to decide what is appropriate behavior and what is not. While a very young and beautiful woman who spends time alone in the company of male strangers can be in great danger of sexual harassment and abuse, there are also women with strong personalities who can deal with males while suffering little such dangers. Therefore the moderate stance is to avoid paranoia about women’s moral character and recognize that it is quite possible for a woman to work as a singer or actress and to maintain as good a moral character as any other woman. Being a human with reason, she can arrange her circumstances in a way that reduce the risks, for example by having a male relative accompany her in risky situations.
The Quran does not recommend paranoia toward women’s supposed dangers to society and leaves it to each society to come up with its own methods for determining appropriate behavior. So the views of some scholars (especially Saudi ones) where they always prefer restrictions on women is more a reflection of their own cultural beliefs than Islamic commandments.
- Article on Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s fatwa (Arabic PDF)