Question: Is it haraam (prohibited) for a woman to travel on her own, or live one her own in a separate city from her family, or is it makrooh (disliked)? Is it something that the shuyukh have consensus on or dispute? I’m currently attending Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.
Answer: I have researched this subject before and from the many opinions and the principles concerning this matter going back to the Salaf, I have understood the following.
1. Originally, there is a prohibition for a woman to travel alone without a mahram to somewhere which takes over one day and one night to get there. The Hadith is in Bukhari #1088
2. When examining this Hukm (ruling) with regards to its wisdoms (‘ilal) and validity in today’s much different world than the world in which this Hukm was revealed. One point is that back then they would travel much slower by camels and walking. Secondly, the Prophet was speaking about the desert where there were no police and no security in most cases. You see ukhti (sister) I have found in my experience as someone trying to follow in the path of the Salaf and the people of ‘ilm from the Khalaf, it isn’t just clean cut and black and white; Allah says… or the Prophet said… There are many other factors to be considered and many people don’t grasp this most crucial point in Fiqh. The Prophet (saws) was not making rulings which were expected to remain exactly as they are until the Day of Judgment. In truth, he (saws) was laying the foundation and establishing principles for the guidance that we may be able to apply them in any given circumstances whether they are old or new.
3. That being said and Allah knows best- I would say with almost certainty that the purpose of traveling with a male escort is for protection from possible harm. If it could be said that there is just as much chance for harm to come your way going to the local store as it would going to Stillwater then if that chance was scarce then it would only be recommended to have a male escort in going to Stillwater, but not necessarily Makarooh to go without one since you have a noble purpose and aren’t going to “hang out” or do something impermissible. Indeed, it could even be considered recommended or even obligatory to go according to individual circumstances. The precedence and obligation of seeking knowledge is not just about Deen. It is anything which is beneficial to mankind as well. If the chance of harm was more -and I’m pretty sure it isn’t -then it would become obligatory whether traveling or not to have an escort.
And of course, as mentioned the original ruling is in the case that in the inner rural and suburbian area is mostly secure and that traveling is dangerous.
As far as an unmarried Muslim woman going to live away from her family for college, I would have to say that the rule mainly goes to the parents if they are practicing Muslims (‘udool) since they know the personal tendencies of their daughter better than anyone. As far as Shari’ah is concerned, I would say that it would be obligatory that if her parents saw her as capable of undergoing this big change then she must live with a practicing Muslim girl as her roommate and that she try to be part of the local MSA making good ties with them. Other than that I am pretty sure that living with a non-Muslim or a “Muslim by name” will open the door to Shaytan therefore we must shut it.
If in the probable case she could only find a roommate who wasn’t necessarily a practicing Muslim, but is for sure not into sex, drugs, alcohol, or other major sins then it might be permissible as long as she was strong in her Deen and knows that she wouldn’t be affected by her roommate.
And Allah knows best.