Answered by Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi | Translated by Sister Marwa
The original rule stipulated in shari’a that a woman is not to travel alone. Rather, she has to be accompanied by her husband or any other mahram of hers. This rule is supported by narrations of Bukhari and others that Ibn-Abbas (ra) said, that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “A woman should not travel except with a mahram, and no man should visit her except in the presence of a mahram.”
Abu-Hurairah related the following on behalf of the Prophet (pbuh), “It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to travel for one day and night except with a mahram.”
Abu-Sa’id reported that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “A woman should not travel for two days except she is accompanied by her husband or a mahram.”
Ibn-’Umar reported, “She should not travel for three nights except with a mahram.”
Apparently, different narrations are due to the context of the questioner. So, answers were given according to each question. Abu-Hanifa, however, considered the narrations of Ibn-Omar as more probable. His believes that a mahram is considered a necessity only within the distance of qasr (shortening of prayers). This is according to the narration of Ahmad.
These ahadith are about all kinds of travel, whither an obligatory travel such as for a visit or trade or seeking knowledge or else.
This ruling is not because shari’a mistrusts woman as some people may fancy. To the contrary, this is a precaution for the sake of her reputation and dignity. Shari’a seeks to protect her in case the sick at heart should seek to harm her. It is to protect her from transgressors, brigands, especially in an environment in which a traveler crossed deadly deserts in a time that security and civilization were yet to prevail.
But what is the shari`ah ruling if a woman did not find a mahram to accompany her in a legitimate travel, whether obligatory, preferable, or allowed travel and she had some trusted men or women or the way was safe?
Scholars investigated this issue when they came across two problems: the obligation of women to perform hajj vs. the Prophet’s (pbuh) prohibition of a woman’s travel without a mahram.
Some of them adhered to the superficial meaning of the reported ahadith. Thus, they prohibited woman from travelling without a mahram, even for fulfilling the obligation of performing hajj.Some of them like Abul-Walid al-Yajy, a maliky judge, excluded elderly women from this prohibition. “This is a specialization of the general when looking to the meaning,” said Ibn-Daqiq al-Eid.Some of them excluded a woman accompanied by trusted group of women. Some said it suffices to have a company of a Muslim, and trusted woman.Some said it suffices to make sure that the road is safe. This is what the great scholar Ibn-Taymeya preferred. Ibn-Muflih said in al-Furu’, “A woman could perform hajj without a mahram as long as she is safe.” “This applies to all kinds of travel (for good cause).” he added. This is also what Al-Karabesi cited from ash-Shafi’i in the section of “Voluntary hajj”. Some of his followers said that it also applies to all kinds of non-obligatory travel, like visiting somebody or for trade. Al-Athram reported that Imam Ahmad said, “Having a mahram is not a prerequisite for obligatory hajj,” he added, “this is because a woman can go to hajj with women (in general) and also with anyone she feels safe with.”Ibn-Sirin said, “She should go with good Muslims.”
Al-Awza’y said, “She should go only with persons of good reputation.”
Malik said, “She should go with a group of women.”
Ash-Shafi’i said, “She should go with a free, Muslim, and trusted woman.” Some of his followers said, “She could go alone in case she is secured.”
Al-Hafidh Ibn-Hajar said, ” In the Shafi’i madhhab it is known to put the presence of the husband, mahram, or trusted women as a prerequisite for a women to perform hajj.” Some others say, “Only one trusted woman is enough.”
“She can travel alone if the road is safe.” This is another opinion cited by al-Karabesi. He corrected it in al-Muhathab.
If this applies to hajj and umra, then it should apply to all kinds of travel as it has been reported by some scholars, because the main aim is to protect women and secure them. Therefore, as long as the road is safe, and there are trusted women or men, she can go without mahram.
There are two evidences that a woman can travel without a mahram as long as she is safe and accompanied by trusted people:
First, it has been reported by al-Bukari in his Sahih, that Omar (ra) gave permission to the wives of the Prophet (pbuh) to perform hajj. He sent Othman Ibn-Affan and Abdul-Rahaman to accompany them. Omar, Othman, Abudl-Rahman along with the Prophet’s wives, all approved it. Nobody of the companions denied what they did. This is considered unanimous resolution.Second: what has been reported by Bukhary and Muslim regarding the hadith of Adyy Ibn-Hatim, to whom the Prophet (pbuh) talked about the future of Islam and how it will spread throughout the world. Among of what he said was, ” … you will certainly see that a lady in a Howdah traveling from al-Hira, heading for Makkah, without her husband, fearing none but Allah…”This hadith implies not only that what the Prophet (pbuh) said would happen, but also that is it permissible. It was mentioned within the context of praising the widespread of Islam and the security it would provide.Here, we want to add two important rules:
First, rulings regarding human interactions are meant to take into consideration the meanings and aims behind them. Unlike the rulings of worship, whose origin is to worship and submit to Allah, without thinking about their implications. This was clarified and assured by al-Shatiby.
Second, whatever has been prohibited for itself could be permissible only if there is a necessity. Whatever has been prohibited for the sake of preventing evasive legal device (sad al-zara’i), could be permissible only if there is a need for it. Surely, women’s travelling alone was prohibited for the sake of preventing evasive legal device.
Moreover, travel in our time is different from what it used to be in the past. For then, travel was full of danger. People had to cross deadly deserts, sometimes encounter robbers or brigands and the like. Nowadays, however, we travel by ships, airplanes. Usually, these vehicles take large numbers of people. This is what eliminates the fear for a woman travelling alone, because she will not be alone in any particular place.
Therefore, there is no harm in a woman performing hajj (without mahram), as long as the circumstances are settled and safe.
May Allah grant us success.
Originally published by Al-Qaradawi