One of the ways in which Islam protects women is that it requires a woman to travel with a Mahram, to protect her from those who have bad intentions and to help her, because of her weakness, in facing the arduous trial of travelling.
A woman is not permitted to travel without a Mahram based on several narrations from the prophet (sallaahu alayhi wa sallam):
“let no woman travel for more than three days unless her husband or a Mahram is with her”. (Muslim)
he also said:
“a woman must not travel for three days except with a Mahram” (Bukhari and Muslim)
and “a woman should absolutely not travel unless she has a Mahram with her.” A man stood up and said, “o messenger of Allaah, I have enlisted in such-and-such a military campaign and my wife has set out for Hajj.” He said, “go and do Hajj with your wife.” (Bukhari)
Who is a Mahram?
The scholars have listed five conditions for a person to be considers a Mahram: he should be male, Muslim, adult, and of sound mind, and he should be a relative to whom marriage is permanently forbidden, such as a father, brother, paternal uncle, maternal uncles, father in law, mother’s husband or brother through radaa’ah (breastfeeding), etc. (as opposed to relatives to whom marriage is temporarily forbidden, such as a sister’s husband, paternal aunt’s husband, maternal aunt’s husband). On this basis, the husband’s brother and son of a paternal or maternal uncle are not Mahrams, so it is not permitted for her to travel with them. And Allaah knows best. (Al-Fatawa-Hindiyya)
It should be remembered here, that the basis for this ruling is not an evil assumption about the woman and her manners, as some people unreasonably think, but it is to take care of her reputation, dignity and safety. It is to protect her from the desires of those who have diseased hearts, from the assault of an immoral person or a thief.
Changing times, changing rulings?
Some contemporary people argue that travelling in modern times have changed from how it was in the time of the messenger of Allaah (sallaahu alayhi wa sallam). It is incumbent upon us to look at travelling in our time. It is not like how travelling was in the past. It is not filled with the dangers of the waterless deserts, encounters with thieves, highway robbers etc. now travelling is by various modes of transportations that usually gather large amounts of people at a time, such as planes, cars, buses, ships etc… thus, this provides plenty of confidence and reliability, removing feelings of fear for the woman, because she will not be by herself in any place, and the principle of Islamic jurisprudence states: “rulings change due to the changing of times”.
Also, some classical scholars have made exceptions with regards to the impermissibility of women travelling in that, they may travel in a group, or if there is no fear or risk of Fitnah, it would be permissible.
The above understanding is incorrect due to many reasons, and the permissibility of women travelling without a Mahram cannot be justified on its basis.
First, the principle of Islamic jurisprudence quoted above is surely an accepted theory among the classical Fuqaha, but one needs to understand the concept behind this principle. The meaning of “laws changing” is not that the laws of Shariah will change in accordance with the time and era, rather laws that are based on custom and habit (Urf) or the rules of Fiqh which are based on juristic opinion (Ra’i) or Ijtihad have often been formulated in the light of prevailing custom.
It is therefore permissible to depart from them if the custom on which they were founded changes in the course of time. Rulings that are based upon clear texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah can never change. The scholars of Usul Al-Fiqh stipulate that a custom or a practice which is contrary to the text of the Qur’an and Sunnah is an unacceptable custom (Urf Al-Fasid). (See: Ibn Abiding, Nashr Al-Urf Fi Bina Ba’d Al-Ahkam Ala Al-Urf, p. 115).
The reason, not the wisdom
Second, there is a difference between legal wisdoms and legal reasons. The rulings of Shariah are always based on the reason (Illa) and not the wisdom (Hikma) behind it. An example for this is that the wisdom behind the prohibition of wine and alcohol is that it creates enmity and hatred between people and it hinders one from the remembrance of Allaah. The reason, however, is that it is an intoxicating substance. Now, if one was to say that wine will be halal for me, as I will lock myself up after drinking wine, thus no destruction will be caused. Any sane person will conclude that he is wrong, as wine is haram whether you cause any destruction and damage to others or not. The reason being, that the cause for the prohibition of wine is that it intoxicates you, regardless of whether the wisdom is present or not. (See: Usul Al-Iftaa & other Usul books).
The same is with women travelling without a Mahram. The wisdom behind this ruling is surely to save her from the dangers that can be encountered in the journey. However, this is not the legal reason. The reason (Illa) is her travelling. Thus, whether the journey is safe, in a plane or on foot, it will remain impermissible.
This is very similar to the ruling of shortening the prayers whilst on journey a (Qasr). The wisdom behind the ruling is undue hardship (Mashaaqqa): however, this is not the reason. The reason is the travelling. Therefore, the scholars have declared that it is incumbent upon a traveller to shorten the Fardh prayers, even if one was in a perfectly comfortable journey. We don’t see people suggesting that the prayers must not be shortened due to the modern day means of transport!
Third, If one was to look at the exceptions made by some of the classical scholars of the other schools of thought, it would be evident that these exceptions and dispensations are only in relation to the journey of Hajj. The reason for this is that there has been a lot of emphasis in the Qur’an and Sunnah regarding the obligation of Hajj, thus we have two types of texts that apparently contradict one another. However, this can never be generalized to all types of journeys.
Hira to the house
Some try to justify women’s travelling with the hadith where the messenger of Allaah (sallaahu alayhi wa sallam) mentioned that a woman will travel and perform Tawaf of the Ka’bah without a husband with her (Bukhari). This hadith seems to suggest the permissibility of women travelling alone, but it needs further, more precise analysis.
The Hadeeth says: Adi Bin Hatim (RA) narrated: “while I was in the city of the prophet, a man came and complained to him (the prophet) of destitution and poverty. Then another man came and complained of robbery (by highwaymen). The prophet (sallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “Adi! Have you been to Al-Hira?” I said, “I haven’t been to it, but I was informed about it.” He said, “if you should live for a long time, you will certainly see that a lady in a Hawdah travelling from Al-Hira will (safely reach Makkah and) perform the Tawaf of the Ka’bah, fearing none but Allaah.’ (Bukhari)
The Shafi’i school, for example, considered this hadith as evidence that a woman may travel for Hajj without a Mahram if the journey is safe. The Hanafi jurists, however, pointed out that this hadith is an account of something which is going to happen, and as such is not a sign of its approval or permissibility. In any case, it seems very shaky to deduce a general permissibility of a woman travelling alone in safety just from this hadith, especially in view of all the other evidences. (See: Fath Al-Bari, Umdatal-Qari & I’la Al-Sunan).
Necessity makes permissible
It must be stated here that the Shariah principle is that unlawful things become permissible in case of necessity, such as consuming pork becomes permissible when one fears death out of hunger. Contemporary scholars have given a dispensation in that if a woman does not have a Mahram (for one reason or another) and she is in a dire situation, then it will be permissible for her to travel. One of the great contemporary scholars,Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Taqi Al-Usmani (may Allaah preserve him) states:
“However, in the case of a woman who has neither a husband nor a father, nor does she have some other relatives who could support her financially, nor does she have enough funds to take care of her needs, it would, under this situation, becomes permissible for her to go out of the house under legal hijab and earn her living to the limit of her need. Now, when this purpose can be easily achieved while living in one’s own country or city, then there is no need to travel to a foreign land. If there is no other way for her, but to travel to another city, and she does not have any Mahrams, then only in this situation it will be permissible for her to take the opinion of Imam Shafi’i and Imam Malik, for they have given permission for her to travel with a group of trustworthy women” (Buhuth Fi Qadhaya Fiqhiyya Al-Mu’asira, p. 338).
It should be added here that, as we have seen, the Shafi’i and Maliki schools have only given a dispensation would be based on the concept of necessity.
And Allaah knows best
This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited