Question: The general understanding is that it is
prohibited in the Shariah for a female to travel without a Mahram under
all circumstances and including for religious purposes such as hajj.
Are there any exceptions to this rule? If a woman wishes to travel to
another city for a religious conference/seminar without the company of a
mahram male, would that be permissible? If she wishes to travel alone (or
with a sister) to a Muslim country to undertake Islamic studies, would
that be permissible? If she wishes to travel to visit her parents in the
home country, but her husband or another Mahram cannot join, would she be
able to travel independently?
Is the rule to be applied differently in this age when most travelling, in
flights etc., is done in collective groups?
Answer: In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,
Generally, it is impermissible for a woman to travel the distance of three
days (equivalent to 48 miles) without her husband or a Mahram
(unmarriageable kin) accompanying her.
There are many clear narrations of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him
& give him peace) in this regard.
1) Sayyiduna Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (Allah be pleased with him) narrates
that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Let
no woman travel for more than three days unless her husband or a Mahram is
with her”. (Sahih Muslim).
2) Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that
the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “A woman
must not travel for three days except with a Mahram”. (Sahih al-Bukhari,
no. 1036 & Sahih Muslim).
3) Sayyiduna Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the
Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “It is
unlawful for a woman who believes in Allah and the last day that she
travels the distance of one day and one night without a Mahram
accompanying her”. (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 1038).
4) Sayyiduna Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the
Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “'A woman must
not travel except with a Mahram and a man must not enter upon her except
if she has a Mahram”. (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 1763).
Imam Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) states in his monumental
commentary of Sahih Muslim:
“There are many such narrations that assert the impermissibility of a
woman travelling without a Mahram. These narrations vary in their
wordings. The narration of Ibn Abbas in Sahih al-Bukhari says that a woman
must not travel without a Mahram, but it adds nothing else. However, the
other narrations, in Sahih al-Bukhari and elsewhere, mention lengths of
journeys for which a Mahram is required - some of the narrations specify
three days, some two, some one, and some even less”.
Imam Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him) mentions that the difference found
in these narrations is due to the different questioners and the places
wherein the answers were given to them. al-Bayhaqi said: “It is as though
the messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was asked
regarding travelling for three days without a Mahram, and he refused. He
was then asked about her travelling for two days, and regarding one day,
etc and each narrator related from him what he heard”. (See: Commentary of
Sahih Muslim by Imam Nawawi, 1015).
According to the Hanafi Ijtihad, the distance that is considered here is
three days and three nights, for the narrations mentioning three days &
three nights have reached the level of certainty. All the Companions who
narrated other than three days also narrate the distance of three days and
three nights. The narrations that mention two or one day will be
restricted to specific circumstances, such as the fear of more fitna.
Hence, they (Hanafi School) consider the narrations that mention three
days & three nights as the basis of prohibition. (Zafar Ahmad al-Tahanawi,
I’la al-Sunan, V. 10, P. 11).
It must be remarked here that this refers to the distance usually covered
by walking or on a animal in three days & three nights (with the usual
breaks for resting and eating). Therefore, the restriction of travelling
with a Mahram applies if the distance of the journey exceeds this, even if
the journey itself is accomplished in a shorter time.
The scholars have differed on the length of this distance. Many scholars
are of the opinion that it is 16 Farsakh, and each Farsakh equals three
miles, thus totalling to 48 miles. (See: Faydh al-Bari ala Sahih al-Bukhari,
Thus, the Hanafi Fuqaha are very clear in that a woman must not travel to
the distance of three days without her husband or Mahram accompanying her.
The great Hanafi Jurist, Imam al-Kasani (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“One of the conditions for the permissibility of a woman travelling for
Hajj is that she is accompanied by her husband or a Mahram. If neither of
them is accompanying her, then Hajj will not be obligatory.
Our (Hanafi school) proof is what Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him)
narrated from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace)
that he said: “Verily, a woman must no travel for Hajj except that her
Mahram is accompanying her”. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him &
give him peace) also said: “A woman must not travel except that her Mahram
or Husband is with her”. Also, a woman is unsafe if her husband or Mahram
is not accompanying her, and this is the reason why it is even
impermissible for her to travel on her own (meaning, not in the company of
a stranger, m), and this fear (of their safety, m) is increased when they
are in a group. This is the reason why it is impermissible for a man to be
in seclusion (khalwa) with a non-Mahram woman even if she has another
woman accompanying her”. (Bada’i al-Sana’i, 2/1230).
It is stated in al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya:
“One of the conditions for a woman, whether young or old, to a able to
travel for Hajj is that she is accompanied by her Mahram if the distance
between her and Makkah is of three days. If the travelling distance is
less than that, then she will perform Hajj without her Mahram”. (al-Fatawa
Imam al-Haskafi (may Allah have mercy on him) also states the same ruling
in his renowned Durr al-Mukhtar, on which Allama Ibn Abidin (may Allah
have mercy on him) commentates with the following:
“It is impermissible for a woman to travel the distance of three days
and three nights. However, it will be permissible for her to travel the
distance which is less than that without a Mahram because of need. It is
reported from Abu Hanifa and Abu Yusuf (Allah have mercy on them both)
that they disliked the travelling of a woman on herself even to the travel
distance of one day and one night, and the Fatwa should be on this opinion
due to the widespread immorality. This is also affirmed by the Hadith
recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim: “It is Impermissible for a
woman who believes in Allah and the last day that she travels the distance
of one day and one night except with a Mahram accompanying her”. However,
it is stated in al-Fath (fath al-Qadir of Ibn al-Humam, m): “When the
relied upon opinion is the first (i.e., distance of three days and three
nights, m), the husband does not have a right to prevent her from
performing Hajj if the distance between her and Makkah is less than three
days”. (Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 2/465).
The above excerpts from the major reference books in the Hanafi School
clearly indicate the impermissibility of a woman travelling without her
Mahram or Husband. So much so, that we see Ibn Abidin (A major authority)
stating that due to widespread immorality and corruption in his time, a
woman should not be even allowed to travel the distance of one day (even
though, the fatwa is on three days and three nights/48 miles). If that was
the case in his time, then what would the ruling be in our age?
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.
Some contemporary people argue that travelling in modern times have
changed from how it was in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless
him & give him peace). 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 transportation
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 Fitna, it would be permissible.
The above understanding is incorrect due to many reasons, and the
permissibility of women travelling without a Mahram can not be justified
on its basis.
Firstly, 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 Abidin, Nashr
al-Urf fi bina ba’d al-ahkam ala al-urf, P. 115).
Secondly, 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 Allah. 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).
This can be understood more clearly with an example from our day to day
life. The law states that the driver must stop his car when the lights are
red. The wisdom behind this ruling is that it stops and prevents
accidents. However, the reason (illa) for this ruling is the lights being
red. Now, a driver who is driving in the middle of the night sees that the
light is red, but does not see any sign of a car. If the law was based on
the wisdom (which is to prevent accidents), then it would be permissible
for his to drive through the red light. However, as it is common
knowledge, that despite there being no possibility of an accident, he must
stop his car otherwise he will be arrested if caught, for the law is based
upon the reason and not the wisdom.
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 the distance of three days and three nights, 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 (mashaqqa);
however, this is not the reason. The reason is the travelling distance of
three days and three nights. Therefore, all the Hanafi scholars (classic
and contemporary) 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!
Thirdly, 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.
For example, Imam Nawawi, the great Shafi’i jurist (may Allah have mercy
on him) states in his monumental commentary of Sahih Muslim:
“There is a consensus (ijma’) of the Ummah that it is obligatory upon a
woman to perform Hajj if she is able to do so, due to the general nature
of the verse: “Pilgrimage to the house of Allah is a duty men owe to Allah
for those who can afford the journey” (Ali Imran, 97), and because of the
Hadith “Islam is based on five things”. However, scholars differ as to
whether a Mahram is a pre-requisite for a woman to perform the Hajj. Abu
Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) considers it a condition for the Hajj to
be obligatory unless the distance between her and Makkah is less than
three Marahil. His opinion is also endorsed by a group of Hadith scholars,
people of ra’i, Hasan al-Basri and Nakha’i (Allah have mercy on them all).
However, Ata, Sa’id ibn Jubayr, Ibn Sirin, Malik, al-Awzai’i, Shafi’i
(Allah have mercy on them all) say that a Mahram is not a pre-requisite in
order for her travelling to Hajj; rather the condition is safety in the
journey. Some of our (Shafi’i) scholars have said: “Safety will be
acquired with the husband, Mahram or a group of trustworthy women, and
Hajj is not obligatory if one of these three is not found. Therefore, if
there was only one trustworthy woman, Hajj would not be obligatory, but to
perform Hajj will be permissible. This is the correct opinion……
Our (Shafi’i) scholars differed as to the ruling of her travelling for
optional Hajj, visiting family and friends, for business or other such
journeys that are not obligatory. Some said: “It will be permissible for
her travel for these causes with a group of trustworthy women just as this
is permissible for the obligatory Hajj. However, the majority of the
scholars (jumhur) state that it is impermissible for her to travel unless
accompanied by her husband or Mahram, and this is the correct opinion due
to the authentic and established narrations. Qadhi Iyad (a major Maliki
scholar, m) said: “All the scholars have agreed on the fact that a woman
can not travel besides Hajj and Umrah except in the company of her Mahram,
with the exception of migrating from Dar al-Harb, for the reason that it
is unlawful (haram) for her to remain in the lands of the Kuffar”. (Nawawi,
al-Minhaj sharh Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, P. 1015, Dar ibn Hazm, Beirut).
The above excerpt of Imam Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) indicates
that the dispensation given for a woman to travel in a group of upright
and trustworthy women or with one upright woman is only in the journey of
Hajj. The great Maliki scholar, Qadhi Iyad (from whom Imam Nawawi quoted)
relates the consensus of all the scholars.
Imam Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) confirms this in his al-Majmu’
where he states:
“The second opinion (in the Shafi’i school) is that a woman must not
travel for other than Hajj without a Mahram, and this is the correct
opinion and clearly related from Imam Shafi’i himself in his al-Umm. The
reason is that to travel for other than Hajj is not obligatory”.
Thereafter he quotes all the narrations that have been narrated from the
Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) in this regard.
(See: Kitab al-Majmu’ Sharh al-Muhazzab, 7/460).
The Maliki Madhab is also quite clear on this. We have already cited the
opinion of Qadhi Iyad in Imam Nawawi’s commentary. Also, one of the major
authorities in the Maliki school, Imam Dasouqi (may Allah have mercy on
“If the journey is obligatory (like Hajj, m), it will be permissible
for her to travel in the company of a Mahram, husband or a group of
trustworthy and upright people. If the journey is recommended (mandub, and
not obligatory), then it will be permitted for her to travel with only her
husband or a Mahram and not in a group”. (Hashiya al-Dasouqi ala Sharh al-Kabir,
The Hanbali school is similar to the Hanafi school in that a woman must
not travel without her Mahram accompanying her even for the auspicious
journey of Hajj. Imam al-Bahuti (may Allah have mercy on him) states:
“If a woman performed Hajj without a Mahram, this will be unlawful (haram)
for her, although the obligation of Hajj will be lifted”. (Kashaf al-Qina
ala matn al-Iqna, 2/213. Also see: Ibn Qudama, al-Mugni, 3/236-237).
The foregoing is clear in determining that none of the four major Fiqh
schools of thought permit a woman to travel without her husband or a
Mahram in a journey besides Hajj. The Shafi’i and Maliki schools give an
dispensation in that she may travel only for Hajj in a group of
trustworthy and upright women (or one woman, according to some) given the
importance and significance of the ritual of Hajj.
Therefore, it will not be permissible for a woman to travel over 48 miles
in order to visit her family and friends, acquire knowledge or any other
social reason. It is also strictly impermissible in the Hanafi and Hanbali
schools for her to travel for Hajj, and permissible with a group of
upright women, however, in the Shafi’i and Maliki schools.
Some try to justify women’s travelling with the Hadith where the Messenger
of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) mentioned that a woman will
travel and perform Tawaf of the Ka’ba without a husband with her (Sahih
al-Bukhari). This Hadith seems to suggest the permissibility of women
travelling alone, but it needs further, more precise analysis. 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, Umdat
al-Qari & I’la al-Sunan).
It must be remarked 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 Allah preserve him)
“However, in the case of a woman who has neither a husband nor a father,
nor does she have some other relative who could support her financially,
nor does she have enough funds to take care of her needs, it would, under
this situation, become 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).
I would like to add here that, as we have seen, the Shafi’i and Maliki
schools have only given a dispensation in travelling for Hajj, thus this
dispensation would be based on the concept of necessity.
Finally before parting, it would be wise to mention, that a woman's Mahram
is a permanently non-marriageable male relative of hers. According to the
majority of scholars, his being a Muslim is not a condition.
It is stated al-Fatwa al-Hindiyya:
“A Mahram is the husband and those for whom it is permanently unlawful
to marry the woman, whether this is due to blood relationship, fosterage,
or marriage (such as the father in-law, m). It is a condition that he is
trusted, sane, and has reached puberty (baligh), whether he is free or a
slave and regardless of whether he is a Muslim or a unbeliever. However,
if he is a fire worshiper who considers marriage with relations and family
members lawful, then she should avoid travelling with him. A boy who is
close to puberty will be considered to be mature”. (al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya,
And Allah knows best
Muhammad ibn Adam
Article taken (with
Thanks) from Darul Ifta
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