The Prophet (pbuh) has warned the Muslims: ‘Don’t prevent women servants of Allah from the Houses of Allah
The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have forbidden women from travelling without a mehram (close male relative) and has said that they are not allowed to travel alone. The period of this journey is mentioned in some narratives to be one, in some others to be two and still others to be three days and nights respectively. Apparently, different narrations are due to the context of the questioner. So, answers were given according to each question. This ruling is not because sharia mistrusts woman as some people may fancy. To the contrary, this is a precaution for the sake of her reputation and dignity. Sharia 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 traveller crossed deadly deserts in a time 1400 years. Although it is always preferable to travel with close male relative (Mehram ) but we must not forget that Islam has never closed doors of ijtehad so as to address the contemporary issues in a particular society in the light of Quran and Hadith especially in a place like Kashmir where poor hapless women folk have undergone lot of stress.
There are thousands of women who have lost their husbands, thousands have been declared half-widows ,thousands have their spouses languishing in jails, and innumerable number of women who don’t have any close male relative except their trustworthy son-in-law or cousin or a God-fearing neighbour.
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 and give him peace). It is incumbent upon us to look at the 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. 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: they may travel in a group. Or if there is no fear or risk of Fitna, it would be permissible.
The prohibition of travelling mentioned in Hadith of Bukhari alone needs to be appreciated. It is not an absolute one (Mutalaq- unconditional. Rather its conditional (Muqayyad) that means when the condition of a directive is met. Here in this case the condition is fear of harm to women travelling alone without mehram. That means women can travel to Saudi Arabia if fear of harm is removed. It is a precautionary prohibition (meant to protect a person from harm). Its addressees are also the individuals of a society in their personal capacity, and it is not addressed to state authorities who organise pilgrimage in such a way that fear-factor or apprehension about women safety is almost negligible.
Moreover, it is evident that such directives relate to circumstances. Keeping in view the importance of a lady’s chastity and modesty in Islam, it was essential that they be stopped from travelling alone because of the circumstances which prevailed in Arabia in the times of the Prophet (pbuh). People in those times used to travel on foot or on horses and camels. Destinations which today can be reached in hours were accessed in those days in weeks and at times in months. Passengers would travel alone or in caravans and sometimes would even have to encounter forests and deserts on their way. At night time, they would have to spend the night under the open sky with other members of the caravan or in rest-houses of unknown cities.
Great changes have also come about in rest-houses and hotels. If in these circumstances, women were asked to travel with a mehram in order to protect them and to guard their reputation, every upright person can easily understand the wisdom behind this directive. Unfortunately this directive which was meant for individuals (Hukm e khaas) has been thrust on organised state authority (Hajj Committee) and render the directive as general (Hukm Aam).
This great change in circumstances entails that this directive should not relate to current forms of travel, and women be allowed to travel alone or in groups under an organised state authority that has evolved as ‘’State Hajj Committee’’ even if society as whole feels that they need to induct more trustworthy people from civil society so as to remove apprehension regarding the safeguarding of women. They can file a PIL (public interest litigation) in this regard but they cannot stop servant of Allah from going to Hajj.
Some scholars said it suffices to have a company of a Muslim, and a trusted woman. Some said it suffices to make sure that the road is safe. This is what the great scholar Sheikh ul Islam Ibn-Taimiya and Yousuf qardhawi preferred.
I would like to cite two authentic narrations to back my contention that if a woman is not having any close male relative she still can go for Hajj either with a trustworthy distant relative, pious neighbours or even state authority can facilitate her through an organized establishment like Hajj committee.
It has been reported by al-Bukhari in his Sahih, that Omar (ra) gave permission to the wives of the Prophet (pbuh) to perform hajj. So he sent with them `Uthman ibn Affan and `Abdur-Rahman’. This act is considered to be a consensus, for all of them, `Umar, `Uthman, `Abdur-Rahman Ibn `Awf and the wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) agreed to it, without any objection (Fathul Baaree vol. 4 p. 91 and ‘Umdatul Qaari’ vol. 10 p. 219).
Second, it has been reported by Bukhari and Muslim regarding the hadith of Adi Ibn-Hatim, to whom the Prophet (pbuh) talked about the future of Islam throughout the world. Among many other things he also said, ” … you will certainly see that a lady in a Howdah traveling from al-Hira, heading for Makkah, without her husband, fearing none but Allah…”(Fathul Baaree vol. 4 p. 91). This hadith implies not only that what the Prophet (pbuh) said would happen, but also that is it permissible.
The proof of the permissibility of a woman travelling without a mehram is incumbent upon there being security and the presence of trustworthy faithful people. What was reported by Al-Bukhari is that during the final Hajj of `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), he gave permission to the wives of the Prophet after death of their husband (peace and blessings be upon him) to perform Hajj.
The Prophet has warned the Muslims: ‘Don’t prevent women servants of Allah from the Houses of Allah.’ Lets not prevent women from visiting Baitullah- Wallahu Alam.
(Dr.Zain ul abideen can be reached at Email : [email protected])