Saturday, November 24, 2012

Can women travel alone?


What is Islamic view on women traveling alone? Is having a mahram ( a close male relative or husband) a prerequisite even if the woman can take care of herself and take necessary precautions? I am planning to attend an Islamic program in New York for weeks but couldn't find a mahram or even a sister to come along. I have made the necessary arrangements with the organizer to even fetch me from the airport. My parents don't allow because I will be a way for more than days and without a mahram. Could I still attend the program without my parent's blessings? By the way, I'm yrs old.


If you have a genuine reason to travel, then you are allowed to travel without a mahram—provided that you have taken all the necessary precautions for your safety and security during the course of your journey. This can be done by making prior arrangements for a safe journey to and from the airport as well as for your stay with trusted Muslim friends or in a hotel under the guidance of the organizers of the conference. I assume that the conference you are attending is being organized by a reputable Muslim organization; if not, at least by a reputable organization or institution with integrity and acceptable ethical and moral standards.

Islamic laws are not whimsical dictates of a tyrannical master who is simply testing the obedience of his slaves; rather they are the orders of Allah who is All-Wise and All-Knowing; His orders have tangible purposes and objectives that are discernible for all rational minds. The Prophet’s interdict against a woman’s travel without a mahram is primarily intended to ensure that a woman’s honor, dignity and reputation are fully protected. This is why he is also reported to have made the following statement in the early years of his mission in Makkah, “I will continue to struggle with this mission until a woman can travel (all by herself freely) without any fear for her safety!” It is, therefore, only reasonable for us to assume that the Prophet, peace be upon him, while forbidding women from undertaking a journey of three days without a mahram, had in mind the perils of the journey in the wide expanse of the desert where there was no semblance of law and order; where in fact for all practical purposes it was the the predatory tribal life-style that prevailed before Islam established law and order.

It is also for this reason that we find Aishah, the beloved wife of the Prophet, peace be upon him, who while being fully aware of the above Prophetic interdict, replied when someone asked her, 'can a woman travel without a marham?': “Can everyone find a mahram always?” in other words, if a woman needs to travel, she can do so if she can be reasonably assured of her safety and protection. We also read that Imam Shafi’s mother traveled from Ghazza to Makkah carrying the Imam who was still a toddler at the time in her own arms in a safe company. It is for these reasons that we find that a number of eminent scholars from both the Maliki and Shafi schools have ruled that a woman can travel without a mahram as long as she can find a safe company.

Today in counties where law and order prevail we can be reasonably assured of a woman’s safety and security especially in airplanes and public transportation networks. As some scholars have rightly pointed out that these conditions are vastly superior in terms of safety and security than the perilous and unpredictable conditions of a remote desert especially in the bygone past.

So I do not find anything wrong for you to undertaking this journey if you have to; nor do I think that your parents should be particularly concerned about your safety in this case. Perhaps you should have a free and frank discussion with them on this matter; you should also give them the details of your booking and relevant travel details as well as your contacts in the city of your destination, including your stay/hotel arrangements, etc. May Allah grant us all rectitude in speech and action-aameen.

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