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Can a woman travel without a male mahrem?

Can a woman travel without a male mahrem? Can you give the evidence supporting your stance?

Answer

The question whether a lady can travel without a Mahrem or not is something that has to be decided on the basis of the circumstances of the journey. In case it’s a short journey wherein there are many people and the lady is not under any threat, the journey cannot be disallowed. However, in case the journey entails danger to the lady’s honour, then it should be disallowed. Since the journeys in the days of the prophet, alaihissalam, were generally speaking long, involving several weeks, it wasn’t deemed appropriate to allow women to go alone in a group which had non-Mahrem men. Such a possibility, if allowed, would have at the very least opened the door for reputation-damaging speculation amongst the less careful people. The prophet therefore disallowed women from travelling in such cases. However, for shorter journeys involving less than one day where the circumstances are more secure for women, there is no harm for them. I therefore believe that in case of journeys by air, whether domestic or international, if women have no option but to travel without Mahrem men, they should take as much care as possible to stay away from unnecessarily mingling with stranger men. That should be an acceptable solution to the problem.
The following incident of Asma bint Abu Bakr shows that travelling of ladies without Mahrem men is not a serious issue in itself:
Narrated Asma bint Abu Bakr: When Az-Zubair married me, he had no real property or any slave or anything else except a camel which drew water from the well, and his horse. I used to feed his horse with fodder and drew water and sew the bucket for drawing it, and prepare the dough, but I did not know how to bake bread. So our Ansari neighbors used to bake bread for me, and they were honorable ladies. I used to carry the date stones on my head from Zubair’s land given to him by Allah’s Apostle and this land was two third Farsakh (about two miles) from my house. One day, while I was coming with the date stones on my head, I met Allah’s Apostle along with some Ansari people. He called me and then, (directing his camel to kneel down) said, “Ikh! Ikh!” so as to make me ride behind him (on his camel). I felt shy to travel with the men and remembered Az-Zubair and his sense of Ghira, as he was one of those people who had the greatest sense of Ghira. Allah’s Apostle noticed that I felt shy, so he proceeded. I came to Az-Zubair and said, “I met Allah’s Apostle while I was carrying a load of date stones on my head, and he had some companions with him. He made his camel kneel down so that I might ride, but I felt shy in his presence and remembered your sense of Ghira.” On that Az-Zubair said, “By Allah, your carrying the date stones (and you being seen by the Prophet in such a state) is more shameful to me than your riding with him.” (I continued serving in this way) till Abu Bakr sent me a servant to look after the horse, whereupon I felt as if he had set me free. (Bukhari)