Q 5. Many Muslim women travel to distant countries for education or employment. They neither have a legal Mahram with them nor do they have female acquaintance on the trip. What is the ruling of the Shari‘ah under this situation? Is it permissible for them to travel alone?
A 5. In the Sahih of Muslim, there is a report from Sayyidna Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri in which he says that the Holy Prophet (Sallaho Alaihai Wasallam)
“Let no woman travel for more than three days (being the equivalent of 48 miles in accordance with legally covered distance) unless that her husband or her Mahram is with her.’
In the hadith quoted above, women have been clearly forbidden from travelling alone. The majority of jurists have based their arguments on this very hadith when they ruled that travelling without a legally recognized Mahram is not permissible even when intending to perform the obligation of Hajj. Compared to this, education and employment are objectives not that crucial, for Muslim women have not been obligated to answer such needs. This is because the Shari‘ah of Islam has itself placed the responsibility of a woman’s total maintenance on her father before her marriage and on her husband after the marriage and has not allowed women to leave the house without some urgent or pressing need. Therefore, this mode of travelling for education and employment without a Mahram is not permissible.
However, in the case of a woman who has neither husband nor 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, there is no need to travel to a non-Muslim land. (Please see: Mughni l’ibn Qadamah, p. 190, v. 3)