Short Answer: It depends. Times have changed. This teaching was a benevolent sort of recommendation from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) for the protection of women when just being alone in a public place was dangerous. He wasn’t saying that if a woman travels alone, that means she’s lost her faith in God. If a woman feels unsafe traveling to a place, perhaps she should reconsider traveling there at all, unless it’s necessary. If having a man along with her makes her feel safer, great, but there is no requirement to do so as long as she feels safe alone.
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Dr. Shabir Ally from Let the Quran Speak addresses this question in the video below.
Aisha Khaja: So, Dr. Shabir, the question that we have is: are women allowed to travel without a male relative?
And the viewer goes on to say that many women today heard the saying where the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that if a woman believes in Allah and His Messenger, she should not travel without a relative.
And the viewer says: this saying was relevant to the time when women were in danger if they weren’t with a male relative. But with today’s technology and advancements, what’s the ruling on that?
Dr. Shabir Ally: Yeah, now when something is based on a saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as opposed to being a saying that is something that comes straight out of the Quran, obviously this should not be given the kind of relevance or importance as if it is coming right out of the Quran.
We need to keep things in perspective.
Furthermore, when things are for one’s own protection and in this life, then it is not to be treated as a kind of a faith issue.
Like, you know, I know the wording of the hadith seems to give it that faith issue, but we should recognize that this is a benevolent sort of recommendation from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) for the protection of women.
It’s not that, you know, it means that if the woman travels that means she’s lost her faith in God.
And the questioner is right in that it speaks to a sort of situation in which women would have been in danger if they traveled alone.
But there’s also another saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that a time will come and a woman will travel from Sanaa to Hadhramaut, and she will not be molested.
And that seems to indicate that, OK, that would be a future time.
And when that time occurs, then it should be fine for a woman to travel because the main problem is that if she travels then and there in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) somebody may attack her.
So, it was always a good idea for a woman to travel in the company of a male escort who will be there to protect her.
And sometimes just having the male escort—it doesn’t mean that he’s a Muslim man—it’s just that, just simply put, it creates a barrier in the minds of those who may want to feel OK, here’s like a lone woman.
And they may think that it’s open game for them, which it is not.
We need to respect women. But people did not at the time.
So, in a situation like today, where it is safe for women to travel, then there is no restriction on women.
Just as there is no restriction on men. Of course, both men and women can fall into danger, but both should have that allowance.
Aisha Khaja: So, the viewer also mentioned in terms of traveling for education overseas and those purposes.
So, then within this context, in your explanation, then the answer is that it would be permissible, and it’s okay?
Dr. Shabir Ally: Of course, whether if a man or woman, one has to always gauge one’s situation and know one’s person, one’s circumstances, and see.
You know, make choices. If an environment is dangerous, then neither men nor women should go into that environment, and so on.
I hope this helps answer your question. Please keep in touch.
(From AboutIslam’s archives)