The Prophet (sws) is reported to have forbidden women from travelling without a mahram 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. This prohibition, it needs to be appreciated, is not an absolute one. 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. 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 (sws). 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. If in these circumstances, women were asked to travel with a mahram in order to protect them and to guard their reputation, every upright person can easily understand the wisdom behind this directive.
The current times, on the other hand, have revolutionized the means of transport. Distances which were covered in months are now covered in hours. There are extra-ordinary arrangements to protect people in buses, trains and aeroplanes. Great changes have also come about in rest-houses and hotels. A hundred years ago, people were hesitant in sending their sisters and daughters from one village to another. Today, however, one is not even hesitant in sending them to Europe and America. The journey to Makkah for the purpose of hajj too has become secure to the ultimate extent and women can safely travel with women of their acquaintance to Arabia to offer the rites of hajj. 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 in any way they can keeping in view their needs in case there is no danger envisaged in this travelling. However, they must always keep in consideration the fact that their honour must remain protected in all circumstances, and they must not show any negligence in this regard while leaving their houses. If they believe in God and His Prophet (sws), they should not be indifferent in this matter.
(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)