Source:By Adil Salahi/Arab News/Nov.24/2011
Abu Saeed Al-Khudri, an Ansari companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who was very close to him said: I heard the Prophet mentioning four things that I admired: That a woman must not travel a distance of two days unless she is accompanied by her husband or a mahram relative; two days are not allowed to fast which are the two days of Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha; no voluntary prayer may be offered after two obligatory ones: After Asr until the sun has set and after Fajr until the sun has risen; travel may be undertaken only to three mosques: the Sacred Mosque (in Makkah), this mosque of mine (in Madinah) and the Aqsa mosque (in Jerusalem). (Related by Al-Bukhari)
The first of the four restrictions concerns a woman traveling alone. The Prophet makes clear that when a woman travels, she must be accompanied by her husband or a close relative whom she can never marry, such as her father, brother, son, nephew, etc. In this Hadith the distance of restricted travel is estimated as that covered in two days. This relates to the time of the Prophet when all travel was on camels or horses. However, other Hadiths indicate longer and shorter travels. Hence, scholars agree that the restriction applies to what is socially considered as travel.
Some people imagine that the restriction is an aspect of what they allege to be an inferior status Islam gives to women. Nothing is further from the truth. It is indeed the reverse. Islam honors women and takes care of them. As a lone traveler may face unforeseen problems, Islam ensures that women are well looked after, requiring that they should be accompanied by men who are certain to take care of them.
So, what distance can a woman travel today, with our fast means of transport that cross continents in a few hours? To answer this question, we need to look at how scholars considered this restriction. They defined the aim behind it, which is to ensure that a woman could travel safely. Therefore, in addition to the relatives mentioned in the Hadith, they also added ‘trusted companionship’. They maintain that a woman can travel with a group of women, or a mixed group which includes women traveling with their husbands or mahram relatives. They speak about this in detail, always aiming to ensure the safety of women travelers.
A woman who wants to travel from Cairo to Alexandria, for example, without a companion, has several options: To travel by train, coach or car. The distance is over 200 km. The first two means of transport are much safer than traveling by car if she is driving alone. Her car may develop a problem on the way and she may be stranded. On the other hand, if she goes by train or coach and a problem develops, she is much safer as she will be with a large number of passengers. Again, we look at her situation at her destination. If she is well looked after, then there is no problem with her travel.
The Hadith also places a measure of responsibility on families. Every family must look after its women. Leaving them to travel alone and exposed to risks is not acceptable. If a woman’s travel is necessary, then her family must provide her with safe travel, including providing a male companion who is either her husband or a close mahram relative.