Is it permissible for an elderly woman to travel abroad (for medical checkups etc.) without a mahram?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.
It is prohibited in Shari’ah for a woman to travel the distance of safar (which is 55 miles or 88 km) without a mahram (a permanently non-marriageable male relative).
Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said:
« لا تسافر المرأة ثلاثا إلا ومعها ذو محرم ».
“A woman cannot travel (a distance of) three days unless she has a mahram with her” (Sahih Muslim 3322)
« لا يحل لإمرأة تؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر تسافر مسيرة ثلاث ليال إلا ومعها ذو محرم ».
“It is prohibited for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to travel a distance of three nights unless with a mahram” (Sahih Muslim 3324)
عنْ أَبِي مَعْبَدٍ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ ابْنَ عَبَّاسٍ، يَقُولُ سَمِعْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَخْطُبُ يَقُولُ ” لاَ يَخْلُوَنَّ رَجُلٌ بِامْرَأَةٍ إِلاَّ وَمَعَهَا ذُو مَحْرَمٍ وَلاَ تُسَافِرِ الْمَرْأَةُ إِلاَّ مَعَ ذِي مَحْرَمٍ ” . فَقَامَ رَجُلٌ فَقَالَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّ امْرَأَتِي خَرَجَتْ حَاجَّةً وَإِنِّي اكْتُتِبْتُ فِي غَزْوَةِ كَذَا وَكَذَا . قَالَ ” انْطَلِقْ فَحُجَّ مَعَ امْرَأَتِكَ ”
Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with them) reported:
I heard Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) delivering a sermon and making this observation:” No person should be alone with a woman except when there is a Mahram with her, and the woman should not undertake journey except with a Mahram.” A person stood up and said: Allah’s Messenger, my wife has set out for pilgrimage, whereas I am enlisted to fight in such and such battle, whereupon he said:” You go and perform Hajj with your wife.” (Sahih Muslim 1341)
There are many more narrations regarding this ruling from Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam). In fact, other narrations even state a woman should not travel without her mahram for the distance of two days and even one day. Although the opinion in the Hanafi madhab is that it is forbidden for a woman to travel without her mahram for the abovementioned distance (55 miles), the fuqahaa (jurists) still mention that a woman should not travel without her mahram for distances even under 55 miles due to the abundant fitna and immorality nowadays. If out of necessity she needs to travel less than 55 miles, she may do so if proper hijab is observed and with the permission of her husband.
Thus, the ruling is very clear, that a woman must not travel the distance of three days (55 miles) without a Mahram accompanying her.
In conclusion, it is not permissible for a woman to travel above 55 miles, for any purpose, unless there is a Mahram with her. This must be observed regardless of whether the woman is young or old, alone or in the company of women. (In such situations where there is a dire need for her to travel alone, some contemporary scholars have given some leeway.) Accordingly, it is obligatory for women and everyone in general, to fear Allah Ta’ala, abide by the Commandments of Allah and His Messenger, and have complete faith that in doing so comes Barakah and blessings, and violating the Shari’ah incurs the wrath of Allah Ta’ala.
In the footnote is the answer to a common misconception regarding elder women travelling alone;
And Allah Ta’āla Knows Best
Mufti Arshad Ali
Darul Iftaa, Jaamia Madinatul Uloom (Trinidad)
 الفتاوى الهندية – ط. دار الفكر (1/ 142)
وَلَا تُسَافِرُ الْمَرْأَةُ بِغَيْرِ مَحْرَمٍ ثَلَاثَةَ أَيَّامٍ وما فَوْقَهَا
 الدر المختار وحاشية ابن عابدين (رد المحتار) (2/ 464)
(قَوْلُهُ فِي سَفَرٍ) هُوَ ثَلَاثَةُ أَيَّامٍ وَلَيَالِيهَا فَيُبَاحُ لَهَا الْخُرُوجُ إلَى مَا دُونَهُ لِحَاجَةٍ بِغَيْرِ مَحْرَمٍ بَحْرٌ، وَرُوِيَ عَنْ أَبِي حَنِيفَة وَأَبِي يُوسُفَ كَرَاهَةُ خُرُوجِهَا وَحْدَهَا مَسِيرَةَ يَوْمٍ وَاحِدٍ، وَيَنْبَغِي أَنْ يَكُونَ الْفَتْوَى عَلَيْهِ لِفَسَادِ الزَّمَانِ شَرْحُ اللُّبَابِ وَيُؤَيِّدُهُ حَدِيثُ الصَّحِيحَيْنِ «لَا يَحِلُّ لِامْرَأَةٍ تُؤْمِنُ بِاَللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ أَنْ تُسَافِرَ مَسِيرَةَ يَوْمٍ وَلَيْلَةٍ إلَّا مَعَ ذِي مَحْرَمٍ عَلَيْهَا» وَفِي لَفْظٍ لِمُسْلِمٍ «مَسِيرَةَ لَيْلَةٍ» وَفِي لَفْظٍ «يَوْمٌ»
تبيين الحقائق شرح كنز الدقائق وحاشية الشلبي (2/ 6)
وَأَجْمَعُوا أَنَّهَا لَا يَحِلُّ لَهَا أَنْ تَسِيرَ مِنْ مَكَّةَ إلَى الْحِيرَةِ وَلَا مِنْ بَلَدٍ إلَى بَلَدٍ آخَرَ بِالْقِيَاسِ عَلَيْهِ وَلَا يَلْزَمُنَا خُرُوجُهَا إلَى مَا دُونَ السَّفَرِ؛ لِأَنَّ ذَلِكَ مُبَاحٌ لَهَا بِغَيْرِ مَحْرَمٍ وَلَا زَوْجٍ لِأَيِّ حَاجَةٍ شَاءَتْ وَرُوِيَ عَنْ أَبِي حَنِيفَةَ وَأَبِي يُوسُفَ كَرَاهَةُ خُرُوجِهَا وَحْدَهَا مَسِيرَةَ يَوْمٍ، وَإِذَا وَجَدَتْ مَحْرَمًا فَلَيْسَ لِلزَّوْجِ أَنْ يَمْنَعَهَا مِنْ الْخُرُوجِ مَعَهُ إذَا خَرَجَتْ عِنْدَ خُرُوجِ أَهْلِ بَلَدِهَا أَوْ قَبْلَهُ بِيَوْمٍ أَوْ يَوْمَيْنِ وَقَبْلَهُ يَمْنَعُهَا وَيَمْنَعُهَا مِنْ الْإِحْرَامِ إلَى أَدْنَى الْمَوَاقِيتِ وَبِمَكَّةَ إلَى يَوْمِ التَّرْوِيَةِ.
 البناية شرح الهداية (4/ 149)
(قال: ويعتبر في المرأة أن يكون لها محرم تحج به، أو زوج) ش: وفي أكثر النسخ، قال: ويعتبر، أي قال القدوري – رَحِمَهُ اللَّهُ -: ويعتبر في المرأة.. إلخ، وسواء كانت المرأة شابة، أو عجوزة، قاله في قاضي خان، والولوالجي
بدائع الصنائع في ترتيب الشرائع (2/ 124)
وَسَوَاءٌ كَانَتْ الْمَرْأَةُ شَابَّةً أَوْ عَجُوزًا فَإِنَّهَا لَا تَخْرُجُ إلَّا بِزَوْجٍ أَوْ مَحْرَمٍ؛ لِأَنَّ مَا رَوَيْنَا مِنْ الْحَدِيثِ لَا يَفْصِلُ بَيْنَ الشَّابَّةِ، وَالْعَجُوزِ.
تحفة الفقهاء (1/ 388)
وَيَسْتَوِي الْجَواب بَين أَن تكون الْمَرْأَة شَابة أَو عجوزا فِي اشْتِرَاط الْمحرم لِأَنَّهَا عَورَة أَيْضا
هَذَا إِذا كَانَ بَينهَا وَبَين مَكَّة مُدَّة السّفر وَهِي ثَلَاثَة أَيَّام ولياليها فَأَما إِذا كَانَ دون مُدَّة السّفر فَإِنَّهُ لَا يشْتَرط الْمحرم
Excerpt from Fatwa by Mufti Muhammad ibn AdamIt should be remembered here, that the basis for this ruling is not an evil assumption about the woman and her manners, as some people unreasonably think, but it is to take care of her reputation, dignity and safety. It is to protect her from the desires of those who have diseased hearts, from the assault of an immoral person or a thief. Some contemporary people argue that travelling in modern times have changed from how it was in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). It is incumbent upon us to look at travelling in our time. It is not like how travelling was in the past. It is not filled with the dangers of the waterless deserts, encounters with thieves, highway robbers, etc. Now travelling is by various modes of transportation that usually gather large amounts of people at a time, such as planes, cars, buses, ships, etc…Thus, this provides plenty of confidence and reliability, removing feelings of fear for the woman, because she will not be by herself in any place, and the principle of Islamic Jurisprudence states: “Rulings change due to the changing of times”. Also, some classical scholars have made exceptions with regards to the impermissibility of women travelling in that they may travel in a group, or if there is no fear or risk of Fitna, it would be permissible. The above understanding is incorrect due to many reasons, and the permissibility of women travelling without a Mahram cannot be justified on its basis. Firstly, the principle of Islamic jurisprudence quoted above is surely an accepted theory among the classical Fuqaha, but one needs to understand the concept behind this principle. The meaning of “laws changing” is not that the laws of Shariah will change in accordance with the time and era, rather, laws that are based on custom and habit (urf ) or the rules of Fiqh which are based on juristic opinion (ra’i) or Ijtihad have often been formulated in the light of prevailing custom. It is therefore permissible to depart from them if the custom on which they were founded changes in the course of time. Rulings that are based upon clear texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah can never change. The scholars of Usul al-Fiqh stipulate that a custom or a practice which is contrary to the text of the Qur’an and Sunnah is an unacceptable custom (urf al-Fasid). (See: Ibn Abidin, Nashr al-Urf fi bina ba’d al-ahkam ala al-urf, P. 115) Secondly, there is a difference between legal Wisdoms and legal Reasons. The rulings of Shariah are always based on the reason (illa) and not the wisdom (hikma) behind it. An example for this is that the wisdom behind the prohibition of wine and alcohol is that it creates enmity and hatred between people and it hinders one from the remembrance of Allah. The reason, however, is that it is an intoxicating substance. Now, if one was to say that wine will be Halal for me, as I will lock myself up after drinking wine, thus no destruction will be caused. Any sane person will conclude that he is wrong, as wine is Haram whether you cause any destruction and damage to others or not. The reason being, that the cause for the prohibition of wine is that it intoxicates you, regardless of whether the wisdom is present or not. (See: Usul al-Iftaa & other usul books). This can be understood more clearly with an example from our day to day life. The law states that the driver must stop his car when the lights are red. The wisdom behind this ruling is that it stops and prevents accidents. However, the reason (illa) for this ruling is the lights being red. Now, a driver who is driving in the middle of the night sees that the light is red, but does not see any sign of a car. If the law was based on the wisdom (which is to prevent accidents), then it would be permissible for his to drive through the red light. However, as it is common knowledge, that despite there being no possibility of an accident, he must stop his car otherwise he will be arrested if caught, for the law is based upon the reason and not the wisdom. The same is with women travelling without a Mahram. The wisdom behind this ruling is surely to save her from the dangers that can be encountered in the journey. However, this is not the legal reason. The reason (illa) is her travelling the distance of three days and three nights, thus whether the journey is safe, in a plane or on foot, it will remain impermissible