Can a Woman Live and Travel Without Mahram?

Question and answer details
As-Salaamu `alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuh, I would like to seek clarification on two matters: 1) Is it permissible for a woman to live alone, without a mahram? 2) About women travelling without mahram, there is a hadith stating that it is prohibited for a woman to travel without a mahram. I need more clarification on this. There seems to be many variations to the interpretations to the hadith on this matter. Some say it means prohibition of travelling for three days before arriving at the destination of travel, some say three days inclusive of to and from destination. Some say the hadith is a non-issue for today's travel as airline travels are usually safe in today's world compared to travel during the times of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
`Abdel Khaliq Hasan Ash-Shareef

Wa `alaykum as-salamu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Thank you, sister for your question and for your care for learning the rulings of Islam. May Allah Almighty increase you in knowledge and piety.

Indeed, adhering to the rulings of Islam is very important, especially in these days, as in it is the salvation and the happiness of the world and the Hereafter.

Responding to your question, Sheikh `Abdel Khaliq Hasan Ash-Shareef, a prominent Muslim Scholar from Egypt, stated,

It is permissible for a woman to live alone if she doesn’t have a mahram, such as a husband, a brother, a sister, or children as long as she is honest and trustworthy. However, there are some rulings she must follow:

• She must not sit alone together with a strange man, who is not a mahram.

• She should not allow any strange man to enter her house, at any time.

As for travelling without a mahram, this is a controversial issue. As a general rule, a Muslim woman is not allowed to travel without a mahram. But some jurists stated that she could travel if the way is safe and the journey is short, estimated to be one day and one night.

Moreover, the Shafi`i jurists stated that she is allowed to travel for Hajj with a trustworthy company of women.

As for a woman travelling today, it all depends on the way and the aim of the journey. It is known that travelling now is completely different from what it was in the past. Therefore, travelling depends on the circumstances like the company, the road, the means of transport, etc. As long as the woman travels with trustworthy company, on a safe road to a safe place, it is allowed for her to travel without a mahram.

There is evidence for this in the Prophet’s Sunnah, like for example a hadith in which `Adey Ibn Hatem narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to him, “If you live long, you will see a woman setting out from Al-Hirah till she circumambulates the Ka`bah fearing none but Allah” (Al-Bukhari). In another narration he said, “...till she circumambulates the Ka`bah without a company (jewar).” 

It is understood from this hadith that if it is not totally allowed for a woman to travel without a mahram, the Prophet would not say it without objection. Moreover, `Adey Ibn Hatem, commenting on this hadith, said, “I have seen women travelling to the Ka`bah without a mahram (jewar).”

Allah knows the best.