Muslim is a verb

My brothers and sisters I want to remind myself and you that the meaning of being Muslim is to submit to Allahﷻ without question, without argument, without reservation or hesitation. To submit joyfully and eagerly. That is the symbol of our trust in Him. And that trust is what earns His pleasure and His help. That is why the iconic symbol of Islam is the Sajda – a state of total submission and helplessness, a symbol of total unhesitating obedience, a symbol of total trust and faith. A Muslim is one who submits. That is why there is no such thing as a non-practicing Muslim. The word ‘Muslim’ is a verb. Like the word ‘Musalli’, one who prays. Not one who knows how to pray or knows about the prayer but doesn’t pray. Or the word, ‘Sa’aim’, one who fasts. Not someone who knows about fasting but doesn’t fast. Or the word, Haaji, one who has done or is doing Hajj. Not someone who went there to help the Hujjaj or to make a movie about Hajj or a journalist who is reporting about the Hajj or the driver of the bus, transporting Hujjaj. All of them go to all the places that the Haaji goes to, but they are not considered to have performed the Hajj because they didn’t fulfill the rituals of Hajj. To be a Muslim, we must practice Islam. And that means to submit our will to the Will of Allahﷻ.

An immediate topic that is before us is that of women going for Hajj on their own without a Mahram. This is not restricted to Hajj but to women traveling without a Mahram. Is this permissible or not? Let me share with you what our scholars have said and leave you to take your own decisions. I ask Allahﷻ to guide us to what pleases Him.

I remind myself and you about the basic principle in Islam, that whatever Allahﷻ commanded directly in the Qur’an or through His Messengerﷺ is good for all time, because Allahﷻ’s knowledge is perfect and not based on the times. That is what makes the Qur’an and the Ahadith of Rasoolullahﷺ timeless and relevant across the centuries. I must remind myself and you that to open the door of expediency, or modernity, or present circumstances, is to open the door for the eventual destruction of Islam. This is nothing new. We have seen it happen in other faiths which also have the same Divine origin but where the leaders decided to change the Law which the Messengers brought and substituted it with their own understanding and desire. Every time and age will be faced with the same dilemma and challenge. The answer is also the same. Allahﷻ knows and I don’t know. So, I do what Allahﷻ and His Messengerﷺ told me to do whether I understand it or not, whether it ‘makes sense’ to me or not with my limited knowledge. I do that not because I am obeying blindly. But because I am obeying with knowledge, that Allahﷻ knows more than I do, knows the future, to Him is my return and because I trust Him totally, without any reservations and know in the depth of my soul that whatever He ordered, without qualification, is good for me. So, I obey and ask Allahﷻ to be my witness and to forgive my shortcomings.

وَمَآ ءَاتَىٰكُمُ ٱلرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَىٰكُمْ عَنْهُ فَٱنتَهُوا۟ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ شَدِيدُ ٱلْعِقَابِ

Hashr 59:7   Whatever the Messenger gives you, take it. And whatever he forbids you from, leave it. And fear Allah. Surely Allah is severe in punishment.

Let me remind you that we apply this principle in our lives every day with respect to any expert or specialist we deal with. We obey without question. Not blindly, but because we respect his superior knowledge and trust his judgement and believe that he has our best interests at heart in suggesting what he did. I ask, do we have the same trust in Allahﷻ?

There are two opinions regarding a woman traveling without a Mahram (husband or male relative she is not permitted to marry). 

  1. It is not permissible for a woman to travel without a Mahram

This is the Hanafi and Hanbali opinion and is based on the following Ahadith and others like them.

Abu Hurairah (R) reported: Rasoolullah said, “It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to make a journey of one day and night unless she is accompanied by a Mahram (husband or male relative she is not permitted to marry).” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Abdullah Ibn Abbas (R) reported: Rasoolullah said, “No man must be alone with a woman except in the presence of her Mahram. No woman should travel except in the company of a Mahram.” A man said: “Ya Rasoolullah  I have been enrolled for such and such expedition, and my wife left for Hajj.” He said to him, “Go and perform Hajj with your wife.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Both are very clear and are direct commands. The second one includes the command for a man not to be alone with a non-Mahram woman. In another narration a man asked Rasoolullahﷺ, “What if the woman is pious?” Rasoolullahﷺ said to the effect, “Even if it is Maryam mother of Esa.” I remind myself and you that if we accept one part of the Hadith, we can’t reject the other part. If it is not permissible to be alone with a non-Mahram woman, then it is not permissible for a woman to travel without a Mahram. 

2. It is permissible for a woman to travel without a Mahram

This is the Shafi’i and Maliki opinion and also held by contemporary scholars including, Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, The European Fatwa Council, Darul Ifta’ of Egypt, Shaykh Qara Daghi and Al Azhar.

Obviously, these scholars were aware of the existence of the Ahadith I mentioned above and the opinions of Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. These scholars looked at the Asbab al Wurud (circumstances and possible reasons) Isnad (chain of narration) and Illah (the effective reason) for the ruling. They decided that the effective reason why this ruling was given was because in the past it was not safe for women to travel alone and so Rasoolullahﷺ prohibited it. Now, since times have changed (in the opinion of these scholars) this ruling does not apply any longer. I am not going here into what the data tells us about the safety of women traveling alone today. But clearly that has relevance.

To support this ruling, there is another narration in Fathul Bari where Imam Ibn Al-Hajjr al Asqalani quoted a Hadith from Bukhari, where Adiy Ibn Hatem at-Tayi (R) said that Rasoolullahﷺ told him, “And if you live a long life, you will surely see women travelling from Hira till they make Tawaf of the Ka’bah, fearing no one except Allahﷻ.” Imam Ahmad quoted this Hadith as, “By He in whose hands is my soul, verily Allahﷻ will bring this matter [Islam] into completion until women travel from Hira and make Tawaf of the Ka’bah without being accompanied by anyone.” The scholars have said that this is a form of Bashara (Good news) about the future. It is certainly not a permission to do it and doesn’t negate the clear command in the Ahadith quoted earlier. Also, if I were to ask the question regrading this Hadith, “Is today that time when Islam has come into completion and dominance where Pax Islamia is in place?” What would you say? Let me leave you to ask and answer that question.

The scholars who permitted a Muslim woman to travel alone without a Mahram put the following conditions and said that it is permissible for a woman to travel without a Mahram if she can ensure the following:

  1. She ensures that the paths towards her destination and on her return journey are safe, and she does not meet with any harassment and chaos which can jeopardize her safety.
  2. She has trustworthy companions throughout the journey. 

The majority of scholars, such as ‘Ata’, Sa’id Ibn Jubair, Ibn Sirin and Hasan al Basri, have also permitted a woman to travel for obligatory Hajj without a Mahram if she is accompanied by trustworthy people. Imam Abu al Hasan Ibn Batal mentioned in Sharh Bukhari, “Imam Malik, Imam Al Awza’i and Imam Shafi’i said, ‘A woman who does not have a Mahram may travel for her obligatory Hajj with other women in trustworthy company.” These scholars based their opinion on a precedent – the Mothers of Believers (RA) performed Hajj after Rasoolullahﷺ had passed away and during the Khilafa of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab (R) in the guardianship of Othman ibn Affan (R) who was not their Mahram. Abdullah Ibn Omar (R) also accompanied some women from his neighbors for Hajj. Key question to ask is, ‘Is the travel of the Mothers of the Believers from Madina to Makkah in the Khilafa of Omar ibn Al-Khattab (R), accompanied not just by Othman bin Affan (R) but by military troops at a time where every inch of the way they traveled through was under the rule of Omar ibn Al-Khattab (R), the same as a woman traveling for Hajj today?’ Let me leave you to answer that also.

The famous Maliki scholar Imam Abu Walid Al Baji Al Andalusi Al Maliki was a contemporary of Imam Ibn Al-Hazm. He mentioned in Al Muntaqa Sharh Al-Muwatta that a woman’s travel without a Mahram is contingent upon the number of people accompanying her. It is not permissible for her to travel without a Mahram if she is with a small group of people. However, it is permissible for her to travel without a Mahram if she is accompanied by a large number of people who can ensure her safety.  Please note that being accompanied doesn’t mean all the people on the plane. It means those who she knows and who she is going with for Hajj. I have given you both the opinions and I ask Allahﷻ to guide you to do what is most pleasing to Him.

The basic principle is that Deen is easy – Ad Deenu Yusra. We know the Hadith of Ayesha (RA) who said that Rasoolullahﷺ always chose the easier option if it was not something Haraam. As our scholars have warned us, ‘You are not better than Rasoolullahﷺ.’ We know the Hadith of Ayesha (RA) when Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al-A’as (R) and two of his friends came to her to ask about the life of Rasoolullahﷺ  and after they listened to her, they said, ‘If Rasoolullahﷺ  did so much worship and made so much effort, how much more should we make? And so, we will fast every day, worship Allahﷻ  all night every night and never marry.” When Rasoolullahﷺ heard about this, he was displeased. He summoned them and said, “I know Allahﷻ more than you do and I have a relationship with Allahﷻ closer than yours. But I fast on some days and I eat on other days. I worship Allahﷻ for a part of the night and I sleep in the other part. I stay away from my wives sometimes and I am with them at other times.”

It is a well-known and respected position in Fiqh of all the Madha’aib that when Allahﷻ has given a Ruqsa (permission) in a situation, we must express our gratitude for it by utilizing it. For example, Allahﷻ granted us the Ruqsa of shortening our Salah during travel. To avail of this benefit, is to show our gratitude to Allahﷻ. To say, ‘I don’t really need it because my travel is comfortable and so I will pray the full Salah,’ is to show that we don’t appreciate what Allahﷻ gave us and to take an extreme position, which Allahﷻ doesn’t like. The Salah would be valid but to pray Qasr would have been more pleasing to Allahﷻ.

For Hajj, Allahﷻ  made it conditional upon two requirements for men and three for women. For men, Hajj is Fardh if and when the man has the material/financial means and is healthy enough to do it. For women, in addition to these two the third is the requirement of a Mahram to accompany her. This means that if these conditions are not satisfied, then Hajj is not Fardh on that man or woman and they will not be questioned by Allahﷻ and will not be liable before Himإن شاء اللهُ   We may want to go for Hajj. That is our desire. To make the desire subservient and subordinate to the Law of Allahﷻ  is the essence of Islam. That is what Islam is. To submit to the Will of Allahﷻ. To insist that one must fulfill one’s desire is to be rebellious about the Will of Allahﷻ.

We know the Hadith of Rasoolullahﷺ where he said that if a person has a genuine desire for Shahada and makes dua for it, Allahﷻ will raise him with the Shuhada even if he dies in his bed. I have the same Husn-Zann about the woman who genuinely desires to go for Hajj but doesn’t do so because she doesn’t have a Mahram and she wants to obey Rasoolullahﷺ. Allahﷻ told us to take unconditionally whatever His Messengerﷺ gives us. And to leave whatever Rasoolullahﷺ orders us to leave. May Allahﷻ help us to do that and remain in His Amana.

Talking about obeying unconditionally, the Sahaba accompanied Rasoolullahﷺ for Umrah but were stopped at Hudaybiyya. They desired to make Umrah. To worship Allahﷻ. But when Rasoolullahﷺ commanded them to shave their heads and sacrifice their animals and return without doing Umrah, they obeyed. That was the ‘qualifying’ exam after which Allahﷻ gave them Makkah two years later. Allahﷻ called it Fathum Mubeen – Great Victory. What was the victory? They had just signed an unfair, one-sided treaty. Sayyidina Omar ibn Al-Khattab (R)’s questioning and later his regret is an indicator of the mental and spiritual anguish that this test presented for the Sahaba. But they still obeyed.

That is why Allahﷻ called it a victory. The victory was the fact that they obeyed Rasoolullahﷺ even though what they were being stopped from was by itself, righteous and virtuous. Yet they didn’t insist on doing it but followed the command of Rasoolullahﷺ. Islam is all about obedience. That is why Rasoolullahﷺ said, ‘Your Iman will not be complete until you make your desires subordinate to the Deen which I have brought.’ Please note that he didn’t say, ‘Haraam desires’. He said, ‘desires’.

In Ramadan we give up our Halaal desires to please Allahﷻ. That is because obedience is superior to whatever we may want to do, even if it is virtuous. In Islam what is virtuous is not to do what we think but to obey Allahﷻ. May Allahﷻ guide us to what pleases Him.