What is the ruling on women performing the pilgrimage without a mahram?
The purpose of this ruling should be to guarantee the security and comfort of Muslim women. As long as a woman performs the pilgrimage with a mahram [person to who marriage is not permissible], trustworthy companion, through responsible official supervision, or similar people and she feels safe and secure, then it is permissible for her to perform the pilgrimage [even when a mahram does not accompany her].
According to a hadith included in the hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once said: “It is unlawful for a woman who believes in God and the Day of Judgment to travel for three or more days without being accompanied by her father, brother, husband, son, or another male companion [a mahram].” In another hadith included in Al-Mishkat, a man told the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): “O Prophet! I have been chosen to perform jihad but my wife has left for pilgrimage.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “Go and perform pilgrimage with your wife.”
Scholars disagree on the meaning of these and similar texts. The question is whether or not a mahram must accompany a woman on her pilgrimage. Hanafi scholars argue that a woman must be accompanied by her either her husband or a mahram. Holding a contrary position, the Shafi‘is maintain that the presence of a mahram is not necessary; rather, the main condition is a woman’s safety and security. According to those who follow the Shafi‘i school of jurisprudence, if a woman’s security is guaranteed by the presence of her husband, mahram or even trustworthy women, then she must be allowed to travel. Some of them [go so far as to] argue that, while she is legally obligated to travel with [at least] one woman, if her safety is guaranteed without the need for any mahram, she may travel provided she remains with the group. The Malikis do not insist on the presence of a mahram provided her safety is guaranteed. In one account, Imam Ahmad [Ibn Hanbal] does make the presence of the husband or mahram an obligatory condition though in another account, he does not.
In Al-Muhalla, Ibn Hazm maintained that it is preferable not to consider the presence of a mahram obligatory for a woman who travels for pilgrimage, the reason being that if neither a husband nor mahram is available, she can still travel for pilgrimage. Those who insist on the presence of either a husband or mahram, do so to reduce the [risk of] sin and the difficulty involved if she travels without them. The pilgrimage of a woman who performs this obligation without being accompanied by either her husband or a mahram, is valid provided its conditions are met. Consequently, she does not have to repeat her pilgrimage with a mahram, even if, according to some scholars, she commits a sin by traveling without her husband or a mahram.
The wisdom underpinning the ruling is concerned primarily with the safety and security of women. It depends on whether or not a woman requires a mahram to achieve her goal [of performing the pilgrimage]. There is no doubt that modern travel has improved considerably, thanks to the shorter periods of absences from one’s homeland, the luxuries and comforts available en route and the [comparative] security of the places where the rites of are performed. There is no doubt that such matters should influence our understanding of the [aforementioned] hadith that limits the freedom of women to travel alone. There is a sound hadith recorded by Bukhari and attributed to ‘Uday Ibn Hatim, in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) predicts that “A day will come when a woman will travel from Hira to the Ka‘ba, fearing nothing but God alone.”
It is clear that the crux of the matter is to guarantee a woman’s safety and security as much as possible. If these conditions are met through the presence of a mahram, trustworthy company, a responsible official or the like, it becomes obligatory for a Muslim woman to perform pilgrimage. Consequently, she may [and indeed must] travel. The wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) went on pilgrimage after ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (may God be pleased with him) granted them permission and sent ‘Uthman Ibn ‘Affan and ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn ‘Awf (may God be pleased with him) with them. Their pilgrimage was as valid as if they had gone with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) himself.
And God the Almighty knows best.