The Obligation of Having a Mahram during Hajj : An Exploration of Contemporary Perspectives

The Obligation of Having a Mahram during Hajj : An Exploration of Contemporary Perspectives

By Resham Fatima

The Hajj pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and holds immense spiritual significance for Muslims around the world. Performing Hajj is a dream cherished by millions of devout believers, irrespective of gender. However, for women, the journey entails an additional requirement – the presence of a mahram, a man who must be the woman’s husband or another relative – one who cannot legally marry her, according to Islamic law (Father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother etc.). The requirement for women to be accompanied by a mahram during Hajj has roots in Islamic tradition dating back to the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The practice was established to ensure the safety, protection, and modesty of women during the physically and emotionally demanding journey to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. However last year, Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawftq AI-Rabiah announced that mahram is no longer required to accompany a woman pilgrim, who wishes to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj or Umrah from any part of the world. This has challenged many existing stereotypes surrounding Muslim women during the Hajj pilgrim season.

In today’s rapidly evolving world, social and cultural norms have changed significantly. Women have made great strides in education, employment, and personal independence, leading to discussions about the relevance of the mahram requirement during Hajj. Modern transportation, improved infrastructure, and advanced communication technologies have made travel safer for women. In organized Hajj groups and with proper planning, female pilgrims can experience a level of safety that might not have been possible in the past. In the age of information, women are more informed and equipped to handle various aspects of the pilgrimage independently. Knowledge about Hajj rituals, health & safety guidelines, and travel arrangements is more accessible than ever before. Moreover, the mahram requirement may not be universally practiced in all Muslim communities. Some scholars emphasize that the obligation should be understood in the context of cultural and regional norms, with flexibility given to women who genuinely struggle to find a mahram for Hajj.

The Indian Prime Minister recently expressed his sincere gratitude to the Saudi Arabian authorities for amending the laws to enable Muslim women to undertake the hajj without a mahram. The obligation of having a mahram during Hajj has been deeply ingrained in Islamic tradition for centuries. While it originated with the intention of ensuring the well-being and honor of women; contemporary perspectives offer nuanced discussions on its relevance in today’s world. As societies continue to evolve; it becomes essential to engage in thoughtful dialogues, drawing from Islamic principles and adapting to changing circumstances. Ultimately, the decision to travel for Hajj, with or without a mahram, is a deeply personal one, guided by individual’s circumstances, faith, and understanding of Islamic teachings and must not be influenced by cultural practices and misogynistic mindsets.

(The author is a fellow in the Department of International Relations at Jamia Millia Islamia. Your views expressed in the article are personal. It has nothing to do with our management.)

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