JEDDAH – Leading Saudi cleric Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Bin Nasser Al-Obaikan’s views on allowing women to travel freely without having a mahram (a male relative with whom marriage is forbidden) has sparked a debate in the Saudi society.
Al-Obaikan, a member of the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars and Advisor to the Ministry of Justice, in a statement to Al-Hayat Arabic daily on Dec. 22 said he has found in his recent research on women’s travel without mahram that it is “permissible” in Islam for a woman to travel alone without being accompanied by a mahram only when she feels secure.
Al-Obaikan first published his views in his website saying a thorough research on the subject has made him satisfied that a woman can travel without a mahram or without the consent of her male guardian if she feels that she is secure.
Several Shoura (Consultative) Council members and businesswomen have felt encouraged to act on the fatwa issued by Sheikh Al-Obaikan. Shoura members have favored an open discussion on the issue in the Council.
“It is a very important step to begin with. If we can remove this obstacle, our movement will become much easier,” said Aziza Mansour, businesswoman and owner of Aziza Mansour Company for Real Estate.
“I need to travel several times a month, but every time I need to take permission from my husband’s brother as my husband died several years ago,” she said. “The existing regulations on women’s travel make my business trips difficult and it delays several of my business deals,” she added.
Mansour has called upon the Shoura Council to remove this obstacle and put a system that allows women above 35 years or so to travel without requiring consent from her male guardians.
Dr. Talal Al-Bakri, chairman of the Social Affairs Committee in the Shoura Council, hoped that the system could be discussed in the Council. “I will be the first to vote for it,” he said.
Al-Bakri added that Sheikh Al-Obaikan has been requested to discuss his views in the Shoura Council meeting.
Dr. Sadaqa Fadel, chairman of the International Political Relations Committee in the Shoura Council, also said he would vote for the new proposed regulations on women’s travel when it is put for vote in the Shoura Council.
An academic has also advanced the cause of having a system allowing woman to travel without a male guradian if she travels by air and there is no khalwa (close proximity) between her and other men in the flight.
“This fatwa allows women to travel without consort if she makes sure that she will not be seated next to a man,” said Dr. Ahmad Al-Sheaibi, professor of Islamic sociology at King Saud University in Riyadh.
There are dissenting voices as well. “The fatwa is not acceptable at all,” said Hissa Own, political writer and chairperson of Al-Bidaia Holding Company Group, the first Saudi company owned by a woman.
“A woman can ensure her safety onboard, but not after landing and arriving in the new destination,” she argued. “Although I am a businesswoman and I need to travel to several countries, the consort system never bothers me,” she added. – SG