Answered by Sayyidi al-Ḥabīb `Umar bin Hafīẓ (may Allāh preserve him and benefit us by him).
What is the ruling on women traveling in a group without a male relative?
The Prophet (may Allāh bless him and grant him peace) said in the sound ḥadīth: “It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allāh and the Last Day to travel for a distance that it takes three days to cover without her husband or a maḥram (a male relative who she cannot marry).” Another ḥadīth states that the distance is that which it takes a day and a night to cover.
The relied upon opinion in the Shafi`ī school is that it is permissible for a woman to travel with a group of trustworthy women only in order to perform a compulsory ḥajj. If she is travelling for any other purpose, she must travel with her husband or a maḥram. There are, however, other opinions in the Shafi`ī school and other schools that permit a woman to travel with a group of trustworthy women for a purpose other than ḥajj with the condition that she is safe from harm. She should also have a maḥram to see her off and a maḥram to meet her at her destination. In the Ḥanafī school, it is permissible for a woman to travel without her husband or a maḥram unless the distance to her extended destination exceeds 77km / 48miles.
So the scholars differ on the issue, but it is better for a woman to be cautious and to only travel with her husband or a maḥram unless she has no other option. We should return to the principle behind the ruling. By instructing women to travel with their husbands or male relatives, Allāh honours them and shows them special care, more than he does for men. In general, ordinary people travel alone, but someone important always has a few people accompanying them. In the same way, Allāh says: ‘These women are a trust and they must be honoured, so do not leave them to travel alone.’ The role of a male relative is to serve the women he is travelling with.
A man was once sitting waiting in an airport in an Arab country. He saw a non-Muslim woman who has travelling alone. She was immodestly dressed and struggling to carry her suitcases. She needed to go to the toilet so she came up to him and asked him in her own language to look after her suitcases. He agreed and she went into the toilet. While he was waiting for her, a Muslim woman wearing ḥijāb passed by. She was with her husband, who was carrying her suitcase and their child. She was walking behind him with great modesty and dignity. He said to the man next to him, “Look at the state of the woman who wants freedom and decided to travel alone! If I did not have any conscience, any humanity or any religion I would have taken her bags and gone off while she was in the toilet. The other woman, however, is honoured and protected by the Sacred Law such that her husband is carrying her suitcase and their child and she is walking behind him with modesty and dignity.” Look at the difference between adhering to the Sacred Law and following the reasoning of people who have no knowledge of reality!