The concept of mahram in Islam can be viewed in two ways; the aspect of genealogy and that of protection for women. The aspect of genealogy has to do with those who have close consanguinity, like husband, brother, step brother and close family members, a male companion for a woman who cannot marry her.
The other aspect has to do with protection for a woman on a journey that is said to be more than two to three days. Siblings, parents, uncles, step brothers and cousins could serve as mahram because of their close relationship.
Thus, mahram for a woman is someone who, due to closeness of relationship, is forbidden to be married. So, a relative who is called mahram would be honored to care for and protect the woman on a journey from possible abuse. It is generally believed that women feel safe and comfortable in a long journey, accompanied by their own kin. In fact, that is one of the bases for mahram.
It is not an evil assumption about the woman and her manners, as some non-muslims insinuate, but it is to take care of her reputation, dignity and safety. It is to protect her from the desires of those who have diseased hearts, and of course to make her comfortable.
A hadith says: “It is unlawful for a woman who believes in Allah and the last day that she travels the distance of one day and one night without a Mahram accompanying her”. (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 1038). There are several hadiths that elucidate on the need for protection of women on a journey.
The government of Saudi Arabia long time ago determined Mahram as one of the rules for Hajj, where Muslim women who wish to perform Hajj or Umrah shall be accompanied by a mahram. The issue of mahram therefore is not new to Muslims neither is it new to those in charge of Hajj preparation. But the sudden episodes where over 1000 pilgrims were deported last week was very disturbing.
Even as at press time, reports reaching us indicated that some pilgrims were instructed to return to the country for same reason. How did these pilgrims procured their visas in the first place? What is the involvement of the Hajj Commission in all of these and in a bid to ensure a hitch free exercise, how did they treat the issue? Even after the Saudi government issued a statement a few days ago, some pilgrims were still being detained in Jeddah as at Wednesday.
The statement which reads in part says: “In spite of all of this, a Nigerian flight with female pilgrims unaccompanied by their male guardians also arrived Jeddah Monday…” It furthers states that “Hajj visas could only be issued to female pilgrims after the names of their guardians (mahram) should arrive with them on the same flight, otherwise, the inclusion of the names of their guardians (mahram) will be of no use.”
We have never had it so bad in the history of hajj exercise. Those who have gone however noted how emergency arrangements of adoptive mahram take place in order to gain entry. But is that right?
Basically, there is no argument against the policy of mahram but what is mind-bugling is the way it was carried out as well as the manner with which our officials handled the matter.
One is that the Saudi authority who hitherto relaxed the policy should have given adequate information on its preparedness not to leave any stone unturned in implementing the policy this year even at the point of visas procurement. Our women as well as those from other countries were in the holy land last year and there was no report of any kind of deportation as a result of mahram; at least, not this alarming number.
Is it that the Saudi government decided to be tough this year or that pilgrims suddenly became heedless of mahram policy? If the Saudi decided to be tough this year, at least there should have been adequate information and ways of guiding intending pilgrims since it is an act of worship. It will benefit nobody that fellow Muslims who are anxious and spiritually ready to perform the once-in-a-life-time rites are turned back for mahram which many of them did not prepare for.
Secondly, the Hajj commission which should have tidied up every aspect of the requirment decided not to give the policy the treatment it deserves, hence we were wrapped in this mess. It also shows that the Hajj Commission and Boards have not been living up to their expectation as regards the preparation, lectures and seminars for intending pilgrims.
What else is the job of a commission if not to guide intending pilgrims on the rules. Even at the point of boarding, it shows that we are not in tune with the policy of the Saudi authority on the issue of mahram until after about 1000 pilgrims were deported and we are pretending to be working.
The deportees are also not absolved of blame. Many of them, unfortunately, viewed and looked at mahram as solely state’s obligation or the commission’s duty to provide protection for those undergoing the hajj from their states. That is why many of them treated the issue of mahram with kid gloves while some resorted to arrangee matching at the point of entry.
The existence of this regulation or its enforcement should not be allowed to create undue apprehension and anxieties for intending pilgrims; something drastic and urgent needs to be done to stop this embarrassment. Nigerian pilgrims should be seen as being law abiding right from the point of boarding, through out the exercise and landing.
This is undoubtedly the function of the commission and the various state pilgrims boards. Since the Saudi authority is bent on implementing the policy to the latter, then the Commission and the various boards should appropriately guide intending pilgrims on the various policies of the Saudi government relating to hajj.
Every act towards assisting an intending pilgrim to achieving a hitch free hajj is also an act of ibadah. May Allah forgive us all.