Women should not travel more than 48 miles without a male chaperone, a British Muslim organisation affiliated to the Muslim Council of Great Britain has told its followers. The organisation reasoned that “Allah knows best”.
According to the Blackburn Muslim Association’s (BMA) ‘Department of Theology’, it is “not permissible” for women to travel more than 48 miles – being the distance travelled by foot in three days – without being accompanied by her husband or “a Mahram,” that is, a man she is not allowed to marry.
The same rules apply to groups of women, even if the journey is made to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage.
Yusuf Shabbir, who made the ruling for the Association cites none other than Mohammed himself, who is recorded in the Book of Hajj, Chapter 74 to have said just that. Shabbir concludes: “Allah knows best.”
BMA scholars also insist that men must grow beards and women must cover their faces.
The website has now been taken down, but cached pages reveal that elsewhere on the site, the group claimed to “work in partnership with various local, regional, and national organisations to fulfil its objectives.” Among their listed partners are Blackburn with Darwen Council, and the University of Central Lancashire.
Also among their partners are pro-Palestinian organisations including: the Ummah Welfare Trust, which in 2014 had its HSBC bank accounts withdrawn over concerns that the charity may have links to terrorism (a claim denied by the charity); Friends of al Aqsa, whose members have appeared in pictures with Hamas leaders; and Interpal, which just last week was found to have given money to an event in Gaza which featured young children staging a play about killing Israeli soldiers.
Despite these links, the advice to women, which was posted to the site ten years ago, appears to have gone unchallenged until now. The National Secular society denounced the advice as “medieval,” while migration campaigners called on Muslims to “integrate” themselves into wider society.
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: “Women are entitled to their own autonomy and freedom of movement; any attempt to limit this must be condemned roundly by all sectors of society.
“We hope that this almost medieval attitude to women is an isolated case, but if the problem unfortunately gains ground, it may become necessary to consider what sanctions are appropriate against those restricting others’ freedoms.”
And Lord Green, the founder of the think-tank Migration Watch UK, said: “There is no place in our society for restrictions of this kind on the freedom of women.
“Muslim leaders would do well to encourage their followers to integrate with our society rather than cut themselves off.”
Dr Sheik Howjat Ramzy, an Oxford-based scholar and former head of the Muslim Council of Britain’s education committee, told The Telegraph: “I believe this is offensive in this day and age that such a restriction should be placed on any woman against her wishes.
“This practice was a very old tradition which had been followed by some when there was no security for women and when women were at risk of being abducted when travelling alone – this was a tradition at the very beginning of Islam.
“I believe they should withdraw this statement and not degrade women. Islam gives great freedom to women – travel is part of that freedom.”
However, the Muslim Council of Britain refused to comment officially last night and still has Blackburn Muslim Association in its list of affiliates.
At the last census, 27 per cent of Blackburn’s residents identified themselves as Muslim, making Blackburn the third largest Muslim population in the UK in percentage terms, behind Tower Hamlets and Newham in East London.