By Laura P.
Hajj season is always somewhat bittersweet for me.
For a number of years after I converted, I didn’t have enough savings to contemplate going on hajj. More recently, as my financial situation improved for the better and as I remosqued, I began to look more seriously into what would be necessary to undertake the pilgrimage.
Here I discovered a major roadblock: As a convert I have no Muslim relatives, and I have chosen not to marry. The hajj, it turns out, is not accessible for a woman without a man.
Under the rules set by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a woman who wishes to obtain a hajj visa must either be accompanied by a Muslim mahram (adult male relative), or be over the age of 45 and submit a notarized “no objection” letter from a husband, son, or brother, then travel with a group. The U.S. State Department hajj visa page informs me that, “Violators face deportation.”
I’m 43 now, so the age limit of 45 is not such a concern – but does my non-Muslim dad count for the “no objection” letter? The rules don’t seem to imagine that a woman can exist without having a mahram, only that he is not able to accompany her. Where do I fit in?
Being a woman with no Muslim mahram makes a lot of situations challenging for me, especially at the mosque when women are often cut off from the imam and rely on a husband or male family member to provide that connection. However, I’m used to being marginalized in Muslim spaces because of this.
But to be cut off entirely from a major act of worship, one of the “five pillars” of Islam, is something else again. I’m physically and financially able to make hajj. If I were a man, there wouldn’t be a problem. But as a woman, because I don’t have the right kind of relationship to the right kind of man (i.e., a Muslim mahram), hajj is closed to me.
The problem isn’t with traditional fiqh – the exemption allowing women to travel with a group is well-known – it’s with the rules set by Saudi Arabia. As the State Department notes, trying to enter a country without a visa, or with a visa that was improperly or fraudulently obtained, is grounds for deportation.
I find this a bitter pill to swallow, especially knowing that the traditional rules of the religion do not place such a restriction on me. It is patriarchy that cuts me off, patriarchy that treats women as children who need a man’s permission to go about our business even when that business is religious worship, and patriarchy that values a woman by her relationship to a man and not as amatullah – a female servant of Allah, equal in His eyes and made equally responsible for fulfilling His commands.
Because the hajj can only be done in one place, I have no choice but to accede to this patriarchal system, even though its man-made rules place restrictions on me that the deen does not.
And so another hajj season passes and I remain at home, asking Allah to accept my prayers, fasting, and Quran from a distance. To fulfill His promise not to lose the work of any worker, whether male or female (Quran 3:195). To recognize the limitations which bind me and to reward my patience. And to, some day, open a way for me and other women like me to complete a pilgrimage to His house.
Laura P is a convert who lives near Seattle. Her writing has appeared at Love InshAllah, AltMuslimah, Hindtrospectives, and Patheos Altmuslim. She volunteers with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and with Rabata. Follow her on Twitter at @muhajabah.