Notoriously restrictive Saudi Arabia has been making strides toward a more progressive future recently, lifting bans on women traveling solo, as well as relaxing dress codes for foreign female visitors. Now, the government is considering allowing female pilgrims to perform the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca without being accompanied by a male. Right now, women must travel with a mahram, or guardian, although women over 45 can travel without one if accompanied by an organized tour group.
In a possible reversal of a long-held tradition, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is exploring the option of issuing visas for both tourism and Umrah (pilgrimage) purposes. This would be a crucial step in giving women the ability to make the pilgrimage on their own.
As of right now, the Hajj is a heavily regulated process, with several tour companies specializing in operating the pilgrimage. Since women have been required to sign on with a tour group, this rule-change would deal a severe blow to their business. It’s consistent, however, with the government’s attempts to make the Hajj process more widely accessible. For example, a new digital platform was launched last year to make the Hajj application process easier, and with the advent of new electronic tourist visas, entering the country looks to be getting easier than ever.
Changing the law is still an uphill battle, with Sunni scholars likely to express fervent opposition, but at least the wheels are turning.