Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah
Question: Assalamu alaykum
Is horse riding permissible for unmarried women?
Answer: Wa’alaykum assalam. I pray this finds you in the best of states.
There is no sound, explicit statement or rulings in the Shafi’i school prohibiting women from riding horses, or other animals, as long as the usual requirements of modesty are observed. In the absence of textual proof, the origin of a matter is permissibility. However, in the Hanafi school there is some consideration to the matter.
Women riding animals
There are numerous accounts of women riding camels during the time of the Prophet ﷺ , both outside of battle and during battle, such as, ‘The women of Quraysh are the best women who rode camels’ [al Bukhari].
It is obvious from the various narrations that they refer to actually riding camels as opposed to sitting inside a howdah on top of a camel.
There seems to be no reason to differentiate between the permissibility of riding camels and other beasts, such as horses, elephants, donkeys etc., and even bicycles.
A hadith does exist which seems to prohibit women riding animals, ‘May Allah curse the women on saddles’ [Dhakhira], though this hadith is rejected and has been stated as having no basis, as mentioned by Mullah Ali al Qari [al Asrar al marfu’ah fil akhbar al mawdu’ah].
However, it is stated in Radd al Muhtar, a Hanafi manual, that despite the above hadith’s authenticity, ‘it’s meaning is sound’ and conforms to the general ruling that women should not imitate men and men should not imitate women. The summary of the this Hanafi ruling is that a woman is not allowed to ride horses, except out of necessity, and even then, they must be fully covered and with a mehram or their husband.
One would have to check with a Hanafi scholar to assess if this is the reliable opinion in their school. Otherwise, one may follow the Shafi’i school in the matter, with the below considerations.
Despite the permissibility of riding animals and vehicles, like any physical sport and exercise, sensible and careful consideration should be given to how one keeps themselves covered appropriately and modesty in clothes (including looseness) and body movements at all times, which is particularly problematic if any non-mahram men are in the vicinity.
Unfortunately, a lot of professional sporting attire do not fulfil our Islamic criteria of modesty, so this is where Muslims need to either be creative (within the boundaries of Islam) or seek out same sex only groups.
As a side note, one could get special clothes made, one example being the vintage ‘ride astride’ skirt, which enables women to ride horses with a leg on either side of the horse, but still appear to be wearing a skirt. You may find details of the skirt here.
One particular point of concern that often comes up when discussing horse riding, cycling and the like, is if the hymen breaks and whether this means an unmarried woman will stop being considered a virgin, to which the short answer is that she will still be considered a virgin.
Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam has discussed this issue in detail, the main quote useful for us being,
‘The hymen of a woman may be broken in many ways: Injury, accident, playing sports, riding a bicycle, penetration of any sort such as a medical examination, use of tampons, or a douche … In fact, the jurists (fuqaha) state that a woman whose hymen is broken due to other than having actual sex is Islamically considered to be a virgin. Imam al-Mawsili (Allah have mercy on him) states, ‘If a woman lost her virginity due to jumping, injury, becoming old or (strong) menstrual periods, then she will be considered a virgin.’ [al-Ikhtiyar li ta’lil al-Mukhtar]
In summary, riding animals and bicycles are permissible for women while the usual standards of covering one’s awra and Islamic modesty must always be upheld.
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah
Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007, he traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with a main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies in a range of Islamic sciences, as well as teaching. Jamir is a qualified homeopath.