The ruling was made by the Darul Uloom Deoband, the leading Islamic university founded in northern India in 1866, which has millions of followers from Bangladesh and Pakistan to Muslim communities in Britain.
Its fatwa was issued after a female follower had asked: "Is a married woman permitted to travel to another country with her female sibling?"
In a reply on the Deoband website, she was told:"She cannot travel without a 'mehram' [male relative]. It's mentioned in the Hadees that a woman should not travel for more than 48 miles except in the company of a 'mehram' relative."
Its response, which was delivered on International Women's Day, provoked anger among Muslim women activists who said it was based on conditions in the Arabian peninsula more than 1,400 years ago and no longer relevant in the modern world.
The decision was defended by a Deobandi spokesman who said the increase in violent crime against women in India showed it remained relevant. "No Muslim family should have any objections," he said.
Its ruling was based on the Hadiths – the sayings of Muhammad during his lifetime.
The 48 mile limit is believed to reflect the maximum distance one could then travel by camel or horse in one day through dangerous desert.
Professor Akhtar-Ul-Wasay, former head of Islamic Studies at Delhi's Jamia Milia Islamia University, said the fatwa was not fit for the modern age and more thought needed to be given to current living conditions before such rulings are issued.
That would be tantamount to correcting Muhammad. And is Ul-Wasay implying he believes such a ruling can be made acceptable to impose on women?
"In those days men and women were under threat during journeys - from enemies or wild beasts. Therefore these types of instructions were issued but now we are having different types of transportation and social conditions.
Women travel from one city to another on daily basis without any problem.
The content of the Hadith cannot be compromised but there is always a context to which has to be considered before issuing fatwas," he said.
Naaz Raza of the Muslim women's group Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, said no muslim woman could follow the fatwa today.
"This is rubbish. The Hadith was said 1,400 years ago and at that time there were hundreds of dangers for a women to travel alone beyond a particular limit but now traveling for women is safe.
They should think a thousand times before issuing such fatwas. Islam never forces anything on anyone.
Traveling alone or with or without a companion should be a personal choice," she said.
Sharia does not recognize that boundary of private behavior as a limit on its power.
The Sahih, or "sound," "reliable" ahadith of Bukhari and Muslim do contain many a hadith where Muhammad restricts a woman's radius of mobility to either three days' travel (for example, Bukhari 2.20.192-193; Muslim 7.3096-98, 3101-03, etc.), two days (Muslim 7.3099-3100) or one day and one night (Bukhari 2.20.194, Muslim 7.3104). Sahih Muslim Chapter 72, from which those ahadith are taken, is a section repeating Muhammad's restrictions on women's travel from corroborating sources. Since Muhammad is a "beautiful pattern of conduct" for all time (Qur'an 33:21), there is no question raised here that such a prescription might merit even adjusting before inflicting it on women.