What is the ihram and why is it such a significant part of Hajj?

The simple wardrobe prescribed to Muslims is an important aspect of the pilgrimage

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As the Muslim world gears up for the first Hajj season for foreign pilgrims since 2019, many questions about the importance of the ihram have surfaced.

Pilgrims enter what is known as a state of ihram, whereby they prepare their bodies and mind for the rituals ahead. This requires them to recite an intention and adhere to a certain dress code.

Before setting off for Hajj, Muslims must first purify and declare their Niyyah, or intention, to God. Their Niyyah for Hajj should be sincere and for the sake of Allah only, not other worldly matters.

The word ihram is derived from the Arabic verb harama, which means “to be forbidden”.

Ihram is used to describe three things:

1. The two pieces of cloth worn by male pilgrims.

2. The very act of starting Hajj, or Umrah.

3. The state of consecration in which the pilgrims are during Hajj or Umrah. After putting on ihram (first meaning) and making the intention of ihram (second meaning), the pilgrims enter automatically the state of ihram.

Ihram clothing

Stripping yourself of anything that could indicate your social standing is key to Hajj. While performing pilgrimage, everybody, regardless of financial or social status, is seen as equal in God's eyes.

The ihram attire — two pieces of white, unstitched cloth — removes all indicators of social, cultural and political differences for the sake of equality before God.

It is for this reason that a simple wardrobe has been prescribed to Muslims during this time.

Kings, princes and sheikhs have all performed Hajj, donning the same clothing as the common man.

These cloths must be worn when they are in a state of ihram while performing the Hajj rituals.

One piece of cloth is wrapped round the upper part of the body, but not the head. It is normally draped over both shoulders but at certain times it is draped over one shoulder.

The other is wrapped round the lower part of the body, which can be kept in place by a belt, money belt, or pin.

For women, the ihram is ordinary loose-fitting clothes that cover all of the body except the face and hands. In some countries it is a tradition for women to wear special clothes, such as white dresses or black abayas but for ihram, it is not required.

Pilgrims should not be scented, perfumed or use any cosmetics while in the state of ihram.

Where to wear the ihram

The ihram clothing is obligatory beyond a certain [geographical] boundary called miqat.

Pilgrims should wear ihram before or at the time of entering the miqat. Once pilgrims enter a miqat, they cannot remove the ihram clothing until the pilgrimage is completed. The four important miqats in Umrah are:

1. Miqat Qarn Al Manazil

This miqat is situated 80 kilometres north-east of Masjid Al-haram and 40km from the city of Ta’if.

2. Miqat Yalamlam

This miqat is situated 100km south-west of Makkah and 90km north of the city of Al Lith.

3. Miqat Dhu Al Hulayfah

This miqat is located 7km south-west of Masjid-an-Nabawi and was defined by the Prophet Mohammed as a miqat for pilgrims from Madinah.

4. Miqat Al Juhfah

This miqat is located 182km north-west of Makkah, 17km south-east of Rabigh and 15km east of the Red Sea.

Dos and dont's when in a state of ihram

Ihram is a sacred state which Muslims must enter before performing Hajj, or Umrah, an optional, minor pilgrimage.

A pilgrim must enter this state by performing the cleansing rituals and wearing the previously described attire.

While in a state of ihram, these are the acts forbidden to pilgrims:

  • Having sex
  • Obscene or immoral speech and committing sinful acts
  • Cutting their hair and nails or wearing perfume
  • Hunting
  • Wearing gloves
  • Getting married or arranging a marriage for someone else
  • Men wearing anything on their heads
  • Women covering their faces

Hajj is expected to begin on July 7, with Eid Al Adha likely to begin on July 9 in most Islamic countries.

Foreign worshippers will make up the bulk of the one million pilgrims allowed to perform Hajj this year, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said last month.

Hajj pilgrims travelling from overseas are expected to account for 85 per cent of the total number attending.

All Muslims who are able to are required to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Updated: July 06, 2022, 11:24 AM