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

What do pilgrims wear on Hajj and what things to pack for the journey?

The Kiswah (covering of the Kaaba) is raised up by 3 meters every year to help prevent damage to the Kaaba ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage. Symbolising the beginning of the pilgrimage season, the official ceremony of raising the Kiswah, a huge piece of black silk embroidered with gold patterns, over the Kaaba began on Sunday evening as pilgrims have started gathering in Makkah before the pilgrimage. Photo: @ReasahAlharmain via Twitter
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As the Muslim world prepares for the Hajj season that takes place annually in Saudi Arabia, many questions about the importance of the ihram have surfaced over the past month.

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 on their pilgrimage, 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”.

Interpretations of the word

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

What is the ihram?

Stripping yourself of anything that could indicate your social standing is key to Hajj. While on the 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.

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

Hajj pilgrims shave their heads after stoning ritual

Hajj pilgrims shave their heads after stoning ritual

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 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, the tradition is for women to wear special clothes such as white dresses or black abayas but when it comes to the ihram, that is not required.

Pilgrims should not use any perfumes, deodorants or cosmetics while in the state of ihram.

Where to wear the ihram

Ihram clothes are obligatory beyond a certain geographical boundary called miqat.

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

1. Miqat Qarn Al Manazil: This is situated 80km north-east of Masjid Al-haram and 40km from the city of Ta’if.

2. Miqat Yalamlam: This is 100km south-west of Makkah and 90km north of the city of Al Lith.

3. Miqat Dhu Al Hulayfah: This 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 is 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

The 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 expected 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.

This article was originally published in 2022.

Updated: June 15, 2023, 5:43 AM