What is ihram in Islam?
Technically speaking, Ihram or ehram is a uniform worn by pilgrims to grace the Holy Kaaba when they visit it. It is worn by pilgrims on the greater pilgrimage (Hajj) as well as the lesser pilgrimage (Umrah) and well in advance. Pilgrims are required to make note of the fact that ihram is not optional. It is mandatory for all Muslim Pilgrims to wear this distinctive uniform while performing their Umrah in the holy city of Makkah. It is an attempt to eliminate all differences between pilgrims. When everyone gathers in the Masjid al Haram, all differences of class, culture, and most importantly, the distinction of dress are eliminated. Everyone is the same before the eyes of Allah. The dress is not subject to change at the whim of an individual pilgrim and even a group itself. Thus Islam, by its very sociable nature, encourages everyone to put their differences aside and gather under one religious umbrella. The most basic difference, that being of the clothing, is put aside first. When every Muslim is uniformed alike, it establishes a collective identity of their own. Generally speaking, ihram is a state of simplicity. The dress is worn to underline that fact. Once a pilgrim decides to perform Umrah, he must assume a state of purity and minimalism, the very meaning of the word itself.
Having finally made up their minds to begin the sacred journey, many find it hard to cope with a new dress, and along with that dress, a new way of carrying themselves. TravelhouseUK steps in to guide the process within the scope of this online publication.
How to wear Ihram?
But before assuming the state of ihram, take care to wash yourself first. A complete bath must be taken and ablutions performed afterwards. Then taking off your stitched clothes, change into two white sheets of unstitched cloth. Fasten one sheet around your waist and drape the other one just about your torso. Women, on the other hand, can wear regular stitched clothes. Ihram clothing for women is a plain regular dress. But most women today wear an abaaya plus hijaab. When in ihram, a woman cannot veil her face.
Once that is done, offer 2 rakat nafal, if it is the right time. While offering this prayer, it is considered proper to cover your head as well with that second sheet. It is better to wear it from home or the airport and then declare the intention after reaching Rabigh. When the plane crosses Rabigh – the place designated as Meeqat for UK Umrah pilgrims – passengers can say their Umrah Niyat and declare their Umrah ihram. There is a common misconception among UK Umrah pilgrims regarding Meeqat. And it is better to move that out of the way first. Jeddah airport is not the Meeqat for UK Umrah pilgrims. Rabigh is. However, those planning to travel straight to Madinah from Jeddah are to consider Madinah as their Meeqat. Again, it is better to declare the intention once you reach the Meeqat. This way a pilgrim will not have to regard all those Umrah ihram rules that he or she will be bound to obey otherwise. This is also advisable in light of the fact that flights get delayed at times and some pilgrims will be taking long-haul flights.
Once the ihram is assumed, pilgrims are bound to regard some conditions imposed by it.
From here on, they cannot wear sewn clothes. Ihram is to be taken as a complete dress which means underwear is not allowed as well. Also underwear is stitched and sewn garments are not allowed.
Any kind of footwear that covers the ankles is strictly forbidden. Flip flops and slippers work best as Ihram sandals. What is more, they are also without straps. So do not worry about the strap covering your ankle.
Getting a haircut is strictly forbidden. More precisely, the entire body of a pilgrim must not lose a single hair during this state. That is why pilgrims get their haircuts and shave their bodies before wearing ihram.
Likewise, nails cannot be trimmed.
From here on, pilgrims are not allowed to wear perfume of any sort. Nor can they use any cosmetic that has a strong scent in it. Even using regular beauty soap is forbidden.
Sexual intercourse is strictly forbidden.
Hunting or killing of any living being is forbidden. Even an ant or lice must not be crushed.
It is compulsory for a pilgrim to follow these rules. Disregard for any one or all of the clauses will result in serious penalty. The penalty for a smaller liberty taken during Umrah will result in dam; the sacrifice of a goat or sheep. However, neglecting more important rules will result in a bigger penalty – bdna – the sacrifice of a larger animal. Ignorance on part of the pilgrim may result in the penalty. The pilgrim must give the sacrifice to neutralize the sin. But if something is overlooked in innocence, there is pardon for it. Hence no need for any sacrifice. But Allah and your own conscience is the best judge of that.