If you happen to be in an airport when you read this and pass by the departure gate for Saud Arabia, it is likely that the people waiting are dressed in simple white robes.
The simple attire – known as Ihram – is worn by pilgrims headed to Makkah to perform the Hajj – a religious journey all Muslim’s must embark on at least once in their lives – forming the fifth pillar of Islam.
The reason for the white robes – and in the case of women a simple white dress – is quite simple, pilgrims need to be focused on the purpose of their journey and not be distracted by wealth or social standing.
Nasif Kayed, general manager of The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Dubai explained: “All men, women, are equal in the eyes of the lord, regardless of the color, gender, or status. This is very important, because if you are a rich person you dress very rich, very beautifully for important occasions. And the poor people would not be able to afford that.”
He added: “When you are first born, you are wrapped with a piece of cloth, most of the time this is white. And also when you die – the simplicity of a human when born and die – you come the same way, you leave the same way, with very little.”
Everyone attending the Hajj is required to dress the same way to ensure a focus of the mind away from the material things in life.
Why people can be seen wearing the white robes at airport departure lounge is because pilgrims are required to be in a state of Ihram – or at peace – at the point of reaching the Miqat – the last point before Makkah.
A state of mind
Put simply the Miqat forms a border that when reached requires people to be at peace. Kayed said this meant no fighting or arguments, not even hunting.
Some people chose to get changed on the plane as they approach the Miqat, but for most this transition begins in the airport – luggage checked in, the change and await to board the aircraft carrying them to Makkah.
“Once you have changed into these robes you are in the state of Ihram,” Kayed said. “It is not about clothes, it is about a state of mind – an attitude – everything in you has to change – it’s like Ramadan plus more.”
During the Hajj pilgrims perform the various rituals. It is a time when they are supposed to dedicate their very being to God. While performing Hajj people from all backgrounds, irrespective of culture standing, wealth, ethnicity or job are deemed to be equal.
It is not uncommon to see images of royalty draped in the Ihram attire, and wearing a pair of sandals or flip flops walking alongside ordinary men and women. There is no place for Armani shoes or Nike trainers on this journey – not at least until Hajj is performed and the individual is ready to leave.
But the robes only come off once the final farewell Tawaff has been performed – walking seven times around the Kaaba – and the pilgrims head is shaved.
Kayed explained that pilgrims are then required to return to their hotels, change back into their regular clothes and then leave the Holy City of Makkah. Al Alarabiya