Today we also put on our ihrams and are on our way to Mecca. Ihram is a dress specifically for Umra and Hajj. It consists of a single, white sheet wrapped around the waist, and another wrapped around the body. Something one of our group guides said stuck with me: “this is your shroud.” That keeps repeating in my mind. I’m wearing my shroud. A Muslim is buried in white sheets. However, the end result of Hajj is, as the Prophet (p) said, is that we come out as the day we were born: free of sin. A rebirth. A new beginning. The ihram is a double reminder of both death and rebirth. We are all born, all die, and are all resurrected in the next life. The deciding factor is complying with God’s commandment. And as with every reflection about death, it’s not about getting mopey and upset; instead it is about life. How to life your life, according to God’s will.
Many years ago I attended a lecture by Dr. Reda Bedeir and he was asked a question about death. His answer, however, was about life. I remember being impressed that he took a question about death and flipped it to be an answer about life. To me, I feel this is the kind of attitude we should have when dealing with death.
As people in general, and Muslims in particular, go to two extremes: we either flippantly dismiss life, and emphasize death so much that we forget to live and become miserable, frowning crones; alternatively, we ignore death and make #yolo our motto, becoming so drunk on life that we ignore our ultimate destiny completely. But I believe both extremes come out of not properly understanding why we are encouraged to reflect on death in the first place.
The Prophet (p) encouraged us to remember death not so that we may be miserable, but to put our lives in perspective. To remember death is to remember that, inevitably, we’ll all be buried. We can’t outsmart death, nor avoid it. When our time is up, our time is up.
The ihram is a great reminder of that. With two pieces of unstitched cloth, the garment is the most basic, most humble outfit one can possibly wear. But ihram is also a spiritual state. In ihram, you are not allowed to wear perfume, cut your hair, wear a hat, trim your nails, or wear regular clothing—even your shoes must be sandals. It’s like a spiritual stasis: you can neither add nor take away something from your appearance. You present yourself as-is, frozen in the moment. You remain in ihram throughout Umrah (also known as “lesser Hajj”) and for the first 3 days of Hajj.
Sheikh Tamir summed up ihram this way: you can have the nicest hair, the nicest perfume, the nicest clothes, but at some point you will be at the exact same level as everyone else. In ihram, you could have a net worth of 5 million dollars or 5 dollars, and no one could tell the difference. When you’re born, you’re wrapped in a white sheet, and when you die you’re wrapped in a white sheet. Ihram is a great equalizer—just like birth and death. You’re born with nothing but what your parents give you, and you die with nothing except what your deeds have left behind.