Aug 21, 2018

HAJJ – The ‘Ihram’ and the ‘Sivura’

Mass L. Usuf

“And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass.” [Qur’an, 22: 27]

The saffron robe or the Sivura of the Buddhist monk symbolises a monastic life, part of a tradition going back 2,500 years to the time of the Buddha. It is the external manifestation of the renunciation of temporalities.  A reinforcing message to one’s own self that he is going to live a life of detachment. The antidote for attachment or clinging (tanha), which is the Second Noble Truth, is non-attachment.  In Buddhism, this will ease suffering and is conducive towards the nirvanic journey.  

The robe constitutes part of the ata pirikara that is usually seen being offered to monks.  The other items are a belt, needle and thread, alms bowl, cloth filter and shaving knife.

The three parts of the robes are:

The uttarasanga which is the most prominent robe. It is sometimes also called the kashaya robe. It can be wrapped to cover both shoulders, but most often it is wrapped to cover the left shoulder but leave the right shoulder and arm bare. The antaravasaka is worn under the uttarasanga. It is wrapped around the waist like a sarong, covering the body from waist to knees. The sanghati is an extra robe that can be wrapped around the upper body for warmth. When not in use, it is sometimes folded and draped over a shoulder.

Ephemeral to Spiritual

Hajj is one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam.  It is obligatory for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford and is in good health to undertake this journey at least once in his or her lifetime. This pilgrimage through its several ritualistic symbolizations causes man to humble himself as a human being. Reminds him of the reality of this ephemeral existence and strengthens his spiritual relationship with Allah.The existence of Allah, the Creator is the only permanent thing and every other existence in all forms is  impermanent (Anicca).  Therefore, all existence will disappear.  The Quran states:

“Whatsoever is on it (the earth) will perish.  Only the Supreme Essence of your Glorious and Gracious Lord will remain forever.”  (Quran 55 Verses 26-27)

Sometimes out of curiosity it is asked that if Allah is the Creator of everything, then who created Allah.  It is a very logical question.  The answer to this is that only a created thing will require a creator.  Allah is not a creation therefore, Allah has no creator.  Allah is not subject to dependent origination, in the sense of cause and effect, since there is no prior cause before Allah.  The Quran states:

“Allah is He besides Whom there is no god, the Ever living, the Self-subsisting by Whom all subsist;” (Quran 2 Verses 255)
It is in response to the call of Allah, (see Qur’an 22: 27 cited above) that the believers make the journey to Mecca and declare ‘labbaika allahumma labbaik’, ‘Here I am, O Allah, here I am’.One will hear the longer version of this stanza being repeated continuously by each and every pilgrim once he gets into the state of Ihram.

Ihram and Uttarasanga

Dresses are worn by people for various reasons.  The type of dress one wears can differ in order to suit the occasion.  There are dresses which represent the status of a person in society, the dress of the monk marking renunciation, dresses symbolising power and position and so on.  An emperor without clothing is no different from a pauper san his cloth.  Therefore, dress also carries with it an identity. The first thing that the pilgrim readying to perform Hajj does is to remove his identity.  Once his cloth is removed all the signs which distinguish "you" as whoever ceases. 

You become just another individual.A man just like the other. You are, not known except as another human.  Equality demonstrated at its zenith.

The pilgrim then wears only a two piece plain white cloth which is not stitched. No special style or material is used. It is made of very plain and simple fabric. Everyone is wearing the same outfit. No distinctions in appearance are visible. 

 This is called the, ‘Ihram’, the sacred state into which a Muslim enters in order to perform the hajj.  The uttarasanga (upper robe) which is worn by monks, which is the most prominent robe is used to wrap to cover both shoulders, but most often it is wrapped to cover the left shoulder but leave the right shoulder and arm bare. 

 In the Ihram that upper robe is worn during the pilgrimage of Haj, of the two parts of the cloth, one is used to cover the left shoulder and keep the right shoulder and arm open.  Further, just like the antaravasaka (inner robe) which is wrapped around the waist like a sarong, covering the body from waist to knees, the second part of the Ihram cloth is worn in the same manner from waist to below the knees.

Anatta of Ihram

Once the pilgrim is in Ihram, he places himself in the realm of sacredness in relation to both the physical self as well as his mental state. The ego and his individual traits are buried the moment he removes his cloth with the intention of responding to the call of Allah.

 In Islam, this is exactly what is done when preparing for the ritual Haj pilgrimage. In the state of Ihram', one distances himself from the things that reminds him of his worldly attachments (Upadana). The delusion of self-conceit and selfishness, pride and anger, lust and greed, jealousy and miserliness are removed along with the dress.  

Everyone "melts" himself as a non-entity into the millions of people who have come from all corners of the globe. All in this two-piece white cloth only. The black, yellow, white and brown coloured people, the rich and the poor, the king and his subjects, people of all ethnicities, all languages, tribes and races.  Everyone wearing just this two-piece unstitched cloth. 

 The pilgrim is overwhelmed by the Truth of Allah, humility, patience, generosity and sees well the emptiness of the material life.  All the “I’s” of a person and the self-identity have died in Miqat (the point where one wears the Ihram).  What in Buddhism is called, ‘anatta’, the non-self from the perspective of the material self.


There are differences between Islam and Buddhism.  In that fundamentally, Islam believes in the existence of God while Buddhism is claimed to be atheistic.  Islam believes in the soul while Buddhism does not recognize the soul.  These are areas that need to be researched based on authentic scriptures and writings from the original sources.  However, there are lot of commonalities between Islam and Buddhism as with other religions too.  One such is the doctrine of soteriology which is the study of the doctrine of salvation.  In Buddhism salvation from suffering (dukkha) lies in the attainment of Nibbana.

In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the Buddha addressing the monks said: "There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: …;

 and that which is devoted to self-affliction: ... The middle way discovered by a Perfect One avoids both these extremes; …, and it leads …to nibbana. And what is that middle way? It is simply the noble eightfold path, that is to say, right view, right intention; right speech, right action, right livelihood; right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration…”  (Samyutta Nikaya, SN 56.11).
In Islam, the Quran states:

“By Time (through the ages),
Surely Man is in the way of loss,
Except those who believe and do good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience.” (Qur’an 103: 1-3).

The eightfold path is succinctly captured within the width and depth of the Arabic words, ‘amal salih’ which simply translated is ‘doing good and being mindful’ and enjoining on each other the truth and patience. Unless man does that, he will be in a state of loss and suffering. Sotereologically, the salvation for the Muslim is to return back to Allah, from where he came.  Thus, the Quran says:

“To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.” (Qur’an 2:156).

The annual pilgrimage to Mecca to perform the Hajj rituals is the earthly manifestation of the desire of a believer to return to Allah.  Thus, he continues repeating, ‘labbaika allahumma labbaik’, ‘Here I am, O Allah, here I am’ donning the Ihram, the two-piece white cloth which is similar to the ‘Kaffan’, the cloth used to shroud the dead.

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