You'd make sure to look presentable for a visit to your grandparents, right? And definitely for going to Friday prayer at the local mosque, correct? So why not take care of your appearance when you go to visit a Masoom?
In the coming winter months, many people will be blessed with an invitation to go for Hajj and Ziyarat. If you're one of those lucky sisters, then you'll need to start preparing for the trip on multiple levels. From spiritual preparations to packing, there are many things to be done as you get ready to be one of Allah's guests.
Presenting yourself well is a sign of respect and a form of devotion to the Holy Masoomeen (peace be upon them), and just because someone is modest doesn't mean it is acceptable to wear wrinkled clothing and be in an un-groomed state if one can help it. Apart from your arrival in Karbala and while you are wearing Ehram during Hajj, Islam always recommends taking care of one's appearance when visiting holy places.
Let Style Watch help you out with packing clothes for these visits! For our special Hajj packing list, click here. By packing the things that are right for you to be comfortable, presentable and modest during Ziyarat in winter, you will be freer to focus on the main purpose of the trip while you're actually there: getting closer to Allah through your devotion to His loved ones. Even the act of packing at home for the Ziyarat of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) brings blessings, so come on, get out your suitcase! Here's what you'll need:
Modest black abayas: preferably closed-front ones as they look neater. It is a good idea to bring two, and you can buy more on the trip if desired.
Additional black covering to wear over the abaya: required for entry into almost all the shrines except perhaps in Madina during Hajj season. To make it easier to handle, you should secure it to your headscarf with a straight black pin, black plastic oval hijab pin, or small black safety pins. You can use a large opaque rectangular black cloth (dupatta) pinned to the headscarf, which is the easiest option as it doesn't reach the floor but is still accepted as sufficient extra covering by the staff at almost all the shrines. The alternatives are a full-length Iranian chador or Iraqi abaya, which also should be pinned to your headscarf for ease of handling.
Winter coat: if taking a woolen one, consider packing a lint brush so you can tidy it up regularly; except in Karbala, you don't want to arrive at a shrine looking all dusty!
Gloves: will likely be needed in Syria, Iraq and Iran at this time of year.
Trousers: three pairs – regular-weight or winter-weight; if you have a choice, black ones look best with black abayas.
Thermal leggings: two pairs to wear underneath regular-weight trousers.
Sweaters or cardigans: Optional if you are bringing a coat and thermal tops already.
Thermal tops: two pairs; great if you want warmth without the heavy bulk of sweaters and sweatshirts. Optional depending upon the warmth level of the shirts you bring.
Long-sleeved shirts: four or five of them; can consider turtlenecks, or long-sleeved tees will work if combined with thermal tops underneath. Don't bother bringing short-sleeved tops as it will be too cold and you don't want to be bothered with hijab sleeves at Wudhu time while traveling (if you want to buy some sleeves to take home though, you'll find them easily at shops around the shrines). A long-sleeved top will take care of warmth as well as loose abaya sleeves that slip back and expose the wrist and arm.
Underclothes: bring enough to last for the entire trip, plus extra sets, so you don't have to worry about laundry for these items.
Walking shoes: women's feet need to be covered according to almost all the religious authorities (even during Hajj), so pack shoes you can wear comfortably with thick winter socks. Flip-flops won't work with socks in crowds as they will slip off, and you can also trip on them. It's also best not to take something with laces that you'll have to spend time tying as shoe areas will be crowded; wear something you can slip on and off easily, that will stand up to wet public washroom floors when you need to do Wudhu somewhere and also the occasional winter rainfall in that part of the world. If you are taking black shoes, pack a shoe-shine sponge/cleaning cloth as they will get very dusty and you will want to clean them before heading off to a shrine (except in Karbala), so that you arrive in a clean state.
Bathroom slippers: bring plastic ones that dry fast and can be cleaned easily; keep plastic bags to dump them in as you pack up to check out of your hotel, as there will be times you only stay at a hotel one night, and they may still be wet when you have to depart.
Socks: buy a big pack of thick/sports socks, preferably in dark colors if you can find them. Bring enough to last the entire trip as they will get dirty fast and you don't want to worry about doing laundry for these. Wudhu socks are usually great for traveling, but in the winter they will not be warm enough, especially when walking on the cold tiled courtyard floors of shrines; however, Wudhu socks can be purchased in these countries if you want to stock up before going back home.
Under-scarf caps: take one or two of your own with you if you have a preference for a certain style and material, because you won't necessarily be able to find the exact type upon arrival at your destination. If you want to stock up you can buy more as you come across them during the trip. Definitely wear these as they will keep your hair under control and provide a neat and tidy appearance for your scarf, which is important since you generally would not want to visit a shrine looking disheveled and also with hair sticking out of your scarf messily as can happen during travel, thereby compromising your hijab.
Scarves: choose dark muted colors like black or brown, not pastels and bright colors that will attract negative attention in places where everyone else is dressed head-to-toe in black. Bring two black ones from home, and you can easily stock up on more scarves during the trip if desired.
Main bag: tote bag, messenger/crossover bag, backpack or large handbag. Backpacks are great for keeping your things in, but their straps can expose the outline of the chest when worn over a hijab, so if you use one, make sure to drape your scarf in such a way that your chest is covered properly. You can also wear a crossover/messenger bag whose strap you can keep under the hijab, which will be more convenient for getting things out of since the bag will be more in front of you. For security reasons, this main bag will have to be kept on the group bus or at your hotel while you visit a shrine.
Bag for taking inside shrines: should be a smaller bag with secure closure (zip, Velcro, fold-over flap) that can hold basics like prayer books, tissues, hand sanitizer wipes and so on. Due to security issues, phones, cameras and mp3 players will not be allowed inside, and in places in Iraq, liquids including water and hand sanitizer bottles may not be allowed either. Don't forget to keep a list in this bag of specific prayers and names of people you want to pray for. Bear in mind this bag will be checked thoroughly at security checkpoints, of which there are many in Iraq.
Plastic bag for storing walking shoes: you may prefer to bring your shoes into a shrine with you due to different reasons, such as having to leave from a different gate or excessive crowds at the shoe counters. If so, keep them in a separate plastic bag to keep them apart from your other things. For security reasons, extra shoe bags like this will not permitted in Iraq though, you will have to check shoes in at the special counters at the shrines.
Secret travel pouch: optional for storing things like emergency money. Also keep in mind that this will be searched at checkpoints too; consider securing it with jumbo safety pins to your inner clothing for added security in case the string breaks in a crowd.
Perfume: It is highly recommended to apply some before visiting each shrine, except in Karbala, where you should be in a state of mourning and where you should not even eat sweets and meats (consult a book like this one for more information); pack a travel-size bottle, or buy a perfume from the stores around the shrines where you can find many reasonably priced fragrances, from Arab attars to surprisingly good knock-offs of western scents.
Rings: For a lover of the Ahlul Bayt it is recommended to wear a ring on the right hand, and this goes during Ziyarat too, especially when it comes to a ring with a special stone like turquoise. Besides a ring or two and a watch, it's best not to bring any jewelry while doing so much traveling though. Be very careful when doing Wudhu in public places as you don't want to lose a ring down a drain or have it fall out of your pocket while you bend to wipe your feet; consider keeping the rings on and just shifting them around on the finger during Wudhu to be extra cautious. If you don't own any rings with stones of religious significance, consider buying one on the trip as a souvenir and to enhance your acts of worship; you can even make sure to try and touch a specific ring you're wearing (or a piece of cloth or a Tasbih) to every shrine you get to visit.
Chapstick and Moisturizer: Even if you don't normally use these items, you will need them in the winter weather. Also don't forget your personal grooming tools like nail trimmers, tweezers, etc.
Stain Remover Wipes: Buy ones that are individually wrapped. Besides using these for obvious stains and spills, use them on-the-go to touch up the bottoms of your black abayas and chadors which will often get dusty within minutes of stepping outside. Since it won't be feasible to always change or wash your clothes right away, you will want to appear as clean as possible when visiting a shrine, so such wipes will come in handy throughout the day.
Mini Sewing Kit: Including lots of safety pins too, use this kit to take care of a ripped hem, shorten a new abaya, reinforce buttons, etc.
Travel-size Iron: You wouldn't show up for a job interview in a wrinkled shirt, and a visit to an Imam (peace be upon him) is much more important than any interview, so ensure your scarves and clothes are ironed, and even get wrinkle-free items if you can. Don't depend on hotels to provide irons (or hair dryers either), and remember to pack an electronic converter for these items if you are bringing them.
Travel-size body soaps and a two-in-one shampoo and conditioner: It is highly recommended to do ghusl before visiting each Masoom's shrine. However, in Karbala there is an exception. For Karbala, Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) has advised that one should go directly for Ziyarat in a saddened, grief-stricken, disheveled state, covered with dust from one's trip and hungry and thirsty, since Imam Hussain was killed while he was in such a state. But one may also do the ghusl and it is considered one of the best acts, especially when done with water from the Euphrates River, which Islamic Insights has been told all the hotels in the area use.
Travel-size laundry clothesline with clips: can be hung in hotel washrooms for washing clothes by hand. Bring a few hangers too to hang bigger articles of clothing on hooks as they dry, like abayas, and don't forget to pack a small amount of laundry detergent powder in a re-sealable plastic sandwich bag.
For public restrooms: while most groups will try their best to ensure that hotel rooms are equipped with western toilets, sometimes there is no choice, especially when you will be on the road traveling in between cities where you may have to use an eastern toilet. Be prepared by keeping a packet of tissues and hand sanitizer wipes (not liquid bottles since those are banned by security in some shrines, such as in Iraq) in your bag at all times, in case there is no toilet paper in the stalls or hand soap at the sinks. If you have never used an eastern toilet before, here are some tips; taking off your trousers entirely is the safest bet to avoid getting any najasat on them. You need to be extra cautious since you'll be entering shrines on-the-go and will need to be ritually pure; try and leave your bag, abaya, and outer covering with a trusted group member outside the stall as you don't want your stuff to fall onto the wet floors and possibly get impure!
The Most Important Thing to "Pack": the Right Mindset
Whether you are visiting Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or a combination of these places, don't forget to keep in mind the status of the holy beings you will be visiting, and behave accordingly. While we can all do Ziyarat from afar, it is a very different feeling to make a visit in person. Where performing the a'amal of Arafah, Ashura, or Arbaeen days in Karbala once seemed like a faraway dream, such trips are now becoming feasible for a number of people, and we should make the most of these visits.
Note: Don't forget to put one set of all your clothes – from thermals to underclothes to an abaya – in your carry-on bag so that you have something to change into upon arrival in case the checked luggage is delayed or lost.
You may also want to check out packing suggestions for non-clothing items at these websites (note that Islamic Insights does not necessarily endorse any of these sources; consult your own Ziyarat group for complete packing details):