Uncovering one’s right shoulder in Ihram is known in Arabic as idtiba`. Idtiba` is a sunnah, and not obligatory. Imam Malik opined that it is not even a sunnah. Therefore, Muslim jurists agree that whoever abandons idtiba` does not have to make any expiation, like the one who neglects a sunnah or obligatory act of Hajj. This is the ruling for not observing idtiba` by a healthy pilgrim. Hence, it applies to a greater degree to a man who has some excuse that prevents him from uncovering his shoulder. To expand on this issue, let’s take note ofthe following points:
1- Abu Dawud reported through a sound chain of transmitters that Ibn `Abbas said: “The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his companions made `Umarh from Al-Ju`ranah. They jogged while circumambulating the Ka`bah, putting their ihram clothing under their right armpits, then they threw the end of the top part over their left shoulders.”
2- Al-Baihaqi reported through a sound chain of transmitters that Ibn `Abbas said: “The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his companions made idtiba` (uncovered their right shoulders), and jogged three rounds, and walked the remaining four rounds.”
These hadiths and incidents indicate the permissibility of making idtiba`. Idtiba` means to put the clothing of ihram under the right armpit, and throw the end of the top part of the attire over the left shoulders, thus, leaving the right shoulder uncovered.
It is sunnah, according to the majority of Muslim scholars, to observe idtiba` when performingTawaf and during Sa`i. There is a weak opinion that idtiba` is not sunnah during Sa`i. The majority of Muslim scholars agree that idtiba` is commendable, whereas Imam Malik opines that idtiba` and ramal were observed by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his companions in order to expose their strength and endurance to the polytheists. However, now that reason has vanished, they are no longer permissible.
Imam An-Nawawi states: “We see that idtiba` is commendable. Malik sees that it is impermissible as there is no need to do it now. According to our view, Malik’s view is refuted by what `Umar ibn Al-Khattab said, “There may be no significance in jogging (ramal) and uncovering the shoulder (idtiba`) now that Islam has become firmly established and polytheism no longer prevails, however, we do not like to abandon anything we used to observe with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).” In all cases, it is well known that idtiba` is specifically for men, that is, a woman is not allowed to make idtiba`, for this means uncovering her `awrah (parts of the body that should be covered in front of others).
Imam Ash-Shirazi, a Shafi`i scholar, states: “Women should not undertake neither idtiba` nor ramal, because ramal causes her body parts to move, and idtiba` entails uncovering parts of her `awrah.”
It is stated in a book of Hanafi Fiqh called Ad-Durr Al-Mukhtar: “Women are exactly like men as far as the rituals of Hajj are concerned, unless there is a specific statement for men or women. At the same time, a woman should uncover her face but not her head. She is permitted, or rather commended, to cover her face with something that does not touch the face. Women also should not make talbiyah in a loud voice. Her voice should be low enough that only she herself can hear it, so as not to cause temptation to male pilgrims. However, saying that the woman’s voice is `awrah does not have authentic evidence to substantiate it. Moreover, a woman should not make ramal or idtiba`, nor make haste between the two marks where men haste during Sa`i. She is also not required to shave her hair, rather she should clip part of it. A female pilgrim can wear sewn clothes, shoes and jewelry, but she should not go near the Black Stone if it is overcrowded, in order to avoid getting physically close to men.”
If someone does not do idtiba` he does not have to make up for it, for he has not neglected an essential part of the Hajj, according to the majority of Muslim scholars. Another view indicates that idtiba` is sunnah, so if it is possible to make up for it, it is better to do so. However, the view of the majority is more reliable. Jurists agree that when a pilgrim abandons idtiba`, there is no blame on him, nor does he have to expiate for it, as he would have to if he neglected an essential act of the Hajj.
Imam An-Nawawi said: “If a pilgrim abandons idtiba`, ramal, touching the Stone, kissing it or making du`aa’ during Tawaf, then his Tawaf is still valid and he neither incurs a sin nor should he slaughter an animal. He has simply missed out on performing a virtuous act. Ash-Shafi`i and other scholars maintain that it is bad to neglect such acts, however it is not a sin.
Therefore, idtiba` is sunnah according to the majority of Muslim scholars, whereas Imam Malik opined that it is not sunnah. He maintained that idtiba`, along with ramal, were recommended by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) just to show the Muslims’ strength and tolerance in front of the polytheists. As long as this is not the case now, idtiba` is neither sunnah nor a commendable act. So, whoever abandons it does not have to make any ransom, because it is not an obligatory act.
This is the ruling for not observing idtiba` by a healthy pilgrim. Hence, it applies to a greater degree to a man who has some excuse that prevents him from uncovering his shoulder. Allah says: (He has chosen you and has not laid upon you in religion any hardship.) (Al-Hajj 22:78), and (Allah desires for you ease; He desires no hardship for you.) (Al-Baqarah 2:185)
Allah Almighty knows best.