Umrah: (Arabic: عمرة‎‎) is a pilgrimage to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, performed by Muslims that can be undertaken at any time of the year, in contrast to the Hajj. In Arabic, Umrah means “to visit a populated place.”

As mentioned in “the bad, the good & the blog” I went for a three week Umrah trip this April. I last travelled for Umrah 13 years ago, so as you can imagine I had a vague recollection of what I had to do and what the cities were like. Lucky for me, I did my fair share of research and I was able to get my hands on a pocket size handbook that was literally a lifeline. For those of you that aren’t aware about this Islamic pilgrimage keep reading as I give the details on my experience, the steps and tips.

What is Umrah?
I am sure most of my readers are aware of this word but for those that don’t it is basically a non obligatory pilgrimage made by Muslims arounds the world when journeying to Makkah in Saudi Arabia. Unlike Hajj (which is a fundamental pillar in Islam) this ritual can be performed at any point in the year (given a visa is granted). The whole idea behind the ritual is to get closer to God and whats more is to educate oneself on the beauty of Islam. I mean just as we visit other places around the world to view their scenery and their history this journey involves learning more about one’s religion and appreciating it.

The steps:
Don Ihraam when reaching the Meeqat/Miqat.
Ihraam refers to the clothing worn by men and women as they participate in pilgrimage. For women, there is no specific clothing designated for women, except that they are prohibited from wearing the Niqaab (face-veil) and gloves. It is preferable that they wear an abaya and of course maintain a very modest approach as they begin their Umrah. Men, on the other hand, must assume their Ihraam at the Miqat by wearing two pieces of fabric called the Izaar and the Ridaa’. The Ridaa’ covers the top half of the body, while the Izaar covers the lower half. No other clothing is allowed to be worn in addition to these. Oh and for those wondering, Miqat refers to the point at which Muslims don their ihraam and make their intention to begin Umrah.

2. Recite the Talbiyyah and make intention.
The intention must be made in the heart, while the statement made afterwards is: “Labayka ‘Umrah” or “Allahumma labbayka ‘Umrah”(Here I am at Your service. 0 Lord, here I am). This statement begins the rites of `Umrah. We travelled through Dubai, where we donned our Ihraam till we arrived at Jeddah and shortly after drove to Makkah.

3. Upon arrival in Makkah, we made our way to the Ka’bah where we said a prayer and shortly after made our tawaaf. This is basically circulating the Ka’bah 7 times while praying as a way of opening your heart to God and gaining nearness to him.

4. Once this was completed, we prayed our two rakaats of Salaah with the aim that God accepts our tawaaf. Shortly after we drank some holy water knowns as Zam Zam.

5. We then made our way to the hills of Al-Safa and Al- Marwa, here we circuit 7 times praying whatever is near and dear to our hearts. Just like tawaaf there are no specific statements but definitely praising God is more than sufficient.

6. Finally, we cut our hair on completion of our Umrah. Men shave their hair off completely and women shorten their hair by a finger tips length from the bottom. Once this has been done your umrah is complete.

My experience
Apart from Umrah being a fulfilling experience I would be lying if I said I didn’t find the whole experience daunting. Having performed umrah after so long I was able to appreciate and understand each step in depth. I think I underestimated the crowds as I was quite overwhelmed the first two days but once I completed my Umrah I felt a sense of community as we all strove to get near to God. With each passing day I learnt something new and pushed myself to make the most of the journey as best as I could. It isn’t always easy and I did face my own personal challenges but I wouldn’t have changed my trip one bit. After visiting both Makkah and Madinah I felt so heart warmed by the people and the dedication towards our Maker. It truly is a feeling to be felt by all those that participate in this ritual.

Aside from my mini guide book there were some tips I wish I had been more educated about before I left, so I thought I would share for any one going for Umrah:
1. READ & RESEARCH – seriously, get to know more about the journey not just for the trip but for your knowledge as well. That way, if anyone were to ask, you wouldn’t be so ignorant.
2. PACK LIGHT – no need to bring loads of clothes. Just wearing an abaya or kurta is sufficient. It can get quite hot so always keep it minimal. There’s also plenty of reasonably priced laundrettes around so never fear you won’t be wearing sweaty clothes everyday!
3. CARRY A SMALL BAG – now I don’t mean a purse or a pouch. I mean a small to medium sized shopper bag. These are necessary for your shoes, prayer books, water bottle, tissues and sunnies!
4. STAY PATIENT – there were definitely times where my patience was tested but stay calm. There are people from all over the world and remember their methods may not be the same as yours so stay patient and try to keep as modest as possible in your approach.
5. STRIKE A CONVO – it is incredible to meet people around the world and it is always amazing to have a short conversation with your neighbour. You’d be surprised how open people are to meeting other foreigners and feeling welcomed.
6. EAT, SLEEP, PRAY, REPEAT – remember eat healthy (there’s plenty of people that circulate home cooked meals so be sure to get these numbers before hand) and sleep well. It is very important to rest just as much because you don’t want to risk falling ill.
7. CHARITY – always carry small change on you and give out in charity to anyone you see that is in need of it. Remember that is also a form of getting closer to God
8. ENJOY – towards the end of your time just remind yourself that you’re there and try to make the most of every moment (good or bad). Remember God has brought you to this point and it is truly a remarkable feeling.

There you have it! I hope you enjoyed reading this post and it gave you a little heads up on what Umrah is all about! If you’ve got any questions, feel free to comment. 

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