Everything you need to know about umrah.

What does umrah mean?

Umrah is a word from the Arabic language, and can be translated as ‘to visit a populated place’. Umrah is defined as a minor pilgrimage, made by Muslims to Makkah (or Mecca), during which a series of rituals are performed. Umrah is similar to hajj in many ways, with the major difference being that hajj (the major pilgrimage) is compulsory once in a lifetime for Muslims, and umrah is not compulsory, but is highly recommended.

Umrah comes in two forms, depending on whether it is combined with hajj, or performed separately.

If umrah is performed on its own, it is called ‘al-Umrat al mufradah’.

If umrah is combined with hajj, it is called ‘Umrat al-tammatu’, and the umrah rituals are carried out before the hajj rituals.

Umrah and hajj – what’s the difference?

They are both pilgrimages and form part of the Islamic faith, but the major differences are around the amount of importance attached to the rituals, and how they are observed.

The hajj forms one pillar of Islam – there are five in total. Provided a Muslim is financially and physically capable of the journey, he or she must undertake to travel to Makkah and perform hajj once during their lifetime. On the other hand, umrah is not compulsory; however, Muslims are recommended to perform umrah if they can.

Umrah can be performed at any time of the year, but hajj must be completed within a designated month in the Islamic calendar.

Although the rituals for both umrah and hajj appear similar, umrah can be completed within a few hours, but hajj rituals take longer and there are more of them.

When does umrah take place?

Umrah can take place at any time of the year, but the peak pilgrimage dates are those surrounding the hajj (before, during and after) and during the final 10 days of Ramadan.

Who goes on umrah?

Although umrah is not compulsory like hajj, many adult Muslims choose to complete umrah as part of their devotions and for the experience. In order to complete umrah, the pilgrim must be physically and financially able to complete the journey and the rituals.

How many pilgrims go on umrah?

It is extremely difficult to estimate the total number, as the rituals continue day and night in Makkah, apart from five prayer breaks. Every year, between 2 and 3 million pilgrims worldwide travel for hajj, so umrah will be many times that number each year. However it is estimated that from the UK alone, 100,000 pilgrims travel to Makkah to perform umrah.

What rites are performed in the umrah pilgrimage?

The pilgrim completes a number of ritual acts, which demonstrate unity with other Muslims across the world. The rites are symbolic of the life of Ibrahim (Abraham, peace be upon him), and also of his second wife Hajar.

The main acts of faith are:

Ihram – When pilgrims arrive in Makkah, they need to enter ihram (or state of purity) which involves men wearing ihram clothes (2 white sheets without seams), plus sandals, and women wearing white and covering all but their hands and faces. The type of clothing represents purity, and also removes any divisions of status, class and culture.

While in ihram, there are certain activities which are restricted, which include cutting hair and nails, arguing, fighting and sexual activities.

Tawaf – each pilgrim circles the Kaaba, which is the cube-shaped sacred edifice, located in Masjid Al-Haram, to which all Muslim prayers are directed. The Kaaba is the most sacred site in Islam. The circling is done seven times, anti-clockwise; three times quickly, and then four times more slowly.

Sa'i – the rapid walk between two desert hills; Safa and Marwah, which is completed seven times to re-enact Hajar’s desperate search for water. Water was found when Ismail (Hajar’s baby son) was seen to be scraping at the dry ground with his foot or leg, and water appeared as in a miracle. The water’s source is now known as the Well of Zamzam.

At the end of umrah, a taqsir or halq is performed. A taqsir involves hair being shortened, and is usually performed by women, taking at least an inch off the length of their hair. A halq is a total head shave, and is usually the preserve of men. The cutting and shaving are symbolic of the pilgrim submitting to the will of God, rather than glorying in their physical appearance.

Once the rituals are complete, the pilgrim can leave ihram, and most people then choose to drink from the Well of Zamzam, although this is not a formal part of the rituals. The rituals themselves can vary depending on which sect of Islam the pilgrim belongs to.

How do I go about booking an umrah package?

You are well advised to plan ahead, because it takes time to pick the perfect umrah package and tour operator, helped by information from our website and our quote system.
When you select an umrah package, always take into account the distance between the accommodation and the mosque, the standard of the accommodation (star ratings and facilities) and if you are room-sharing, the number of people per room.

Booking conditions and general information should be read carefully so that you really understand what the package contains. We advise that you never make a booking with an operator who won’t commit in writing to everything you have agreed upon.

Tens of thousands of British Muslims complete umrah every year, and pilgrims spend as much as £125 million annually. This amount of spend will always attract criminals and fraudulent operators, and police report that victims of fraud have lost as much as £33,000. The best way to avoid this kind of loss is to ensure you only book your umrah package through a reputable tour operator, who is fully licensed.

The Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL) protects you from loss of the any money you pay for a pilgrimage, and also from becoming stranded overseas, following failure of the travel company. Always check that any agents you engage with to buy an umrah air travel package can demonstrate that they have an ATOL – they should provide a copy certificate, proving that the protection is available.

Our advice is to always ensure:

What documents are required for umrah?

Each traveller will need four passport photographs, each complete with the traveller’s name written on the back. It is important that women cover their hair before being photographed.

Each traveller’s passport needs to still be valid for six months beyond the date of travel. Non-British passport holders must be resident within the UK.

Umrah is no different from any other type of travel, in that it’s important that all necessary pre-travel vaccinations are completed, and that appropriate travel insurance is taken out prior to embarkation.
Check with your tour operator which vaccinations and documents are necessary at the time of booking - requirements do vary from time to time, as new rules, regulations and controls are implemented in response to world events.

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