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What is Umrah? A comprehensive guide to the Islamic pilgrimage ritual

What is Umrah? A comprehensive guide to the Islamic pilgrimage ritual
iVisa | Updated on Apr 14, 2023

Millions of Muslims, from around the world, travel annually to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah, an Islamic pilgrimage. Umrah is a voluntary act of love, devotion, and gratitude to Allah, and this major pilgrimage ritual can be performed at any time of the year.

If you want to learn or know more about Umrah, keep reading to find out everything you should know about performing Umrah in Saudi Arabia, and the ritual’s history.

You'll also learn about visa requirements to travel to Saudi Arabia, as well as some practical tips.

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What is Umrah?

In Arabic, the word “Umrah” means “to visit a populated place”. This event is a non-obligatory, but important pilgrimage to Muslims to the holy city of Masjid al-Haram in Mecca.

The majority of pilgrims perform the Umrah pilgrimage during Ramadan, or in the two Islamic lunar months leading up to it, Rajab and Sha'ban. During these holy months, Muslims believe that there is more mercy and acceptance of prayers, as well as a greater reward for worshipping.

A Muslim can perform Umrah at any age, and the number of times he or she can do so in their lifetime is not limited. However, women under 45 years old have to be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative above 17. Women over 45 years old can travel with tour groups without a mahram.

A spiritual journey of faith

The first pilgrimage or Umrah, was the first pilgrimage that the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the Muslims made after the Migration to Medina.

Umrah is a journey to the holiest place of Muslims, the holy Kaaba (House of God) in Mecca. Men and women of different ethnic groups, social statuses, and cultures can make this spiritual journey of faith. It is a journey of devotion to Allah.

No matter where Muslims are in the world, they face the Kaaba when offering their five daily prayers.

Difference between Umrah and Hajj

The Hajj is one of the largest annual gatherings in the world, with over two million pilgrims attending from around 188 countries each year. It is estimated that several million more pilgrims perform Umrah every year, most likely because it is cheaper and faster to perform.

In contrast to the Hajj, the holy journey of Umrah takes just several hours to complete and can be performed at any time of the year. Only between the 8th and the 13th of Dhul Hijah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar, can the Hajj be performed.

While Umrah is voluntary, Hajj is an obligatory pilgrimage for those who can afford it and are physically fit. Muslims who can perform Hajj should do it at least once in their lives, as it’s one of Islam’s five pillars.

The importance and benefits of Umrah

Umrah offers an opportunity for Muslims to renew their faith, seek forgiveness, pray for their needs, and be cleansed of their sins. Additionally, in order to gain closer to Allah Almighty, Umrah is considered one of the best deeds one can perform.

Not only during this minor pilgrimage, but throughout a Muslim's life, it has a profound impact on their spiritual and mental well-being. It's more than simply a way to clean the slate.

Umrah rituals and practices

In Islam, there are two types of Umrah: Al Umrah Al Mufradah (optional before performing Hajj) and Umrah Al Tammatu (obligatory before Hajj). Here we talk about the rituals of Umrah in general.

These acts and rituals signify complete submission to Allah, while not glorifying appearance over spirituality. Once all these spiritual acts are performed, the pilgrim is considered free from their sins.

Every Muslim must perform three major pillars of Umrah rituals. The steps to Umrah are as follows.

1. Ihram: Intention for pilgrimage

A worshipper must first enter a state of ihram, a holy state, upon reaching the Miqat. This is the principal boundary through which Muslim pilgrims intending to perform the pilgrimage must cross.

Pilgrims wash and cleanse themselves after reaching the miqat, then take off their stitched clothes and put on the Ihram attire. The next step is to declare one's intention to enter ihram, and have to recite the talbiyah, a prayer.

In order to reach the Kaaba, pilgrims must say it repeatedly. At the Kaaba, they must approach the Black Stone while uttering takbir (Allahu Akbar).

2. Tawaf: Around the Holy Kaaba

The Tawaf is then performed, which involves circling the Kaaba seven times and kissing the Black Stone every time you pass it or point at it from afar.

A pilgrim should pray two rakats after completing Tawaf. These prayers are only valid if the pilgrim recited the du'aa: supplication throughout each of the seven circles.

To complete all seven rounds, the pilgrim should finish the seventh exactly where they began.

3. Sa’I: Seven rounds between Safa and Marwah in worship

Once Tawaf is completed, Sa'I begins between Safa and Marwa, by walking between the two points. To see the holy Kaaba from the Safa door with supreme devotion and love, pilgrims must ascend the hill of Safa.

Then, they must climb down again and move towards the hill of Marwah whilst reciting ‘Subhan Allah’ and approaching the two green pillars. They have to repeat this act seven times, each round being at least 450 meters long.

In order to complete the Sa'i, the male pilgrims must shave or shorten their hair, while the women must cut their hair in half or less.

Umrah duas and supplications

Allah has given humanity the gift of dua, an incredibly personal means of connecting and communicating with Him.

A dua is an act of supplication, meaning to ask or beg for something with humility or earnestness. Muslim worship involves asking Allah for forgiveness, mercy, favors, and answers to prayers.

It is not necessary to recite verses specific to performing Umrah. There are however duas that the Prophet Muhammad prayed at various points, and other recommended duas to recite while performing Umrah:

  • Dua for traveling

  • Dua for the first sight on Kabba

  • Dua for entering Haram

  • Dua before entering in ihram

  • Dua for ihram

  • Dua for Tawaaf and after completing Tawaaf

  • Dua while drinking Zamzam

  • Dua for Sa'ii

  • Dua while leaving the Masjid-al-Haram

How to prepare for Umrah

It’s recommended to prepare for Umrah in three different ways: physically, mentally, and spiritually. Here are some tips:

  • Prepare to walk (a lot!): The amount of walking you will be doing during Umrah is physically demanding (and you’ll definitely get your 10,000 steps in for the day!). So make sure you’re physically fit by training beforehand.

  • Dress accordingly: Summer can get hot, while temperatures in winter may be a bit cooler. Shopping around will help you find the right ihram for these two seasons. Also make sure to invest in good walking sandals (for men) or shoes and wear them in beforehand.

  • Do your homework: Attend classes or read up about the history, different prayers, rituals, and local customs before you go. This will help you appreciate the Umrah even more, and avoid stress about unknowns.

  • Get spiritually ready: Umrah preparations involve reflection and humility, as well as self-reflection. To go on your trip with a joyful and peaceful heart, you might consider resolving any existing conflicts and differences between you and others before Umrah.

Umrah during different seasons

The great thing about Umrah is that it can be done throughout the year, unlike Hajj. Nevertheless, there are some benefits to the different seasons of the year, such as Ramadan, which is one of the most blessed and virtuous months.

Here are some tips to decide the best time to perform Umrah.

  • Spring: In this season, the temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold. Mecca will be visited by many pilgrims and it can get quite crowded.

  • Summer: This is the hottest season, so there are fewer pilgrims performing Umrah around this time. It is possible to find affordable flights and accommodation, but preparation against the heat is recommended.

  • Autumn: The climate is more humid between September and November, and rain is less common. These months are easier to book, and prices are lower.

  • Winter: In addition to the pleasant weather, Ramadan also takes place during this season. This makes winter one of the most popular seasons to go, and therefore the most expensive.

The cost of Umrah

Various Umrah packages are available throughout the year, and prices vary depending on the month you choose to visit the holy city. A package typically includes airfares, accommodation, meals, and transportation.

The cost of an Umrah package is between USD 1,500 and USD 2,000. Also keep in mind extra costs you may need to spend, such as specific clothing, and a visa to Saudi Arabia, if you need one. Read more about visa requirements below.

Shopping in Makkah and Madinah

After Mecca, Medina is the second most crucial holiday city. Making specific informational purchases for Umrah's performance is mandatory.

  • Men perfume their heads and beards. Women don't perfume themselves.

  • Men should wear a habit composed of two seamless white fabrics rolled around the body, exposing the right shoulder. Do not cover your head or face.

Many pilgrims bring home some souvenirs as a reminder of their incredible journey to Umrah.

Must I apply for the Umrah Visa before I go?

Yes, you must apply for a visa to perform Umrah, depending on your nationality and when you decide to go. Check our Visa Checker Tool to find out if you require a visa, and apply instantly online!

It’s important to note that Umrah can’t be performed during Hajj with the Saudi Arabia Tourist eVisa.

Apply for the Saudi Arabia Tourist eVisa

The Saudi Arabia Tourist eVisa is a Multiple Entry electronic visa that allows tourists to spend up to 90 days in Total in Saudi Arabia for tourism activities, attending events, family visits, leisure, and Umrah (excluding Hajj).

If you want to perform Umrah as a Muslim, and you do not have a Muslim name, we advise you to bring with you a certificate from a mosque or Islamic center to prove your beliefs. Non-Muslims can also apply for the Saudi Tourist eVisa, but cannot perform Umrah.

More questions about traveling to Saudi Arabia?

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