Traveling to Saudi Arabia for the Umrah pilgrimageby | October 2, 2023
Saudi Arabia has the distinct honor of being home to the two holy cities in Islam: Mecca and Medina. Millions of muslims take part in pilgrimages to those two places every year to perform Umrah and Hajj.
The history of Umrah can be traced back to the Prophet Muhammad, who in 629 CE performed the first Umrah with 2000 of his followers. They made the pilgrimage from one holy city to another: from Medina to Mecca.
What is Mecca and why is it so important to Islam? First of all, this city was the birthplace of the Prophet. It’s also where the Kaaba is located, the building in which direction muslims pray five times a day and the most sacred place to the Islamic religion. All Islamic pilgrimages go through Mecca, specifically its Grand Mosque (where the Kaaba is).
In this article, you will learn about the Umrah pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and all you need to perform it.
What is Umrah?
Umrah is a pilgrimage to Mecca performed by Muslims from all over the world. It can be done whenever the pilgrim wishes to, unlike other types of pilgrimage (like Hajj) that are done in specific times of the year following the Islamic lunar calendar. Umrah’s meaning is “to visit a populated place”.
During Umrah, pilgrims flock to Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque, located in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. This is the holiest place in Islam, home of the Kaaba. Although it’s considered a “minor pilgrimage” and it’s not mandatory unlike Hajj, it’s still very important in Islam.
Umrah is an act of gratitude and devotion towards Allah that can be performed as many times as a person likes during their lifetime. It’s also used to ask for forgiveness and clean oneself of sins.
There’s no age limit to perform Umrah, but women under 45 years old have to be accompanied by a male older than 17. However, women older than 45 can do it without the company of a male relative.
What is Hajj?
Hajj is the most important pilgrimage in Islam. It takes place specifically between the 8th and 13th of Dhul Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Millions of people from all over the world perform Hajj every year.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It’s also mandatory for those who can afford to do it, both physically and financially. Every muslim should try to perform Hajj once in their lifetime, and it can be done more than once.
Hajj takes between five or six days to be performed. After that begins the festival of Eid al-Adha.
Differences between Hajj and Umrah
Although they are both holy rituals and similar, Hajj and Umrah have some key differences between them:
- Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and it’s mandatory for all Muslims who are able to do it. Umrah is voluntary.
- Hajj can only be performed between the 8th and the 13th of Dhul Hijjah. Umrah can be performed on every day of the year except during Hajj.
- The ritual for Umrah is much shorter than Hajj. It can even be done in one day, whereas Hajj is a bigger and longer commitment, both in time and financially.
How to perform Umrah
The ritual of Umrah has three pillars: Ihram, Tawaf and Sa’I. One must submit oneself to Allah and perform all these rituals to be free of sins.
A piece of advice: be prepared to walk a lot during Umrah. You need to be fit enough to perform all parts of the ritual!
Ihram is a holy state that a pilgrim must reach when at Miqat (the boundary that one must cross before beginning the Umrah rituals, it’s a physical place).
Once at Miqat, pilgrims have to wear the special Ihram clothes. For men, this means clothing without stitches, clothes that weren’t sewn. They must wash and then wear a white piece of clothing that resembles a sheet. They can’t wear underwear and socks, and their head has to be uncovered. Women can wear whatever they like as long as they cover their entire body (except hands and face).
After changing their clothes, the pilgrim has to declare their intention to enter Ihram and recite a prayer repeatedly.
Then, once inside the Grand Mosque, they have to go to the Black Stone repeating takbir (Allahu Akbar).
The next stage is to perform the Tawaf. This ritual consists of circling the Kaaba seven times and kissing the Black Stone every time you pass near it. If the pilgrim is far away, they must at least point at it. The seven circles have to finish exactly where they started.
The last part of the ritual consists of walking or running seven times between Safa and Marwa, two hills that are now incorporated to the Grand Mosque of Mecca.
To finish performing Umrah, men have to shave or cut their hair. Women don’t have to shave entirely (it’s forbidden for them), but they do have to cut it a little.
What’s the best time for Umrah?
Unlike Hajj, Umrah can be performed at virtually any time of the year. However, each season has its own advantages and disadvantages:
- Summer: the cheapest time to perform Umrah because of the extreme heat. Pilgrims who pick the summer for Umrah have to be prepared for the high temperatures, but the cost of the pilgrimage will be far lower than during the other seasons.
- Winter: the most expensive time for Umrah. The weather is amenable and it’s the season of Ramadan, which increases the amount of people performing Umrah.
- Spring: another high season for Umrah. The weather isn’t as hot as during the summer, which makes it a popular season for pilgrims.
- Autumn: the prices are lower than during winter or spring and the weather is not as extreme, especially during the cool nights.
How much does Umrah cost?
It’s possible to buy an Umrah package to perform the pilgrimage, with prices varying according to the time of year the person chooses for the trip to Mecca.
The price for Umrah packages is about USD$2.000, which can increase or decrease according to the one you choose. They usually include the stay in a hotel, sightseeing, food and transportation.
For example, an Umrah package from USA can go for about USD$3.000, but other cheaper options have prices starting from about USD$600.
Do you need an Umrah visa to perform the pilgrimage?
You will need to stay up to date on all the entry requirements for Saudi Arabia to avoid any inconveniences.
It’s a tourist visa with a length of stay of 90 days. Since it allows for multiple entries, you can leave and reenter Saudi Arabia as many times as desired until reaching those 90 days inside the country.
This is a valid Umrah visa, but only for Muslims, who can’t use it during Hajj. Non-Muslims can request the same visa, but they can’t establish Umrah as their reason for traveling.