What is Umrah and how important is it?
For those of you just joining us, it does not come as a surprise that the Muslim community overseas has strong ties with its Holy Land (Saudi Arabia). It is forever leaning towards the outstretched arm of Makkah and the otherworldly experiences it offers. Umrah translates to the lesser pilgrimage as opposed to Hajj, which is the greater pilgrimage. This particular sunnah is a highly esteemed religious service that can be undertaken at any time of the year. This is true with the exception of 3 months prior to Hajj. And it is supposed to be a mock pilgrimage preparing devotees for the grander congregation, which is Hajj. It is surely the most representative of Islamic rituals. It is expected to be performed, not once but many times in a Muslim’s lifetime. It is a quest for forgiveness, a journey for glory and an investment for the next world.
But the reward of Umrah in the hereafter is beside the point. That is a solemn promise by Allah the Almighty to the faithful. There are several other social and psychological virtues of Umrah that we must not lose sight of. Pilgrimages to Makkah reunite the Muslim Diaspora. Folks from any side of the political spectrum can easily come together and form bonds with each other. This makes an excellent case in favour of religious fraternities. Analysts have long since lost count of the masses flooding the lounges and terraces of the holy cities. This explains the outburst of hospitality in Saudi Arabia; round the clock as well as the year.
Now that you have made up your mind to perform Umrah it is better to acknowledge the sublime nature of this blessing. And how fortunate it is to be elevated so in the sight of God. Acknowledge it, feel it, experience it and show gratitude for it. Appreciate the fact that you have been singled out for the fulfilment of this great service. Be grateful for the fact that it occurred to you in time and that you were in a position to afford it. Allah thus planted a seed in you, a seed of desire, to mark your attendance at His gates. Now it is your turn.
How to do Umrah step by step?
Invocation for Umrah:
As is the case with all religious practises in Islam, hygiene becomes the first and foremost concern. Before pilgrims can embark on their sacred journey, a thorough bath must be taken. And no bath is complete without a proper trimming of nails close over the fingers and pubic hair closely shaven. Among gents the styles of wearing the beard may vary in shapes and sizes, so long as it is decent and sophisticated. And although women are allowed to wear henna (mehndi) and some jewellery, it is better to stay away from such superficialities.Now offer your prayer of invocation – 2 rakats in all.
The proper dress code for Umrah – Reaching Meeqat and wearing Ihram:
Ihram is more than just a dressing- it’s a state. Every pilgrim, male or female, must enter into this state of minimalism before reaching Meeqat. This is done, as with the rest of the rites and rituals, after resigning to a state of pure simplicity. This humility is manifested in the form of plain clothing. Ihram for gentlemen and ladies is similar in theme but different in scheme. For gents the ihram is plain and simple: white, unstitched and of material very much resembling a towel. It has that touch to it. But women can wear stitched ihram of any colour. As agreed between scholars, the simplest ones are the most desired. Now you can declare your Umrah Ihram Niyat (intention):
اَللَّهُمَّ نَوَيْتُ الْعُمْرَة وَاحْرَمْتُ بِه فَتَقَبَّلْه‘ مِنِّیْ
If at all possible, ihram must be entered after reaching Meeqat. If it is difficult to change into ihram while still in flight, pilgrims can wear it from their departing airports. But they must declare the state after reaching Meeqat by stating the intention. Reaching Rabigh – the Meeqat for pilgrims from the UK – pilgrims can say their intention.
اَللَّهُمَّ اِنِّیْ اُرِيْدُ الْعُمْرَة فَيَسِّرْهَالِیْ وَتَقَبَّلْهَا مِنِّیْ وَاَعِنِّیْ عَلَيْهَا وَبَارِکْ لِیْ فِيْهَا نَوَيْتُ الْعُمْرَة وَاَحْرَمْتُ بِهَا ِﷲِ تَعَالٰی
By reciting this prayer, you hereby assume the title of a pilgrim, a guest of Allah. You will remain so till the end of your Umrah and your eventual return home. Make it certain that your intention is pure and not contaminated by vain desires to impress others. If your intention is only to execute the Almighty’s command, you may proceed. Meanwhile, your regular prayers (the usual five times a day) should not to be missed.
Mark it that King Abdulaziz International Airport is not the Meeqat. Only the natives of Jeddah can officially start from here. Foreign pilgrims often make the mistake of assuming ihram at this airport which is wrong. Ignorance on part of the pilgrim may result in the penalty of Dam. The pilgrim must sacrifice an animal to neutralize the sin.
You will follow this with the Talbiyah which is an announcement of that previous declaration:
لَبَّيْکَ اَللَّهُمَّ لَبَّيْکَ، لَبَّيْکَ لاَ شَرِيْکَ لَکَ لَبَّيْکَ، اِنَّ الْحَمْدَ وَالنِّعْمَة لَکَ وَالْمُلْکَ، لاَ شَرِيْکَ لَکَ-
It is best to keep mp3 versions of Umrah duas in your phone and memorize them from time to time; preferably a few days before you leave for your journey. Make sure to keep Talbiyah in mp3 format as well (or whichever you prefer).
Whereas men are directed to recite the Talbiyah loud and clear, women can say it without raising their voices. In both cases it must be delivered with utmost respect...three times in all. Your entire mannerism should be a display of commitment and modesty. While inside the Haram, this Talbiyah is the special anthem of the pilgrim, the best zikr for him. This will remain so for quite some time. Whenever the pilgrim meets someone, climbs an elevation or descends downhill, every occasion would be marked; every act will be emphasized if this Talbiyah is recited. Whatever place or stance you are in, it reminds you to be humble yet confident, sensational yet steadfast. Keep reciting and walking till you pay homage to the Grand Mosque.
When the Bait Ullah first comes in sight:
The feelings already amplified touch on to new amplitudes when pilgrims enter the Masjid Al Haram. Much attention must be given to details- do not enter with you left foot first and certainly recite this dua:
اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وسلم, اللَّهُمَّ افْتَحْ لِي أَبْوَابَ رَحْمَتِكَ
The pilgrim’s first gaze, when it falls upon the Kaaba, renders himself a spectacle. Take a moment to properly savour the sight of its magnificence. Stand apart from the passing crowd and say aloud three times in a row:
الله أكبر لا إله الا الله
Then make as many wishes as you can because this is a special moment of acceptance of prayers. Ask for whatever your heart desires.
The Tawaf or circumambulation of the Kaaba:
This is what they mean when foreigners enquire as to what do Muslims do on a pilgrimage. Pilgrims circumambulate the Holy Kaaba seven times in an anti-clockwise manner starting from where the Hajr e Aswad is fixed. Pilgrims will naturally gravitate towards this black stone – the nucleus of the Kaaba- and show their respective devotion in varying degrees: by kissing, by touching, or simply by gazing at it. Some measures are to be taken before starting your Kaaba Tawaf. The Talbiyah that began with the ihram ends with the start of your first tawaf. Again it is imperative that circumambulation be performed in a state of cleanliness. Neglecting ablution would cause the penalty of dam, even if one round is performed in innocence. However, if the tawaf is done again in the proper state of ablution, the penalty of dam is nullified.
Then, if possible without causing any inconvenience to yourself or hurting anyone else in the process, perform the Istilaam of Hajr Aswad. Istilaam is when a pilgrim places both of his palms on the black stone in such a way that it resembles a prostration. Then kiss the heavenly stone between your palms. If kissing it is out of the question, kiss the hand that touched it. But even if this is not feasible, then the last option would be to place both hands in air (the same process related above), and pretend to kiss it from afar. Recite this while you do:
بِسْمِ اللَّهِ, اللّهُ أكبر
Pilgrims end up committing a sin by spoiling the opportunity which was intended for reaping benefits. The Prophet (peace be upon him) forbad the kissing of this stone if the attempt involved hurting other pilgrims.
From here the tawaf formally begins. During your rounds, make sure that you do not turn your back on the Kaaba. Specifically for men, there are directions to leave one shoulder uncovered while performing the Tawaf of Umrah. This is called Iztabaa'. It’s worth mentioning here that Iztabaa' is only for men, not the women. Men are further directed to Ramal or brisk-walk through the first three sessions (tawaf) and relax for the following four. That is about as sensational as ritual can get, and entirely uplifting so that you do not feel tired. You will approach a particular site officially known as the Yemeni Corner. You cannot miss it. So do not worry about passing it without noticing. Try to touch it with both of your hands or just the right hand as per your situation. In no case are pilgrims allowed to kiss it or touch it with their left hand. This prayer will be recited in a loop from here on:
رَبَّنَا آتِنَا فِي الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَة ً وَفِي الآخِرَةِ حَسَنَة ً وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّار
Since it began from where the Hajr e Aswad is situated, it is logical that the tawaf must end at this very particular spot. Now that you reach the stone a second time repeat the Istilaam. Same as before, show manners appropriate for a pilgrim. In all there are eight times that a pilgrim will have to Istilaam in one Umrah. Pilgrims need only to raise their hands to their earlobes the first time they see the stone. It is no longer required of them to raise their hands in the following turns. Besides, there is no specific recitation during the circumambulations. Any prayer that a pilgrim has memorized by heart can be recited in a rhythm or something he wishes for can be pleaded in His court. Or if a person wishes so, he can remain perfectly silent. Having returned to the same point, when the Hajr e Aswad appears in sight again, you know that you have completed your tawaf. Men can cover both of their shoulders now. Follow this up with a dua and 2 rakats of prayer at Maqam e Ibrahim. But first the dua:
وَاتَّخِذُوْا مِنْ مَّقَامِ إِبْرَاهِيْمَ مُصَلًّى
This point is renowned for the fact that Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him), when he first built the Kaaba, began the construction from this corner. During rush hours it is hard to find a place to pray in convenience. And it is understandable. Pilgrims would do well to offer their prayers anywhere in the Masjid al Haram. There is no problem.
Praying at Multazam:
The connecting wall between the door of the Kaaba and the wall where the Stone is fixed is called Multazam. Prayers made at this point cannot be rejected. Beg for forgiveness.
A short interlude at the Zamzam Well:
For pilgrims to be able to quench their thirst after all the walking a short interval has been allocated for refreshment. Drinking this water has also been incorporated into the systematic worship of Umrah. It cleanses the body and purifies the soul. The well was closed to the public years ago. Today pilgrims see water coolers placed side by side one another in long rows and reach for them after their tawaf. Say this prayer, standing, and facing the Kaaba:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ عِلْمَاً نَافِعَاًً وَرِزْقَاً وَاسِعَاًَ وَشِفَاءً مِنْ كُلِّ دَاءٍ
Then drink to your heart’s content. If there is room enough to sit, the sick and the elderly can drink while being seated. But healthy individuals should drink it while standing.
Tawaf was the first half of Umrah. The next step would be Sai between the fabled Safa Marwa Hills wherein all pilgrims allude to the example of Hazrat Hajara (peace be upon her) with maximum protocol. For this pilgrims would have to leave the Grand Mosque. The Sai comprises 7 laps of brisk walk between the two proverbial hills, back and forth, and is a good way to spend it before you call it a day. Like Ramal before, the Sai further underlines the long-standing Islamic stance of durability and perseverance. Perform your ablution if need be. Otherwise proceed to the Hajr e Aswad, Istilaam for the ninth and final time and exit the mosque:
بِسْمِ اللَّهِ, وَ الصلاة والسلام عَلَى رسول الله, اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ مِنْ فَضْلِكَ,
Greet the Safa Hill on your way up:
إِنَّ الصَّفَا وَالْمَرْوَةَ مِنْ شَعَآئِرِ اللَّهِ فَمَنْ حَجَّ الْبَيْتَ أَوِ اعْتَمَرَ فَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِ أَنْ يَطَّوَّفَ بِهِمَا وَمَنْ تَطَوَّعَ خَيْراً فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ شَاكِرٌ عَلِيْم نَبْدَأُ بِمَا بَدَأَ اللَّهُ بِه
Climb it till you get the best look of the Kaaba. Then raise both arms whilst facing the Qibla and make a high-sounding call three times in a row:
اللّهُ أكبر, اللّهُ أكبر, اللّهُ أكبر
Pray as much as you can. This is the place for it. Ascend the Marwa Hill next. For men, the pace is rushed, particularly through that corridor illuminated in green, but eases after they cross that green stretch. This dua is optional:
لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ وَحْدَهُ لاَ شَرِيْكَ لَه، لَهُ الْمُلْكُ وَ لَهُ الْحَمْدُ يُحْيِي وَ يُمِيْتُ وَ هُوَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيْر؛ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ وَحْدَهُ لاَ شَرِيْكَ لَه، أَنْجَزَ وَعْدَهُ وَ نَصَرَ عَبْدَهُ وَ هَزَمَ الأَحْزَابَ وَ حْدَه
Both men and women, as soon as they reach the Marwa Top, must face the Kaaba, lift their hands to resound the call, again three times:
اللّهُ أكبر, اللّهُ أكبر, اللّهُ أكبر
This concludes your first Sai. Once again head for the Safa Hill. Men must walk briskly through the passage lighted in green and slow down once they come across it. Women are not required to make haste. Reaching Safa concludes the second lap. Maintain this pattern for seven consecutive circuits, and then wind it up at the the Marwa Hill. Here you have the liberty to offer your supplications – 2 nafal rakats. Thus ends your Sai. But not the Umrah. To finish it, men must shave their heads, or trim their hair at least while women can merely cut them an inch shorter. Exit the ihram whenever convenient. There is no more restriction.
The entire stay in Makkah along with detours to illustrious sites like Masjid an-Nabawi, the Quba Mosque, Mount Uhud and the cemetery of Al-Baqi’ allow for some of the most promising experiences out there. After all has been said and done, just remember that your intentions must remain pure as your worship is a direct reflection of that. Make it a point to say Bismillah every step of the way, whether it is that you are looking at the Kaaba for the first time or touching the Hajr e Aswad. Do not engage in idle chit-chat. Like a true Momin, devote your time and efforts to the worship of Allah.