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One of the holiest Pilgrimages!

Umrah is a pilgrimage of Islam to the holiest city for Muslims- Mecca, Saudi Arabia. This can be undertaken during any time of the year unlike Hajj which is undertaken according to the Islamic Lunar Calendar. A Muslim must assume Ihram a state which is obtained after the cleansing and purifying rituals. This is according to their law i.e., Sharia, they have different conditions for different Pilgrims traveling through various means. Umrah majorly consists of two main rituals- Tawaf and Sa'i. Tawaf is circling round the Kaba, the black shire in Mecca which is called "house of god". Sa'i follows Tawaf between the two hills Safa and Marwah, a walk that remembers Hagar's search for water. The Umrah is completed with Halqh, i.e either complete or partial shortening of hair. This is a highly recommended pilgrimage but not mandatory. This can be completed in a few hours as compares to Umrah which takes about a few days. This can be a substitute of Hajj, however, this also manifests solidarity of Muslims and their submissions to God.

There are also types of Umrah which are based on pilgrims wish whether or not to perform Umrah in the Hajj period, Thus increasing the rewards derived out of it. Rituals of Umrah are performed first followed by that of Hajj if a pilgrim wishes to perform them together. Umrah is considered one of “enjoyment"- Umrat al-tamattu and is composed of a fuller Hajj of enjoyment- Hajjultamattu.

When the Umrah is performed without continuing to perform Haj, it is a "single" Umrah - UmrahMufradah.

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History of Umrah

Mecca was earlier occupied by Arab Pagans, they used to worship idols inside Mecca. Thus there was no grant of admittance to the Holy Site and the right to practice the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. Performance of Hajj was prescribed by the Quran and it is reported that throughout Muhammed's era, the Muslims wanted to ascertain the right to perform Umrah and Hajj to Mecca.

According to the traditional Muslim stories, Muhammad dreamt of performing the ceremonies of Umrah while at Madinah. Following which he and his followers approached Mecca from Medina. They were denied the access to Mecca by a local tribe- Qurayash at Hudaibiya. They were requested by Muhammad that he and his followers only wished to perform a pilgrimage, and subsequently leave the city, but in vain since the Qurayshites disagreed.

Muslim Prophet Muhammad didn't want to use force to enter Mecca, hence Diplomatic negotiations were held and In March, 628 CE treaty of Hudaibiya was drafted and signed. It held that starting the following year ten years free of resentments, during which the Muslims would be permitted a three-day-long entree per year to the holy site of the Ka'aba.

The following year after this treaty was formed 2000 followers proceeded to perform the first Umrah which lasted for three days. After the transfer of power, the people of Mecca who has driven away the early Muslims and fought against them were afraid of retaliation. However, Muhammad chose to forgive them all.

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There are a set of rituals which are performed by the pilgrims which symbolize the lives of Ibrahim, Hajar. Pilgrims must enter the premises of Mecca in a state of Ihram and perform these rituals-

• Tawaf: This is a ritual of circling the Kaaba seven times in an anticlockwise direction. Men are encouraged to take the first three circles in a hurried manner and the following four at a leisurely pace.

• Sa'i: This ritual symbolizes and acts as a commemoration of Hajar's search for water. It involves walking back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah. There is a well of Zamzam which is a source of water that has sprung as a result of baby Ishmael hitting the ground with the foot.

• Halq or Taqsir: Halq is a ritual of shaving of head completely, usually performed on men. Taqsir is shortening of hair typically saved for women who cut a minimum of one inch. The pilgrims can go out of Ihram once these rituals are complete. There are slightly different methods followed by different sects of Islam. Pilgrims also drink water from the well of Zamzam even though it is not a part of the ritual.

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Difference between Hajj and Umrah

• Umrah can be performed during any time of the year. Hajj is performed over a specified period based on the Islamic lunar calendar.

• Hajj is more time consuming and involves more rituals, while Umrah can be performed in a few hours even though they share common rites.

• The main difference that lies in Hajj and Umrah is their method of observance and the level of importance, wherein both are Islamic pilgrimages.

• Hajj is obligatory to be performed by every Muslim who is physically and financially capable of it. Umrah is a highly recommended pilgrimage whereas not a compulsory one.

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Visa Policies for Sudi Arabia, for the Hajj or Umrah

Visitors of certain countries are exempt from Visas, while a few can avail it on arrival. Whereas most of the visitors from foreign countries must obtain a visa before arrival. This must be done at Saudi diplomatic missions.

Visa Exemption- Nationals of the countries below do not require a Visa and can enter the country with just their national ID Cards.

• Oman

• Kuwait

• Bahrain

• United Arab Emirates

Visa on arrival or e-Visa

This window of issue tourist visas online and on arrival has come into effect very recently. Citizens holding passports of the countries below can obtain e-Visas online for a fee before arrival or even on arrival. they stay valid for 90 days.

• All EU citizens

• Andorra

• Australia

• Brunei

• Canada

• China

• Hong Kong

• Iceland

• Japan

• Kazakhstan

• South Korea

• Liechtenstein

• Macau

• Malaysia

• Monaco

• Montenegro

• New Zealand

• Norway

• Russia

• San Marino

• Singapore

• Switzerland

• Ukraine

• United States

Admission refusal

Israel citizens are refused admission and transit. Citizens of Qutar too are refused admission, whereas they are allowed to do Hajj.

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