Monday, September 6, 2010

Ramadan and Umrah

Ramadan, and particularly the last 10 days of Ramadan, leading into Eid Al-Fitr, is a time for Muslims from around the world to make the lesser (minor) pilgrimage to Makkah, or Umrah. This year a record number of Ramadan visas have been issued to international Muslims for that purpose. As of September 4, according to the Saudi Ministry of Hajj more than 3.8 million Umrah pilgrims had arrived in the Kingdom, since February 2010, as was also reported by Arab News.

Hajj is the major pilgrimage that is the 5th pillar of the Islamic faith, obligatory for those Muslims who are able to do so. Ability includes physical health and financial resources, according to Islam. However, from a practical standpoint, one might add time, and the ability to obtain one of the Hajj visas for a given year. As Umrah visas were halted this year during Ramadan due to potential problems of overcrowding, it seems that the Umrah pilgrimage during Ramadan will also be a challenge in that regard.

Umrah may be performed at any time of the year, and is a valuable spiritual experience for those who have the opportunity. Umrah is a less complex and physically demanding pilgrimage, and in that sense may be better for those who are too physically challenged for Hajj. While not compulsory (fard), Umrah is highly recommended.

Umrah entails a series of rituals which commemorate the lives of the Prophet Ibrahim and his wife Hajar, and show solidarity with the Ummah, or worldwide community of Muslims. To perform Umrah, a pilgrim must first prepare him or her self by observing cleansing rituals (ghusl), and dressing in Ihram: for men two pieces of unhemmed white cloth, the Rida' over the upper body, and the Izar covering the lower part of the body; and, for women, white or black unhemmed robes from head to toe, but leaving the face exposed. These Ihram garments make all pilgrims equal.

After cleansing (ghusl) and dressing in Ihram, the pilgrim verbally declares the intention to make Umrah, and recites the Talbiyah, or affirmation that the pilgrimage is undertaken only for the glory of Allah:

Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. Labbaik, La Shareek Laka, Labbaik. Innal Hamdah, Wan Nematah, Laka wal Mulk, La Shareek Laka

"Here I am at Thy service, O Allah! Here I am at Thy service. There is no partner with Thee. Here I am at Thy service. All praise and all blessings and favours belong to Thee, and all sovereignty is Thine. Thou hast no partner."

Ihram also implies a number of restrictions or prohibitions. It is forbidden to: wear sewn clothes; cut or pluck hair; clip nails; cover the head (men); wear perfume (or use perfumed soap); engage in sexual intercourse; enter into a marriage contract (nikkah); hunt; or cut local trees. It is the combination of these ablutions, attire, and behaviours which allows the pilgrim to enter and maintain a state of Ihram (the name of both the attire and the state), before and until the end of the Umrah.

Ihram must be adopted from well outside Makkah or Madinah at hillside stations created for the purpose, called miqat. A number were established by the Prophet Mohamed for the ease of pilgrims arriving from different directions, with others added later:  Zu 'l-Hulafa (from Madinah), Juhfa (from Syria), Qarnu 'l-Manāzil (from Najd), Yalamlam (from Yemen), Zāt-i-'Irq (from Iraq), Thaneim (from Makkah), and Ibrahīm Mursīa (from India and points east).

There are 3 primary rituals of Umrah while the pilgrim is in a state of Ihram:

1) Tawaf: circum-ambulate the Kaabah 7 times, counter-clockwise

2) Sa'i: rapidly walk back and forth between the 2 hills of Safa and Marwah, as a re-enactment of  Hajar's frantic search for water for Ishmael and herself. This is now done in a covered corridor seen in the photo below to the right of the Masjid Al-Haram.

3) Halq or Taqsir: cut the hair, by either shortening (taqsir) or  shaving (halq) it.

Though not a formal ritual, most pilgrims drink Zamzam water; that is, water from the Well of Zamzam, which is the well created when the baby Ishmael's heel hit the ground. The Ministry of Hajj site gives more detailed advice and suggestions about how the rituals are to be performed, and the prayers and blessings to accompany them.

Umrah performed during Ramadan has special value, making it equivalent to Hajj, and as if one is accompanying the Prophet. The Prophet said that performing Umrah is a way to expiate accumulated sins. Other peak times for performing Umrah are before, during, and after Hajj. However, Umrah performed at any time does not replace Hajj, which remains obligatory for those who are physically and financially able.

In my own extended family there are some who have done both the Hajj and Umrah (Hajj first chronologically). In the case of one couple, they perform Umrah annually, usually during Ramadan. This is of such importance that they missed their daughter's birthing her first child. She had other family supports, and thought this was an appropriate decision.

The Umrah photos here are from this year's Ramadan, and show the workings of the Makkah clock which was set in motion at the beginning of Ramadan. As the water marks show, they are courtesy of Al Riyadh, and more photos may be viewed here.

If you or someone you know has performed Umrah, please share your/their experiences.
What is your impression of the Makkah clock as shown in these images (and those on the Al Riyadh site)?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Related Posts:
Lailat al Qadr, The Night of Power: Quranic Revelation, Prayer, Forgiveness, and The Final 10 Days of Ramadan
Saudi Arabia and Hajj
Hajj and Eid Al-Adha 2009: The Unforeseen--A Deluge of Rain and Flooding

*My sincere thanks to commentator Medina for suggesting this topic. :)


coolred38 said...

The one umrah I managed to perform was a mix of emotions and experience for me. I was incredibly sick for the entire journey...and so was extremely exhausted and out of it during the long bus rides and while in the hotel resting between outings.

It was very spiritual for me...I think I would have found it so even if I hadnt been Muslim then. To think about how many people have stood where I stood...did what I did with the same purpose. Very awesome.

The thing that struck me the most is that at any given time there had to be hundreds if not thousands of people in the vicinity of the inner mosque at once...and yet it always seemed so quiet. Yes there were voices, sounds...feet shuffling...clothes rustling...birds over head etc...but for that many people...the quietness of the place was astounding. I imagine the 3 million plus for haj would be a different story but for my umrah it was a very peaceful, albeit sick, experience.

I also could not bear the taste of the zam zam water...but was literally forced to drink it before or after every single prayer we performed. Well meaning Muslims were intent on drowning me on dry land with their insistance that the zam zam water would cure me.

It didnt, I was still very sick for the return journey home...but not for lack of trying. lol

Anonymous said...

The only time I've been for Umrah was coincidentally, during Ramadhan. It was very spiritual though I probably would habe gotten more from it had I been older. I much preferred Madina to Makkah and it seems everyone I know thinks the same - it just seems more peaceful and at ease with itself.

I remember doing the Sa'i and remember being exhuasted - had to sit down halfway because I was that tired. The people who run up and down carrying weelchaired pilgrims are fun to watch, but I seriously don't know how they do it.

You can only use one word to describe the clock and the accompanying tower - ugly. It seems the age-old phrase 'money can't buy taste' rings true once again ;)

Lots of people think ZamZam tates lovely and refuse to drink anything else - it does have a unique taste to it.

coolred38 said...

I forgot to mention that the third pic down...the arial view of the mosque, is amazing. I didnt think it was real when I first saw it was a painting...which would still be very cool.

I agree with Shafiq that the clock is very ugly...but I much preferred Mecca over Medina. Medina seemed sterile and too commercial. Mecca was old worldly and interesting.

Zam zam water is to minerally for my taste.

oby said...

Coolred said...

"It was very spiritual for me...I think I would have found it so even if I hadnt been Muslim then. To think about how many people have stood where I stood...did what I did with the same purpose. Very awesome."

That is how I picture it in my head. Of course Non Muslims are not allowed, but, I still think it would be moving and very spiritual to feel the energy, the reverence, the "pulse" if you will of so many people in unison praying. Though one may have to be Muslim to understand the words or rituals, I still firmly believe it can be a moving experience for non Muslims as well to be there. Too bad I'll never get to experience it. Have you ever wanted to Chiara?

Wendy said...

My husband was able to do Umrah this year - his first visit to Mecca and Medina. It was a very positive and emotional experience for him as I knew it would be. One day I hope he can also do Hajj. I will never see these areas but at least he can tell me about them.
We attended an Imax movie this summer about a visit to Mecca. It was something to see on an Imax screen. It was about a journey from Morocco to Mecca in the 1300's. Here's the link. Chiara, can you make it a live link please!
I have also seen a documentary about 5 people from different countries going to do Hajj. The cameras followed them through their journey and interviewed them about their experience. Quite lovely.

Haitham هيثم Al-Sheeshany الشيشاني said...

I went on the 1st Friday of Ramadan, the feeling(s) r just indescribable!

Thx 4 the post and wonderful pics.


Susanne said...

Informative post! How far in advance does one prepare herself for umrah? By this I mean how many days/hours does a person get into a state of ihram because I see there are a number of rituals one must go through and cleanliness to maintain and it seems ihram is done from various points and not in Mecca or Medina. Sorry if the information was in the post...I might have overlooked it.
Thanks for sharing this. I'd heard of umrah, but didn't know these particulars.

Umra said...

For those who have performed Umrah or Hajj, it has remained the sweetest journey of their lifetime.

Chiara said...

Thank you all for your comments and sharing your experiences and feelings.
Umra-welcome to the blog and I hope you will comment on older and newer posts of interest.
Thanks again to all!

Ahmed Bukhatir said...

The best information i have read here in the article and comments are also informative.

Ahmed Bukhatir said...

You have described very comprehensively.... everyone has his own opinion and one can have a right to make his or her own statement.


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