What Is Umrah?
The Umrah (عُمرَة) is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Hijaz, Saudi Arabia, performed by Muslims that can be undertaken at any time of the year, in contrast to the Ḥajj (حَـجّ) which has specific dates according to the Islamic lunar calendar. In Arabic, ‘Umrah means “to visit a populated place.” In the Sharia, Umrah means to perform Tawaf round the Ka‘bah (كَـعْـبَـة, ‘Cube’), and Sa’i between Safa and Marwah, both after assuming Ihram (a sacred state). Ihram must be observed once traveling by land and passing a Miqat like Zu ‘l-Hulafa, Juhfa, Qarnu ‘l-Manāzil, Yalamlam, Zāt-i-‘Irq, Ibrahīm Mursīa, or a place in al-Hill. Different conditions exist for air travelers, who must observe Ihram once entering a specific perimeter about the city of Mecca. It is sometimes called the ‘minor pilgrimage’ or ‘lesser pilgrimage’, the Hajj being the ‘major’ pilgrimage which is compulsory for every Muslim who can afford it. The Umrah is not compulsory but highly recommended.
Differences between the Hajj and Umrah
- Both are Islamic pilgrimages, the main difference is their level of importance and the method of observance.
- Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is obligatory for every Muslim once in their lifetime, provided they are physically fit and financially capable.
- Hajj is performed over specific days during a designated Islamic month. However, Umrah can be performed at any time.
- Although they share common rites, Umrah can be performed in less than a few hours while Hajj is more time-consuming, and involves more rituals.
Types of Umrah
A certain type of the Umrah exists depending on whether or not the pilgrim wishes to perform Umrah in the Hajj period, thus combining their merit.
When performed alongside the Hajj, Umrah is deemed one of “enjoyment” (Umrat al-tamattu) and is part of a fuller Hajj of enjoyment (Hajjul tamattu). More precisely, the rituals of the Umrah are performed first, and then the Hajj rituals are performed.
Otherwise, when performed without continuing to perform Hajj, the Umrah is considered a “single” Umrah (Umrah Mufradah).
The pilgrim performs a series of ritual acts symbolic of the lives of Ibrahim (Abraham) and his second wife Hajar, and of solidarity with Muslims worldwide. Pilgrims enter the perimeter of Mecca in a state of Ihram and perform:
- Tawaf (طواف), which consists of circling the Ka’bah seven times in an anticlockwise direction. Men are encouraged to do this three times at a hurried pace, followed by four times, more closely, at a leisurely pace.
- Sa’i (سعي), which means rapidly walking seven times back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah. This is a re-enactment of Hajar’s frantic search for water. The baby Ismael (Ishmael) cried and hit the ground with his foot (some versions of the story say that an angel scraped his foot or the tip of his wing along the ground), and water miraculously sprang forth. This source of water is today called the Well of Zamzam.
- Halq or taqsir: Taqsir is a partial shortening of the hair typically reserved for women who cut a minimum of one inch or more of their hair. A halq is a complete shave of the head, usually performed on men. Both of these signify the submission of will to God over glorifying physical appearances. The head shaving/cutting is reserved until the end of Umrah.
These rituals complete the Umrah, and the pilgrim can choose to go out of ihram. Although not a part of the ritual, most pilgrims drink water from the Well of Zamzam. Various sects of Islam perform these rituals with slightly different methods.
The peak times of pilgrimage are the days before, during and after the Hajj and during the last ten days of Ramadan.
According to the Muslim traditional accounts, access to the Holy Site, and thus the right to practice the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages have not always been granted to Muslims. It is reported in the Muslim traditional accounts that throughout Muhammad’s era, the Muslims wanted to establish the right to perform Umrah and Hajj to Mecca since the latter had been prescribed by the Quran. During that time, Mecca was allegedly occupied by Arab Pagans who used to worship idols inside Mecca.
The Treaty of Hudaibiya
In the early days of Islam, it is claimed that tensions arose in Mecca between its pagan inhabitants and the Muslims who wished to perform pilgrimages within. According to the traditional Muslim stories, in 628 AD (6 AH), inspired by a dream that Muhammad had had while in Madinah, in which he was performing the ceremonies of Umrah, he and his followers approached Mecca from Medina. They were stopped at Hudaibiya, Quraysh (a local tribe) refused entry to the Muslims who wished to perform the pilgrimage. Muhammad is said to have explained that they only wished to perform a pilgrimage, and subsequently leave the city, however the Qurayshites disagreed.
Diplomatic negotiations were pursued once the Muslim Prophet Muhammad refused to use force to enter Mecca, out of respect to the Holy Ka’aba. In March, 628 AD (Dhu’l-Qi’dah, 6 AH), the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah was drawn up and signed, with terms stipulating a ten-year period free of hostilities, during which the Muslims would be allowed a three-day-long access per year to the holy site of the Ka’aba starting the following year. On the year it was signed, the followers of Mohammed were forced to return home without having performed Umrah.
The First Umrah
The next year (629 AD, or 7 AH), the Muslim tradition claims that Muhammad ordered and took part in the Conquest of Mecca in December 629. Following the agreed-upon terms of the Hudaibiya Treaty, Muhammad and some 2000 followers (men, women and children) proceeded to perform what became the first Umrah, which lasted three days. After the transfer of power, the people of Mecca who (according to the Muslim traditional narrative) had persecuted and driven away the early Muslims, and had fought against the Muslims due to their beliefs, were afraid of retribution. However, Muhammad forgave all of his former enemies.
Ten people were forgiven,and not to be killed after the capture of Mecca: Ikrimah ibn Abi-Jahl, Abdullah ibn Saad ibn Abi Sarh, Habbar bin Aswad, Miqyas Subabah Laythi, Huwairath bin Nuqayd, Abdullah Hilal and four women who had been guilty of murder or other offences or had sparked off the war and disrupted the peace.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia