Overview Hajj & Umrah
The ʿUmrah (Arabic: عُمرَة) is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Hijaz, Saudi Arabia, performed by Muslimsthat can be undertaken at any time of the year, in contrast to the Ḥajj (Arabic: 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 (Arabic: 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
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 (Arabic: 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 (Arabic: 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.