‘The Hajj is obligatory, and Umrah is a voluntary act’
"Umrah" in different sources is a "visit", "intention" or "aspiration". It's so-called Small Hajj, which is optional, yet, in terms of influence on the life of a pilgrim and those around him, - is comparable to the Big Hajj.
The principal difference between the Umrah and Hajj is in the time of pilgrimage: any months except for the ones intended for the Hajj. There is something in the rituals as well: compared to the Hajj, Umrah does not require spending the afternoon and night in three districts near the Mecca.
Other basic rituals are similar: state of Ihram ("Al-Ihram"), the walk around the Sacred Kaaba ("Tawaf"), the walk between the hills of Safa and Marva ("Sai"), shaving and cutting the hair ("Halq").
The conditions, under which Hajj and Umrah would be performed correctly, are the same. The pilgrim must:
- to be a Muslim;
- to reach the age of sexual maturity (according to religion, from the age of 15);
- to have a rational mind;
- to have free will (not to be imprisoned);
- to be able to perform the pilgrimage.
The last one means physical capacity (to be healthy enough or to delegate in their own name to another person), financial capacity (to pay the Hajj without borrowing and to leave enough money to the family), security (not to endanger someone's life). A husband or a cognate of age over 18 years must accompany women under 45 years.
There are forbidden and desirable actions before and during pilgrimages, however, the minimum that they both carry with them, is the test of faith and cleansing from sins by the difficulties of the road.
The historical meaning of Umrah
Some theological scientists interpret Umrah as "mandatory if possible".
In the Sunnah, when the Messenger speaks with regret to the Prophet about his father's inability to make the pilgrimage due to his state of health, the importance of Umrah is emphasized by the Prophet's words: "Make the Hajj and Umrah for the father!"
In the Quran and Hadith, the value of Umrah is highlighted more rather than its mandatory.
The cost of tours depends not so much on the "stardom" of the hotel as on its remoteness from the Kaaba and the mosque of the Prophet Mohammed in Medina.
On average, a 10-day tour for Umrah will cost you USD 1000-1500. For comparison: the Hajj tour ranges from USD 2000 (by bus from the Caucasus) to USD 5000 and higher (direct flight from Moscow). Some people get to Mecca by bicycle, but taking into account the difficulties at the borders, it is better to use the plane.
Russian Muslims often go to perform Umrah 1-3 weeks before the Hajj to perform both pilgrimages in a single trip. During this time, they visit cities and historically significant places, where the special sacred spirit is physically felt.
What to see in Mecca
Needless to say, the attitude towards such a controversial activity as a party in Saudi Arabia in general. Mecca has even a lot more religious atmosphere.
However, there is enough entertainment available in this area:
- Shopping malls with leisurely repasts, cinemas, shopping, and meals again;
- Abraj Al-Bait is a great place with amusements for children;
- A sightseeing tour of the landmark places on the ground subway;
- Moonwatching Center;
- Ta'if, near Mecca, with its rose gardens and King Fahd Park;
- Mountain climbing near the city;
- Relaxation after excursions in baths, hammams, fitness centers and professional massages.
It is assumed that the pilgrim will first visit all-important religious monuments, mosques, and caves.
In Mecca you should try all the food: it tastes as good as it is diverse! Here you can find American chain diners, as well as cuisines from India, the Middle East, and South-East Asia; there are a lot of places with dishes from Pakistan, Central Asia, and Bengal. At every step, there are fragrant tea-houses; right next to the mosque, there are natural juices of apples, strawberries, and mangoes.
Umrah is not a tourist trip, but a challenge. Testing faith and spirit through the path and touching the holy sites of the Muslim religion.