The Journey to Umrah: Rituals, Visas, and What You Need to Know

What is UMRAH?

In Arabic, the word “Umrah” (عمرة) means “to visit a populated place.” In the Islamic context, it refers to the pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, which involves specific rituals performed in and around the Holy Kaaba, the revered House of God. Millions of Muslims, from around the world, travel annually to Mecca to perform Umrah, a profound spiritual journey embarked to recognize Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala – Glory to him, the exalted) as the source of peace and to connect with Him in a quest to cleanse the soul.

Umrah is a voluntary act of love, devotion, and gratitude to Allah, and this major pilgrimage ritual can be performed at any time of the year. It is a path to purify one’s soul, heart, mind, and body from past sins, aiming to stand out on the day of Resurrection. A significant number of pilgrims choose to undertake the Umrah pilgrimage during Ramadan or in the preceding Islamic lunar months of Rajab and Sha’ban. It is a widely held belief among Muslims that these sacred months offer heightened mercy and acceptance of prayers, along with an increased reward for acts of worship.

Umrah, Mecca

Umrah is a pilgrimage that Muslims can perform at any age, and there is no restriction on the number of times one can participate in it throughout their life. Regarding travel companions, it is required for women under the age of 45 to be accompanied by a mahram – a male relative who is at least 17 years old. Women who are 45 years or older have the option to travel with organized tour groups without the necessity of a mahram.

What is the difference between Umrah and Hajj?

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey and can support their family during their absence. It is a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and must be carried out during a specific period in the Islamic lunar month of Dhul Hijjah.

In Arabic, the word “Hajj” (حج) literally means “to intend a journey.” This definition reflects the significance of the pilgrimage in Islam, emphasizing the intention and spiritual commitment behind the journey to Mecca, which is considered the holiest city for Muslims. The rites of Hajj include several days of specific rituals, including Tawaf (circumambulating the Kaaba), Sa’i (walking between the hills of Safa and Marwah), and shaving or shortening the hair, and standing on the Plain of Arafat. The Hajj pilgrimage is a profound demonstration of the solidarity and humility of Muslims around the world.

The Hajj is one of the largest annual gatherings in the world, with over two million pilgrims attending from around 188 countries each year. It is estimated that several million more pilgrims perform Umrah every year, most likely because it is cheaper and faster to perform. In contrast to the Hajj, the holy journey of Umrah takes just several hours to complete and can be performed at any time of the year. Only between the 8th and the 13th of Dhul Hijah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar, can the Hajj be performed.

While Umrah is voluntary, Hajj is an obligatory pilgrimage for those who can afford it and are physically fit. Muslims who can perform Hajj should do it at least once in their lives, as it’s one of Islam’s five pillars.

What is the Importance and Benefits of Umrah?

Umrah holds great spiritual significance for Muslims. It is seen as a means to cleanse the soul, seek forgiveness, and strengthen one’s faith. While not obligatory like Hajj, it is highly recommended and brings numerous spiritual rewards, including a sense of unity with fellow Muslims and an opportunity for personal reflection and spiritual growth.

Umrah offers an opportunity for Muslims to renew their faith, seek forgiveness, pray for their needs, and be cleansed of their sins. Additionally, in order to gain closer to Allah Almighty, Umrah is considered one of the best deeds one can perform.

Not only during this minor pilgrimage, but throughout a Muslim’s life, it has a profound impact on their spiritual and mental well-being. It’s more than simply a way to clean the slate.

  • Spiritual Purification: Umrah is seen as a means of cleansing oneself from past sins. The act of performing Umrah is believed to bring about spiritual renewal and a fresh start.
  • Demonstration of Faith: Completing Umrah is a way for Muslims to express their devotion and commitment to their faith. It is an act of worship and submission to Allah’s will.
  • Connection with Islamic History: Performing Umrah allows Muslims to retrace the steps of the Prophet Muhammad and other figures central to Islam, thereby deepening their connection to their faith’s history and traditions.
  • Enhanced Sense of Community: During Umrah, pilgrims from all around the world gather in a display of global Muslim solidarity. This experience fosters a sense of brotherhood and unity among the ummah (Islamic community).
  • Personal Reflection and Growth: The journey and rituals of Umrah provide an opportunity for deep personal reflection and growth. It is a time for prayer, contemplation, and seeking forgiveness, which can lead to greater self-awareness and personal development.
  • Physical and Mental Challenge: The physical acts of Umrah, such as Tawaf and Sa’i, are not only rituals but also serve as tests of endurance and commitment, strengthening one’s mental and physical discipline.
  • Reward from Allah: Muslims believe that performing Umrah brings reward (thawab) from Allah, which includes blessings in this life and the hereafter. It is seen as a way of earning divine favor and a means of getting closer to Allah.
  • Opportunity for Charity: The journey to Umrah often includes opportunities for giving charity and helping others, which is a key aspect of Islamic teachings and a source of spiritual reward.
Umrah, Mecca

In summary, Umrah offers a unique blend of spiritual, personal, and communal benefits, making it a cherished practice in the Islamic faith.

What are the Umrah Rituals and Practices?

The Umrah pilgrimage consists of several key rituals and practices that are performed in a specific sequence. These rituals are deeply symbolic and are meant to reflect devotion, humility, and the unity of Muslims. The main rituals and practices of Umrah include:

  • Ihram: This is the initial step and involves entering a state of sanctity. Pilgrims must perform ablutions, declare their intention (niyyah) for Umrah, and don two white seamless cloths (for men), symbolizing purity and equality. Women wear modest clothing and a headscarf. From this point, certain worldly activities and behaviors are prohibited.
  • Tawaf: Upon arrival at the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, pilgrims perform ‘Tawaf,’ which involves circling the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise direction. This act symbolizes the idea of life revolving around the worship of Allah. Pilgrims often try to kiss or touch the Black Stone (Hajar al-Aswad) if possible, emulating the Prophet Muhammad.
  • Sa’i: This is the ritual of walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, located near the Kaaba. It commemorates the search for water by Hagar, the wife of Prophet Abraham, for her son Ishmael. This act symbolizes the struggle and devotion of Hagar.
  • Halq or Taqsir: After completing Sa’i, male pilgrims either completely shave their heads (Halq) or trim their hair (Taqsir). Women generally trim a small portion of their hair. This act represents a physical manifestation of being cleansed from sins and a renewal of one’s life.
  • Prayers and Recitations: Throughout the Umrah, pilgrims engage in prayers and recitations of the Qur’an. Specific supplications are recited during Tawaf and Sa’i.
  • Drinking Zamzam Water: Pilgrims often drink water from the Zamzam well located within the Masjid al-Haram. This water is considered blessed and drinking it is a part of the ritual.

**Completion of Umrah**: After performing these rituals, the Umrah is considered complete. Pilgrims can then change out of their Ihram garments and resume normal activities that were restricted during Ihram. It’s important to note that while these are the main rituals of Umrah, the experience is also characterized by a general atmosphere of devotion, reflection, and community. Pilgrims often spend additional time in prayer, reading the Qur’an, and engaging in other acts of worship during their stay in Mecca.

Umrah, Mecca

The simplicity of the rites, the gathering of Muslims from diverse backgrounds, and the profound atmosphere of Masjid al-Haram all contribute to making Umrah a deeply spiritual and memorable experience for those who undertake it.

What are the Umrah Visa requirements?

Do I Need an Umrah Visa?

Yes, for non-Saudi citizens, an Umrah visa is required. Except for citizens of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar, all international pilgrims are required to obtain an Umrah visa to participate in this event. However, an important update was made by the Government of Saudi Arabia in April 2022, stating that individuals holding a valid Schengen, US, or UK visa are now eligible to perform Umrah without the requirement of a separate Umrah visa.

For Muslim individuals who lack a Muslim name and intend to undertake Umrah in Saudi Arabia, we recommend carrying a certificate from a mosque or Islamic center in their country of origin as evidence of their religious beliefs.

What Is an Umrah Visa?

An Umrah visa is a specific type of visa issued by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Muslims wishing to perform the Umrah pilgrimage. It is different from the regular tourist visa.

Umrah Visa Requirements 2024

To ensure your visa application goes smoothly, you should submit certain documents according to the Umrah visa policy. Check out which documents you need to prepare to apply for an Umrah visa:

  • A passport that remains valid for no less than six months from the entry date into Saudi Arabia and at least two unused pages for stamping by the Immigration Officer.
  • A completed Umrah visa application form.
  • Two recent passport-sized color photographs with a white background.
  • Confirmed the round-trip airline ticket.
  • A vaccination certificate demonstrating evidence of immunization against meningitis and other diseases recommended by the Saudi Ministry of Health should be provided
  • Evidence of a relationship between female pilgrims and their ‘mahram’ (partner/brother/father)
  • A copy of hotel reservation confirmation or travel itinerary in Saudi Arabia.
  • Travel insurance covering Covid-19 is required by the Government to process visa applications
  • Applicants with non-Muslim names should submit proof from their local masjids or Islamic organizations verifying that they’re Muslims.
  • A notarized letter of consent is required for females under 45 years of age who are traveling without a male companion.

Female pilgrims over 45 years of age are not required to accompany a male or provide relationship evidence as long as they go with a group.

How long can Umrah visa holders stay in the country?

The Umrah visa has a validity period of two weeks. However, you will be required to depart from Saudi Arabia by the last day of Ramadan if you are undertaking the Umrah pilgrimage during the holy month of Ramadan, irrespective of whether you have completed a whole two-week stay or not.

Can I do Umrah with a tourist visa?

Indeed, it is permissible. The Government notes that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will grant permission for individuals holding Saudi tourist visas to partake in the Umrah pilgrimage. As a result, citizens from 49 eligible countries who can apply for the Saudi electronic visa now have the opportunity to perform Umrah in the Kingdom. They can obtain their visas conveniently through the Saudi Arabia Immigration Services website which is more convenient and time-saving.

Saudi Arabia has implemented several new initiatives to facilitate the journey of Indian citizens undertaking the Haj pilgrimage. These measures include the provision of visas within a 48-hour timeframe and the introduction of a 96-hour stopover visa. As a result, Indian travelers flying to the West or the Middle East can now obtain a 96-hour stopover visa at the time of their ticket booking. This visa allows them to perform Umrah and visit any city within Saudi Arabia during their stopover.

The Umrah Visa Fees 2024

The cost of applying for an Umrah visa varies depending on the chosen visa category and desired services. Generally, the Umrah visa price ranges between US $100 and US $400. However, additional expenses may apply if you opt to have a travel agent handle your visa application. It is advisable to consult with authorized travel agencies or the Saudi embassy/consulate to obtain precise and up-to-date information regarding the specific fees and any supplementary costs associated with obtaining an Umrah visa.

How long can Umrah visa holders stay in the country?

The Umrah visa has a validity period of two weeks. However, you will be required to depart from Saudi Arabia by the last day of Ramadan if you are undertaking the Umrah pilgrimage during the holy month of Ramadan, irrespective of whether you have completed a whole two-week stay or not.

In April 2024 the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has announced a substantial change in the validity period of Umrah visas. Previously valid for 15 months, these visas will now only be valid for 3 months from the date of issuance.

Understanding the New Umrah Visa Regulations

Here are the key points from the latest announcement:

  • Duration of Validity: The Umrah visa is now valid for 3 months from the date of issuance, instead of the previous 3 months validity from date of entry into Saudi Arabia.
    • The last date for Umrah visa holders to enter Saudi Arabia is 15th Dhul Qi’dah 1445 (corresponding to May 23, 2024).
    • Umrah visa holders must leave Saudi Arabia before 29th Dhul Qi’dah 1445 (June 6, 2024).
  • Objective: The new rule aims to ensure that visas are utilized for their intended purpose, helping to improve the management of pilgrimage affairs.
  • Travel Planning: Pilgrims must schedule their travel within this shortened three-month validity period to avoid any inconveniences.
  • Integration with E-Visa System: This change coincides with the upcoming implementation of an e-Visa system, which is expected to streamline the process significantly.
  • Officials from the Ministry have highlighted that the change is intended to prevent misuse of visas and optimize the planning and readiness for religious visits.

Umrah 2024 Updates

In an effort to enhance the experience of pilgrims, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has introduced specific measures to assist those with disabilities at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. Specialized praying areas will be allocated in both mosques to ensure a more accessible and comfortable praying environment for disabled pilgrims. Additionally, these individuals will benefit from dedicated pathways and routes for carts, facilitating smoother and more effortless movement within the mosques’ premises.

For pilgrims with hearing impairments, the Ministry is providing sign language CDs to help them access religious teachings. Sign language interpretation services will be available during the Friday Sermon to aid in understanding. Moreover, for visually impaired pilgrims, Braille versions of the Holy Quran will be made available, ensuring they too have access to the sacred texts. These initiatives reflect a commitment to making the Umrah pilgrimage more inclusive and accommodating for all worshippers.

Additional Considerations for Traveling to Saudi Arabia

When planning for Umrah, it’s important to consider the cultural and legal norms of Saudi Arabia.

  • Dress modestly and in accordance with Islamic guidelines.
  • Follow the rituals of Umrah correctly. there are strict regulations regarding the conduct, especially in the holy cities.
  • Respect the local customs and laws of Saudi Arabia.
  • Avoid prohibited activities while in the state of Ihram, such as using scented products, cutting hair, or engaging in marital relations.
  • Ensure all actions and intentions are for worship and spiritual purification.

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