For many of us, visiting the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah and seeing the Ka’bah with our own eyes is a dream. Doing Umrah is something we all dream of. The Umrah itself is a pilgrimage full of blessings and offers us a quick way to renew our Iman, strengthen our faith in Allah, and ask him for forgiveness and whatever our hearts desire.
Going to perform Umrah hasn’t always been easy. People save up for years to go for the short trip and they make the most of it by visiting the Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) beloved city Madinah as well. However, since COVID has ended and things are slowly going back to normal, the Saudi government has made performing Umrah slightly easier.
And now, by the grace and blessings of Allah SWT, it’s time for your very first Umrah. You’ve been chosen by the Almighty, you’ve got your tickets purchased and your suitcase packed and you’re ready to board your flight.
But wait just a moment.
How prepared are you for this?
Going for Umrah, especially if it’s your first time, isn’t going to be easy. There are heaps of things to keep in mind and be prepared for. By the will and mercy of Allah (SWT), I was able to perform Umrah at the end of February. My first ever Umrah! I’ve learned various things along the way. So here is a checklist of 9 things I think were the most essential for any woman or man going for their very first Umrah to think about.
1. Apply For A visa
To enter Saudi Arabia, you will need a visa. To get your visa, you’re going to need to check out the visitsaudi.com website. The visa application process is a little lengthy and you’re going to need to upload several documents and pay a certain amount, but the visa itself arrives within minutes in your inbox. It is essential that you print out your visa and bring it along with you on your trip as there will be officials, especially at the airport that will ask to see it.
2. Download the nusuk app
Since COVID, the Saudi government has increased measures in the number of people that visit certain historical places. One such place is The Rawdah, the place where the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is buried, located inside Masjid Nabawi. The Nusuk App allows you to book a date and time in advance to go and visit the Rawdah to see the burial site of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his two companions, Abu Bakr (RA) and Umar (RA.) There are thousands of people trying to get into the Rawdah so I’d recommend downloading the app and booking a slot at least a month in advance. Men and women have separate entrances and separate bookings.
3. Make Your Intention to Perform Umrah
If you’re on a flight to Jeddah and you take Saudi airlines, there is usually an announcement that is made informing all the passengers about passing the Miqat. The Miqat is the boundary where Muslims that have made an intention to perform Umrah or Hajj must don their Ihram and be in a state of Ihram. For the men, that means wearing the physical Ihram (the two pieces of white cloth) and performing two rak’at of Salatul Ihram. For women, while we don’t have a physical cloth that constitutes being in the state of Ihram, it’s important that we make our intention and perform the two rak’at anyway.
4. where to go first: Makkah or Madinah?
Once you land in Jeddah, you’ll either have to take a train or taxi to Makkah or Madinah. And that decision can be quite difficult. Some people prefer seeing the Prophet’s city first, learning more about him, and visiting all the important places before heading to Makkah to perform Umrah. Others prefer performing their Umrah first before going to Madinah. During my Umrah, my family and I opted for the latter and performed our Umrah as soon as we got to Makkah from Jeddah. Both ways are fine so it totally depends on what you would like to do first!
5. How to Travel: train or taxi?
Getting to and from Makkah and Madinah has been made ten times easier with the introduction of the Haramain high-speed train. This train takes you to Makkah and Madinah from Jeddah and between the two holy cities in a matter of a few hours. It’s quite a luxurious train and the price is quite reasonable. The only problem is the restrictions on luggage. There are strict luggage requirements you have to follow and if you’re going with a family, or have too many bags, it might cause problems. Taking a taxi, on the other hand, maybe an easier choice. It will take longer to get to your destination but luggage won’t be an issue and you can find taxis almost everywhere.
6. hotels and airbnb’s near the haram
When you’re booking accommodation, it’s obvious you’d want something as close to Haram as possible. However, the closer you get to Haram, the higher the prices go. I used booking.com to find a hotel that was about a half-hour walk from the Kaaba in Makkah and the price was quite reasonable. In Madinah, I used Airbnb and found a small accommodation only 10 minutes away from Masjid-un-Nabawi. When you’re looking online, try and find hotels or accommodations that are within walking distance to Haram. Taking taxis to and from Haram can be quite costly.
7. learn about how to perform umrah
Before you embark on the blessed journey, take your time to do some research on how to perform an Umrah, especially if it’s your first time going. There are books, articles, and YouTube videos on the pilgrimage that will assist you in learning about the basic steps. Unless you’re going in a tour group with a guide, you’ll most likely have to venture around the Haram with your own knowledge. The Tawaf (walking around the Ka’bah 7 times) and Sa’I (going between Safaa and Marwa 7 times) are both long processes and men are required to do so without any shoes and socks. However, for women, we can wear socks. So if you want to avoid getting blisters, I’d recommend wearing socks the whole time.
8. bring a small bag
While you’re packing your bags, make sure you take a sling bag, cross-body bag, or a small backpack that is light and easy for you to hold. You will need a place to keep your shoes, water bottle, phone, and prayer mats in. Getting a spot inside the actual Haram is quite difficult as there’s always a rush (try to arrive 30 minutes to an hour before each salah if you want to secure a spot inside the masjid!) but even when you’re praying on the tiles, you’ll need a place for your shoes and you’ll need a prayer mat to pray on.
9. remember your intention
Of course, the main reason we go to Umrah is to ask Allah for His forgiveness, worship Him, and ask him for blessings. While you’re in Makkah and Madinah, there are several things that can be a bit distracting (like the numerous shops and malls!) but you’ll have to remind yourself of the reason you are there. It’s also always great to go to Ziyarat and see all the different places that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is associated with and visit different masjids around the two cities. Try and book a taxi for Ziyarat, and do your best to feel as connected to Allah as you can.
The people who go to Umrah are the ones chosen by Allah and we should always make dua that one day, Allah SWT chooses us to visit His house and worship Him in the best place possible.