A personal account from our contributing writer Zeyna Sanjania
Umrah is a visit to Makkah, the holiest city for Muslims located in Saudi Arabia, and is a spiritual journey taken by Muslims around the world to connect or reaffirm your spiritual relationship with Him.
Sharing this experience with your child increases appreciation and gratitude but also requires a little more planning and patience. This article will give you some pointers to consider if you are planning a trip of your own with your little ones.
What is Umrah?
Umrah is considered the “lesser pilgrimage” of the two performed by Muslims, called Umrah and Hajj, as it is generally able to be completed in a few hours as opposed to Hajj, which is completed in a set number of days and is performed at a specific time of year.
Any Muslim can perform the Islamic pilgrimage of Umrah to Makkah at any time of the year and any number of times in their lifetime (although not compulsory, it is recommended to be performed at least once).
By performing Umrah, a Muslim is able to cleanse oneself of past sins, and it is seen as protection from poverty and the burdens of life because you are spending your wealth and time for God alone.
Before travelling to Makkah
Once you have decided that you are travelling for Umrah with your children, it is best to slowly introduce the concept to them and explain the different stages it entails so that they are aware of what to expect.
- Have daily conversations about what it will be like, where they will go, and perhaps show photos of the hotel where you will be staying on the internet. Answer any questions they may have about the trip in a detailed and positive manner.
- Watch the live streaming of pilgrims on Makkah TV circling the Kabah and get them excited about having them be part of this soon. Get your children to ask other family members to have them watch them on TV at the time you will be there.
- Read stories about Umrah and about the prophets of Islam.
- Do Umrah-related crafts (there are plenty of ideas on Pinterest) that will explain the different stages of Umrah.
Planning your trip to Makkah
Before entering Saudi Arabia, you must ensure you have adhered to the legal requirements such as a visa, travel insurance and accommodation.
It was recently announced that most GCC residents are now eligible for a Saudi Arabia e-visa through Visit Saudi’s online portal, making the entire process much quicker and smoother. This e-visa also allows Muslims to enter for Umrah purposes, and there is no need for a separate Umrah visa.
Make your trip as child-friendly as possible by including airport pickups / drops offs, transportation, complimentary breakfasts, and play areas. Many hotels now offer kids’ clubs where parents can even leave children for the duration of their Umrah under adult supervision, and this also applies if you are not a paying guest staying at the same hotel. Therefore, if this is an option you are considering, research which hotels offer that in advance in your nearby vicinity and would be the best fit.
Due to the regulations introduced during Covid times, at this current time, you are also required to have an Umrah permit for a certain day and time slot when you intend to perform Umrah.
For the most up-to-date and accurate information on permits and such, please refer to the official guidelines that the government of Saudi Arabia apply to you.
Umrah Packing Essentials for Kids
- Clothing: Pack clothes depending on the season you are visiting. Summers in Makkah (June-August) can reach peak temperatures up to 45 degrees Celsius, so light-weight and light-coloured clothes would be best. Winters in Makkah (December to February) can reach lows of 21 degrees Celsius, so thicker clothes and zipper jackets kids can take off depending on how comfortable they are would be best. Regardless of the temperature, try to dress your child in plain clothes without any text or images (such as Disney characters) out of respect; however, the brighter the colours, the better, as your children would be much easier to spot in a sea of white and black clothes.
- Toys: Toys and plenty of them! Open-ended toys are a better pick because children can find different ways of playing with them, such as magnetic tiles or Lego bricks. Other things to keep kids occupied include colouring books, stickers, puzzles, bouncy balls and such. These will keep the kids occupied whilst in the hotel in between prayers. When going to pray, you can have your child carry with them small toys or colouring books; ideally, anything compact and that will not make a lot of noise so as not to disturb surrounding pilgrims.
- Snacks: Take a selection of your child’s favourite and various sizes because you may not be able to stick to your usual routine for lunch and dinner, as everything revolves around prayer timings. There are also often huge queues outside restaurants/food outlets for lunch and dinner after prayer, so your child may get hungry during the wait.
- Devices: It would be a good idea to take your child’s device of choice if they use one for entertainment whilst in the hotel or during airport waiting times. You can preload content your child prefers or one of the many child-friendly Islamic apps with games and prophetic stories, so you are not dependent on internet availability.
During Umrah, Muslims must be in a state of Ihram, which is a sacred state with certain rules apply, such as not using scents on your body, or garments, refraining from cutting your nails, trimming hair and beards and so on from the time you make your intention to perform Umrah until the time of completion.
Apart from the mental state, men must only wear two pieces of white cotton cloths that are unstitched to cover their bodies, whilst women have no restrictions on what garments to wear apart from not being able to cover their face and hands.
The “uniform” of Ihram, especially for men, is a way to unite all Muslims, no matter their colour, race and social status.
Meaning “a stated place or time”, the five Miqat places outside of Makkah is the line where pilgrims intending to perform Umrah must enter the state of Ihram by making an intention and donning the Ihram clothes for males, depending on which direction of the world you are coming from.
For those flying from the UAE to Makkah directly, you will be passing the Miqat in the air, so it is advised to either be in a state of Ihram before your flight or change in the air. Saudi Airlines clearly state when Miqat is being crossed to passengers during the flight with regular announcements.
For those landing in Madinah to visit the Prophet’s Mosque before travelling to Makkah in Ihram, your Miqat point will be Masjid Aisha.
The fastest way to travel from Madinah to Makkah would be to book a train ride on the recently opened Haramain High-Speed Railway, which has a maximum speed of 300 kmph and will cut travel time of what is usually 5 hours by car to roughly 2.5 hours only, a great help when travelling with kids.
The journey is not only fast but also extremely comfortable, and it is recommended to book tickets in advance for a better deal.
Where to stay in Makkah
There is such a huge selection of hotels available in Makkah, each suited for different budgets.
When travelling with kids, I would highly recommend picking a hotel that is a very short distance from the Al Haram Mosque (where Kabah is located) so that children are not too tired out from walking back and forth to the mosque during your stay, especially as there are various hills and mountains the further you are from the mosque.
Some family hotels close to Al Haram Mosque
- Movenpick Makkah Hajar Tower – located in one of the tallest buildings in the world, this is an excellent modern choice for families with suites or interconnecting classic rooms.
- Jabal Omar Hyatt Regency Makkah – a wide range of interconnecting rooms and suites in the centre of the city, some rooms with kitchenettes and washing machine facilities too.
- Makkah Hotel – A wide variety of studios, suites and family rooms, this central hotel includes an indoor play space and babysitting services (paid).
- Makkah Clock Royal Tower, A Fairmont Hotel – one of only a few in the centre offering quadruple rooms and two bedroom suites (many with Kabah views), an indoor kids room is offered.
Umrah consists of a series of ritualistic acts symbolic of the lives of Ibrahim (Prophet Abraham) and his wife Hajar. Pilgrims must enter in the state of Ihram and perform the following:
Tawaf: Circling the Kabah seven times in an anticlockwise direction whilst supplicating prayers and gesturing towards Hajar Al Aswad (The Black Stone).
Sa’ee: Walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, which is a reenactment of Hajar’s frantic search for water as Baby Isma’il cried and finally hit the ground from where miraculously sprung forth water, the source of which is now called the Well of Zam Zam water.
Halq or Taqsir: Shortening a section of the hair by roughly an inch (for females) or shaving the head (for males), both signifying the submission to God’s will over glorifying physical appearance.
Top Tips for performing Umrah with kids:
- Both Tawaf and Sa’ee consist of a lot of walking, so you can either carry your child or have them walk with you. Either way, allocating one adult/parent per child is best, as it can get very crowded. Strollers are not allowed inside the mosque, so opt for a baby carrier/sling for babies or consider safety walking harnesses for toddlers with a tendency to run away from you.
- If you and your partner have more than one child or you don’t think your kids would be capable of completing the entire Umrah with you, consider taking turns to perform Umrah whilst the other takes care of the kids. This way, your child will still feel included in the process, but with no pressure to complete the entire thing at the same pace as you, and in turn, allowing the parent completing Umrah to concentrate on the spiritual aspect without distractions fully.
- Ihram for kids. As long as children are dressed modestly and comfortably, that is all that matters. For those wishing to have their sons dressed in the Ihram clothing, mainly so they have memorable photos to look back on, I would recommend a second set of normal clothes to be taken along too, as Ihram can be restrictive to run around in and they may want to change into different clothes after some time.
- Ensure your child is well fed before starting Umrah, as Umrah can take a few hours to complete. Carrying a selection of snacks with you is also a good idea to keep kids busy and entertained. Plenty of ZamZam water stations are dotted around the mosque, so you could also carry an empty water bottle that you can refill at the stations.
- Ensure your child has used the toilet before starting Umrah, and have younger ones in nappies for those that are not yet potty trained as access to a toilet may be far away or packed with other pilgrims.
- Photograph the special moments if possible, provided you are not disturbing anyone from prayer and have completed your own to the best ability, of course. You will surely want to capture these treasured moments and look back on them.
Safety precautions for Umrah with Kids
The main concern of parents doing Umrah with kids in such a populated and unfamiliar place is the chance of losing their child in the crowd. It is important to take some precautions and have plans in place in case this happens.
- Attach either a wristband or lanyard to your child, clearly labelled with your name and contact details in case they get lost. If old enough to understand, ask them to show this to the nearest police member if needed.
- Decide on a meeting point in case any family member gets lost or that older children can walk towards. Gate numbers are a great help here, as architectural features all tend to look the same, especially as women and men are segregated during prayer times.
- Decide on a special code word that only family members know, ensuring safety and trust in case you have to send another adult to converse with your child if the need arises.
Overall Umrah Experience
Umrah is a spiritual journey that is made even more rewarding when shared with your child. Though it comes with its own challenges, it can be a fun and positive experience for all involved.
Ensuring your children are happy may mean letting go of some house rules and routines, whether giving them another chocolate bar or an extra 15 minutes of screen time. Picking your battles is key when travelling with kids, and buckets of patience are surely needed, but you, as their parent, know your child best and what will work to give everyone involved the best and most memorable experience of a lifetime.
Savour each step you take in this journey, and I am sure you will be looking forward to your next visit to Makkah as soon as you complete this one.
A note for non-Muslims: Islamic law makes entry to Makkah (Mecca) and Madina only possible for Muslims.