Umrah is a great Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (PBUH). It is an act of worship somewhat similar to Hajj, but with lesser rites and shorter duration.
Let us devote some time here to learn about the details associated with this great act of Ibadah. We shall classify our discussion here broadly into three categories:
Significance & virtues of Umrah, Eligibility criteria, and How & when to perform Umrah.
A. Significance & virtues of Umrah
There are different views about whether Umrah is obligatory or not. I wish to quote a hadith in this context:
Jabir (RA) narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) was asked about whether Umrah was obligatory? He said, “No. But if you perform it, it is virtuous.”
(Hadith No. 931, Chapters on Hajj, Jami’ At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 2). Some scholars who are of the view that Umrah is obligatory consider this hadith as a weak narration, classifying it as a ‘Daeef’ hadith. However, Imam Tirmidhi classifies this narration as ‘Hasan Sahih’ (i.e. fairly authentic).
Imam Shafi’s view is that Umrah is a Sunnah about which we do not know anyone who permitted leaving it, and there is nothing confirmed about it that it is merely voluntary and optional. He further says that Ibn Abbas (RA) considered it obligatory.
Some scholars highlight the importance of Umrah in another manner. According to them, Hajj is of two types:
the ‘Greater Hajj’ (Hajj-al-Akbar) i.e. the Hajj (of the month of Dhul Hijjah), and the ‘Lesser/Smaller Hajj’ (Hajj-al-Asghar) i.e. the Umrah.
Whichever view point we stick to, there is no denying the fact that Umrah is a great Sunnah and whoever is capable of undertaking the journey for this pilgrimage should do it.
We have already talked about virtues of Umrah above and that it is a great Sunnah recommended by our beloved Prophet (PBUH), though not a farz. Let us learn some more facts which highlight on the significance of performing Umrah.
A.1. Umrah is an expiation of sins.
It was narrated that Abu Hurairah (RA) said: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “From one Umrah to another is expiation for what comes in between, and ‘Hajj Al-Mabrur’ brings no reward less than Paradise.”
(Hadith No. 2630, Book of The Rites of Hajj, Sunan An-Nasa’i, Vol. 3; Hadith No. 2888, Chapters on Hajj, Sunan Ibn Majah, Vol. 4).
This narration highlights the virtues of performing Umrah, as doing one Umrah after another removes all the sins of a person during that period.
A.2. Umrah removes poverty.
This is proven from following narration:
Ibn Abbas (RA) said: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “Perform Hajj and Umrah consecutively; for they remove poverty and sin as bellows removes impurity from iron.”
(Hadith No. 2631, Book of The Rites of Hajj, Sunan An-Nasa’i, Vol. 3).
Performing Hajj and Umrah consecutively doesn’t mean that one should keep doing them continuously; rather, it refers to making Hajj sometimes and making Umrah sometimes.
A.3. Umrah is equivalent to Jihad for some.
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah (RA) that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “Jihad of the elderly, the young, the weak and the women, is Hajj and Umrah.”
(Hadith No. 2627, Book of The Rites of Hajj, Sunan An-Nasa’i, Vol. 3).
Thus we see that whoever is not capable of joining Jihad for the sake of Allah, may still reap the rewards associated with Jihad by performing Hajj & Umrah.
A.4. The person performing Umrah is a guest of (or a delegation to) Allah.
Refer to following hadith:
Abu Hurairah (RA) said: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “The guests of Allah are three: The Ghazi (i.e. the warrior who fights in Jihad), the Hajj (i.e. the pilgrim who performs Hajj) and the Mu’tamir (i.e. the pilgrim performing Umrah).”
(Hadith No. 2626, Book of The Rites of Hajj, Sunan An-Nasa’i, Vol. 3).
This is a great honour for the pilgrims, as their journey is purely for the sake of Allah. Another beautiful explanation regarding the honour and high status of the pilgrims is reported by Imam Ibn Majah:
It was narrated from Ibn Umar (RA) that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “The one who fights in the cause of Allah, and the pilgrim(s) performing Hajj and Umrah are a delegation to Allah. He invited them, so they responded to Him, and they ask Him and He gives to them.”
(Hadith No. 2893, Chapters on Hajj Rituals, Sunan Ibn Majah, Vol. 4).
This narration tells us that the status of these three categories of persons is so high that Allah accepts their supplications. In another narration (Hadith No. 2892, Chapters on Hajj Rituals, Sunan Ibn Majah, Vol. 4) it is mentioned on the authority of Abu Hurairah (RA) that if they (these three categories of people) ask Allah for His forgiveness, He will forgive them.
What a great honour indeed!
B. Eligibility criteria
“And Hajj to the House (Ka’bah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, for those who are able to undertake the journey. And whoever disbelieves, then Allah stands not in need of any of the Alamin.”
(Aayah No. 97, Surah Aal Imran, Chapter No. 3, Holy Qur’an).
Referring to the verse mentioned above: “And Hajj to the House (Ka’bah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, for those who are able to undertake the journey”, an obvious question comes to our minds: What is the criterion of being able to undertake the journey?
The criteria for a person being eligible to perform Umrah are similar to the eligibility criteria for Hajj. We have discussed in length about this in the article ‘Hajj – Significance & Eligibility Criteria‘; the article is available at www.quranandhadith.com and may be referred to for further details.
Let us discuss these conditions briefly, one-by-one:
B.1. The first condition for a person is that he/she should be able to meet the financial expenses of his/her journey. Umrah is performed in Makkah and this requires expenses of journey, provisions and other miscellaneous things. Whoever is financially weak will not be able to bear these expenses and hence such a person is exempted from the obligation of performing Umrah.
B.2. The second condition for a person is that he/she should be physically fit and able to undertake a journey. This is yet another important requirement, for the journey may bring the pilgrim across some ups and downs (difficulties) which extremely old and sick persons may not be able to handle alone. Therefore, one has to be physically stable (well) in order to undertake the journey. However, such old people may undertake the journey along with some young persons (like their sons etc.) who can take care of them during the journey.
B.3. The third condition for a person is that he/she should be free of debts. If he/she has borrowed money from someone earlier, then he/she should pay off the debts before proceeding for the journey.Umrah can’t be done by borrowed money. However, if someone willingly sponsors a person financially, then he/she may do so.
B.4. The fourth condition is that one should use Halal wealth. This is very important, as Allah is pure and He accepts only what is pure.
B.5. Additional condition for women – All the conditions discussed above are applicable to both men and women. However, there is a special condition applicable for women who intend to perform Umrah. And this condition is that a woman cannot perform Umrah without a Mahram. Refer to following narration:
It was narrated from Abdullah bin Umar (RA) that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the ‘Last Day’ to travel for a distance of three nights, unless she has a Mahram with her.”
(Hadith No. 3260 (1338), Book of Hajj, Sahih Muslim, Vol. 3).
A Mahram is any person from opposite gender whom she cannot marry i.e. husband, father, brother, son, Maternal Uncle, Paternal Uncle, Brother’s son or Sister’s son. Therefore, if a woman does not have aMahram with her, she cannot proceed for Umrah, even if she is healthy and able to meet the expenses of the journey.
C. When is Umrah performed?
C.1. Is there a specified time during a year to perform Umrah?
There is no fixed time to perform Umrah; it can be performed any time throughout the year. Further, Umrah can be performed at any time of the day or night; there is no restriction to it. Umrah can even be performed along with Hajj, as is done in Hajj-e-Tamattu and Hajj-e-Qiran.
C.2. Umrah in the month of Ramadan
Performing Umrah in the month of Ramadan bears an additional reward for the pilgrim. As per following hadith, the reward of performing Umrah in the month of Ramadan is equivalent to the reward of Hajj:
Umm Ma’qid narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Umrah during Ramadan is equal to Hajj.”
(Hadith No. 939, Chapters on Hajj, Jami’ At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 2).
However, one should be careful that performing Umrah in Ramadan shall bring a reward equal Hajj to him/her, but that does not relieve the person from the obligation of performing Hajj; performing Hajj once in a lifetime is a farz which can’t be compensated for by an Umrah in Ramadan.
C.3. How many times in a life should a person perform Umrah?
There is no restriction about how many times can a person perform Umrah in his/her life. He/She is free to perform Umrah as many times as he/she can afford to. However, there are certain things to be kept in mind in this context.
It is better for us to follow the footsteps of our beloved Prophet (PBUH). So it should be ideal for a person to perform Umrah as many times as the Prophet (PBUH) had performed. Refer to following hadith:
I said to Anas bin Malik, “How many times did the Prophet (PBUH) perform Hajj?” He said, “He performed one Hajj, and he performed four Umrah: An Umrah during Dhul Qa’dah, the Umrah of Al-Hudaibiyah, and Umrah with his Hajj, and an Umrah from Al-Ji’irranah when he divided up the war spoils of Hunain.”
(Hadith No. 815, Chapters on Hajj, Jami’ At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 2).
Therefore, the ideal scenario is performing Umrah four times in lifetime, similar to what our Prophet (PBUH) did. However, this does not restricts anyone from performing Umrah more than four times. Also, if someone ends up doing less than four Umrah in his/her life, this doesn’t mean he/she has committed a sin.
D. How is Umrah performed?
Jabir (RA) said, “The Prophet (PBUH) ordered his companions to perform Umrah and to perform the Tawaf (of Ka’bah, As-Safa & Al-Marwa), and then cut short their hair and finish the Ihram.”
(Chapter 11, Book of Al-Umrah, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 3).
This hadith acts as a guideline for the steps of performing Umrah; omission of any of these steps is not allowed. On the basis of this narration (along with other ahadith), the procedure of performing Umrah, step-by-step, as agreed by all scholars unanimously, is as follows:
D.1. Entering the state of Ihram (Step 1)
Ihram is first of the rites of Umrah; it is one of the pillars of Umrah, and whoever neglects this, his/her Umrah is not complete.
Ihram means the intention to enter the state of consecration for Umrah (and/or Hajj). The word ‘consecration’ means to set aside something or someone as sacred, or to put aside something or someone devoted to a certain cause. The one who enters the state of Ihram is known as ‘Muhrim’. When someone intending to perform Umrah (or Hajj) reaches the ‘Meeqat’, he/she then enters the state of Ihram. ‘Mawaqeet’ (plural of ‘Meeqat’) are the stations for initializing the Ihram. There are certain points in the vicinity of Makkah, for travellers coming from different directions, which have been defined as ‘Meeqat’. This appointment was done by our beloved Prophet (PBUH). It is obligatory for everyone intending to perform Umrah (or Hajj) that he/she assumes Ihram before entering Makkah beyond these points (the ‘Mawaqeet’); anyone who passes these points knowingly without Ihram must return back to the ‘Meeqat’ for Ihram, otherwise the violation requires a Fidyah i.e. slaughter of a sheep in Makkah (for distribution to the poor).
At this step, the pilgrim pronounces his/her Niyyah for performing Umrah; the Niyyah to be pronounced for Umrah is:
Labbaik for Umrah.
After this, the pilgrims may start reciting ‘Talbiyah’, thereby announcing that he/she is now in state of Ihram. The wordings of ‘Talbiyah’ are mentioned in following narration:
Ibn Umar (RA) narrated, “The Prophet (PBUH) would say following for ‘Talbiyah’: Labbaik Allahumma labbaik; labbaik la sharika laka labbaik; Innal-hamda wan-ni’mata laka wal-mulk, la sharika laka.”
(Hadith No. 825, Chapters on Hajj, Jami’ At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 2).
There are lots of rulings, requirements and do’s & don’t(s) associated with Ihram, ‘Mawaqeet’ and ‘Talbiyah’. We have already discussed about these rulings in detail in a separate article titled ‘Ihram‘; the article is available at www.quranandhadith.com, and may be referred to for all details.
D.2. Tawaf (Step 2)
Having completed the requirements of assuming Ihram and pronouncing the Niyyah to perform Umrah, the pilgrim, upon reaching Makkah, goes to ‘Masjid Al-Haram’ to perform other rites of Umrah. It starts with Tawaf of the Ka’bah.
Tawaf means circumambulation of the Ka’bah, done in seven rounds around the Ka’bah in anti-clockwise direction i.e. keeping Ka’bah to one’s left. The round starts from the corner of ‘Black Stone’ and ends at the same corner. After completion of seven rounds around the House, one should perform two raka’at prayer near ‘Maqam-e-Ibrahim’; the stone (or place) on which Ibrahim (AS) stood while constructing the Ka’bah is called ‘Maqam-e-Ibrahim’. Though it is recommended to pray near ‘Maqam-e-Ibrahim’ for Tawaf, yet, if due to crowds etc. one is unable to get place near ‘Maqam-e-Ibrahim’, he/she can pray anywhere inside the sacred mosque.
The procedure of performing the Tawaf, the supplications to be recited in it and other rulings associated with Tawaf have been discussed in detail in another article titled ‘Tawaf‘; the article is available atwww.quranandhadith.com and may be referred to for further details.
D.3. Sa’ee (Step 3)
After completion of Tawaf, the pilgrim goes to perform Sa’ee, which is the next rite of Umrah. Sa’ee refers to going to and fro between the two mountains of As-Safa and Al-Marwa; these mountains are located near the Ka’bah.
One has to go between As-Safa and Al-Marwa seven times to complete one Sa’ee. One going refers to going from one mountain to the other. Therefore, one ends his/her Sa’ee at the place other than from where he/she started. The procedure of performing the Sa’ee and other rulings associated with Sa’ee have been discussed in detail in another article titled ‘Sa’ee‘; the article is available atwww.quranandhadith.com and may be referred to for further details.
D.4. Cutting the hair (Step 4)
After completion of the Sa’ee, the pilgrim cuts his/her hair. There are certain rulings associated with cutting of hair as a rite of Umrah. D.4.1. A male pilgrim can either shave or cut his hair. This is proven from following narration:
It was narrated from Nafi that Abdullah said, “Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) shaved his head, as did a number of his companions, and some of them cut their hair.” Abdullah said: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “May Allah have mercy on those who shaved their heads, once or twice, then he said – And those who cut their hair.”
(Hadith No. 3144 (1301), Book of Hajj, Sahih Muslim, Vol. 3).
However, there is something more to add to this ruling; refer to the narration quoted below:
It was narrated from Yahya bin Al-Hussain from his grandmother that she heard the Prophet (PBUH) during the Farewell Pilgrimage supplicate for those who shaved their heads three times, and for those who cut their hair once.”
(Hadith No. 3150 (1303), Book of Hajj, Sahih Muslim, Vol. 3).
Therefore, shaving the head is more preferred and recommended for male pilgrims. The Prophet (PBUH) himself shaved his head, and he supplicated more for people who shaved their heads. This tells us that the Prophet (PBUH) preferred shaving over cutting the hair.
D.4.2. A female pilgrim can not shave her head; she should only cut her hair. This is proven from following narration:
It was reported from Umm Uthman bint Abi Sufyan that Ibn Abbas (RA) said: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “Women should not shave; rather, they are only required to trim (their hair).”
(Ahadith No’s 1984 & 1985, Book of the Rites of Hajj & Umrah, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 2).
Therefore, a woman cuts from her hair a length of what is equal to the width of a finger.
With this, the rites of Umrah are completed, and the pilgrim can finish his/her Ihram. All the restrictions of Ihram are no more applicable after this.