Navigating Umrah as a Family: Tips and InsightsDec 20, 2023
Embarking on the sacred journey of Umrah with your family is a profound experience that blends spirituality, togetherness, and the fulfillment of a religious duty. In this blog post, we'll explore valuable tips and insights to help your family navigate the blessed pilgrimage of Umrah seamlessly while delving into the essential rituals that make up this spiritual journey.
We were fortunate and blessed to take the children to perform the Umrah pilgrimage in the October holidays. Having last gone to Saudia Arabia many years ago, I have to say a lot has changed. In this post, I'll share some of our family experiences as well as tips and insights to help your family navigate the blessed pilgrimage of Umrah seamlessly while delving into the essential rituals that make up this spiritual journey.
Planning the Journey
Begin your preparations well in advance. From obtaining visas to booking accommodations, early planning ensures a smoother experience for the entire family. Usually, people arrive in Jeddah and take a car/taxi to Makkah or now there is the option of taking the train. However, this is more suited to solo travelers as families may not be allowed to take luggage on the train.
When booking hotels, think about the distance the hotel is by foot from the kabah. Do the same for both harams both in Makkah and Madinah. It’s not to say an adult won’t be able to quickly walk that distance but if you have young children, factor in how long they will be walking and how early you would have to leave the hotels to arrive at the Masjid on time.
Think about how hot it will be at each prayer time, especially if you don’t come from a hot climate country yourself. If it is going to be dangerously hot for the children do they all need to attend every prayer which of course would be ideal if possible, but be prepared if it is not. Can they come to the later prayers and early morning prayer when it's cooler? When we went we were met by huge thunderstorms and torrential rain! As we were from the UK the rain itself didn’t bother us but we were taken aback by the really quick deep flooding on the roads surrounding the haram. Think about anything you may need to take but also things you don’t need! When traveling with children it is worth taking medicines for general fevers/sickness/diarrhea.
Travel light in terms of clothes, especially if you aim to spend most of your time engaged in Ibadah. Take moisturisers/suncreams/wipes etc if you usually need them. Although pharmacies are available the price difference could make these things costly!
Think about your food, especially for younger children. Some Umrah packages include meals, some don’t. There is a huge variety of food places but think about how much each meal will roughly cost and where food places that you will be using are located.
Educate Your Family
Take the time to educate your family members, especially the younger ones, about the significance of Umrah. Explain the rituals involved, such as Tawaf, Sa'i, and the importance of Ihram. This not only enhances the spiritual aspect but also fosters a sense of understanding and respect. Even if children are young, explain it to them in a way they understand. You could print worksheets for them to fill in or colour. Encourage them to keep a little diary/journal. Talk to them about Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him), his family, and the sacrifices they made. What lessons can we learn from them?
During the Journey
Amid the spiritual atmosphere, it's crucial to stay connected as a family. Plan regular meet-up points and establish communication guidelines to ensure everyone feels connected and safe. If you are a family group make sure the children have ID badges/hotel ID cards which are available on all hotel receptions.
If children or family members are older have a plan and a meeting point for if you get lost. Will you wait somewhere or go back to the hotel? You will be surprised at how some buildings look once you are there. Add the fact that it's usually very crowded and it's easy to start panicking if you get lost. Maybe divide a larger family group into smaller groups. Make sure one member from each group has a local SIM which you can easily get on arrival from either the airports or many street vendors now sell them. Remember some apps like WhatsApp will not work in Saudia Arabia.
Umrah can be physically and emotionally demanding. Encourage patience among family members and emphasize the importance of supporting each other throughout the journey. Umrah invites people globally, you will without a doubt meet people from different cultures and countries. They may say things that will shock/upset you, just be prepared! It's not always necessary to reply or get into a confrontation with people. Just smile and move on, think about why you are there in the first place.
Rituals of Umrah
Explain the significance of entering the state of Ihram, the sacred state of consecration, and the associated rules and restrictions. Guide your family on how to wear the Ihram garments and the intention (niyyah) required.
Detail the Tawaf, the act of circumambulating the Kaaba seven times. Share the spiritual significance of Tawaf and the recommended supplications during this ritual. It is not always necessary to get very close to the kaba especially not if you have young children with you. It's better to stay in a lane in the middle where you can walk, breathe, and do duas easily.
Be wary of large groups as they often advise people to hold hands, if you get close to a group let them pass or you might find yourself getting crushed by them. Be alert all the time. I’ve seen people starting to pray in the middle of the tawaf and although security do their best to move them you may trip over someone if you don’t see them!
That said, whilst circumambulating the kaaba take in its sheer magnificence whilst doing your duas. Make sure you know which corner to start from, and which duas to read on the different parts. Be aware of the number of tawaf you are doing, it's easy to forget if you’re not focused!
Make sure to drink the zam zam from the water dispensers available throughout the Masjid and keep some in a bottle with you if you get thirsty on the different parts of Umrah. Be prepared for how long the tawaf and other rituals might take. If it is very busy immediately in the Mataf area (around the Kaba itself) you can do it inside and do it from the first/second floor of the Masjid. This will take longer but might be a better option for some people.
Discuss the Sa'i, the act of walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah. Emphasize the historical context of Hazrat Hajira's search for water and its relevance in Umrah. Think about and remind your family that when Hazrat Hajira was searching for water it would have all been a hot, open barren terrain, with no modern a/c! Some of the original mountain is still there. We were lucky that a kind security officer allowed our daughter to go and stand on the original piece of the mountain if she could name it!
Establish family rituals that complement the Umrah rituals, such as nightly reflections on the day's experiences and shared prayers. Sometimes it can be overwhelming and exhausting for younger children so it is good to let them talk about their feelings/ experiences last thing before going to bed.
Be prepared For The Unprepared
Just like we weren't expecting the rainstorms in Makkah, we also were not prepared for the children falling sick after the first few days. This meant some of the family were isolated in the hotel until recovery. This can be hard especially as you can hear all the calls to prayers (Azans) from the hotel room but not attend. It is better to be patient until unwell members have made a full recovery and also accept that plans may change, willingly or unwillingly!
Whilst you are there primarily for Umrah there are other experiences your family can also enjoy. Usually, groups will take you to Ziyara, where you visit historic and important sites e.g. other Mosques and battlefields. There are also other activities you can engage in. For example, camel rides are popular and certainly something different if you’ve never rode one before.
Our children also experienced quad bike riding in Wadi e Jinn, an experience they all enjoyed. Most people do some shopping during the Umrah trip for dates, clothes, etc. I would recommend not to just go to the local street shops as usually items are overpriced. If you get a taxi you can easily go to one of the inside bigger malls where you will be able to get the same things e.g. abayas and clothes for cheaper and of better quality.
Encourage Individual Reflection
While Umrah is a collective experience, encourage each family member to engage in personal reflection, especially after completing individual rituals like Tawaf and Sa'i. After completing the pilgrimage, gather as a family to share individual experiences and reflections on specific rituals. Use the post-Umrah period to implement positive changes inspired by the rituals. Discuss how the experience can contribute to a more spiritually aligned family life.
Navigating Umrah as a family involves not only practical tips but also a deep understanding of the rituals that make up this sacred journey. By incorporating these insights and explanations of the Umrah rituals, your family can embark on this spiritual pilgrimage with a profound sense of purpose, unity, and connection with the divine. May your family's Umrah be a source of blessings and lasting memories for years to come.