Hajj and Umrah - Here are the answers to your questions!

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Cover photo: Islamfreedom.com

When you live in a Muslim country, it is important to get acquainted with the cultural and religious differences and practices. Cultural awareness and sensitivity is vital not only at the work place and school but in the supermarket, at the doctors, in your yoga class or at lunch with a group with friends. We always try to help as much as we can to keep you informed about cultural practices, social mores, local traditions and your dos and don’ts.

Before and during Ramadan, many Muslims decide to go for Umrah, and once a year some might go on their Hajj. Now when your friend, colleague or acquaintance declares they are making the trip for Umrah, do you know what they will be doing? Or what the difference between Umrah and Hajj is? Here are all your answers, Alhamdulillah!

1. Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which is also the fifth pillar of Islam. Every Muslim should try to perform Hajj at least once in their lifetime should they be healthy and able to afford it.

2. Umrah is known as the “minor” or “lesser pilgrimage”, because it’s the mini Hajj. Performing Umrah during Ramadan is considered a great achievement and equal to Hajj.

3. Hajj takes places between the eighth and thirteenth days of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Muslim lunar calendar. Umrah on the other hand, can be performed at any day of the year or as part of Hajj.

4. The literal meaning of Hajj is to “continuously strive to reach one’s goal” and those performing Hajj are called Hajji. Umrah means to “visit a populated place”, which is Mecca around the Ka’ba and Sa’i.

5. During the pilgrimage men are dressing themselves in two pieces of white sheet called Ihram, and women wear hijab but not niqab and a simple white dress. The clothing should have no stitches to reflect one’s modesty and equality to others. During Hajj the Hajji cannot shave, cut his/her nails or wear any jewelry.

6. At the Grand Mosque in Mecca, there is no gender segregation. Men and women perform their rituals side by side, this highlights the equality of humans before God.

7. Hajj has been commercialized and the trip can be very expensive. Hajj packages are as sometimes high as $5000 and more. Umrah is less expensive. You can apply for a Hajj visa, though Saudi Arabia does not issue visas to people traveling alone. There are also quotas for every country from which a number of pilgrims can travel from.

8. The rites of Umrah are to enter the state of Ihram, do the Tawaf of Ka’ba which is the circling of the Ka’ba seven times anticlockwise, and Sa’i between the hills of Safa and Marwah – rapidly walking seven times back and forth between the hills signifying Hajar, Abraham’s second wife’s search for water. Lastly, halaq or taqsir is done by shaving or cutting the hair. Women’s hair is cut by one inch or more and men’s hair is completely shaved. This emphasizes the submission to God over glorifying physical appearances.

9. The rituals of Hajj include the same as for Umrah in addition to these:

- on the first day (8th day of Dhu al Hijjah) pilgrims go to Mina after the morning prayer to complete the other prayers there.

- On the next day they proceed to Arafat, 20 km from Mecca, make offerings, repent on their sins, seek mercy, and standing before God. After sunset they leave to Muzdalifah where Maghrib and Isha prayers are done together. You sleep on the ground under the open sky.

- On the third day it is time for stoning the Devil. Yes, you heard right! Seven stones are thrown at the largest of three pillars, the Jamrat al-Aqabah. Then an animal is sacrificed for Eid al-Adha. This part happens all over the world. Then it is time for halaq, where the hair is trimmed.

- On the fourth day, seven pebbles are thrown at the pillars again.

- On the fifth day, the stoning of the devil is repeated once again and the pilgrims can make their way to Mecca before sunset.

- On the 13th day of Dhu al Hijjah the farewell Tawaf is done by circling the Ka’ba seven times. Pilgrims can also continue by going to Medina to the mosque of the Prophet to visit the tomb of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH).

10. One last difference is the different types for Hajj and Umrah. There are three types of Hajj; the Ifrad, Tammatu, and Qiran. Ifrad is the Hajj itself, Tammatu is the performance of Hajj and Umrah separately, and Qiran is the combination of Hajj and Umrah. There are two types of Umrah called Al Umrat al Mutradah and Umrat al Tammatu. The first is Umrah without and the second is with Hajj.

Now that you know a little more about Hajj and Umrah, let us know if you have any questions or comments? Both pilgrimages are done out of devotion for God, even though they are not of equal weight.