Peforming the Rites of Umrah
1. Assume Ihram. Ihram is a holy state of purity that all Muslims must assume before performing the rites of Umrah and Hajj and which must be maintained for the duration of the rituals. Ihram requires certain physical actions and behavioral changes, but don’t be mistaken – the real state of purity is attained spiritually by proclaiming one’s intention to sincerely pursue the Umrah/Hajj and by reciting the Talbiyah prayer. Thus, someone who assumes Ihram externally but doesn’t have sincere belief in his or her heart isn’t truly fulfilling Ihram. Men and women enter into Ihram differently – see below for details:
Men: Shave, comb your hair, trim or shape your facial hair, cut your nails, and remove unwanted body hair. Bathe (or perform wudu, partial ablution) with the intention of Ihram, but don’t apply cologne or other scents. Sincerely repent for your sins.
Clothe yourself in clean, plain Ihram sheets – wrap one around your waist and wear the other over your upper body. Wear simple sandals or flip flops that don’t cover the top portion of your foot. Avoid covering your head. These simple garments signify the equality of all before God – the wealthiest king and the lowliest beggar wear the same clothes on the Hajj.
Women: As with men, you should shave and groom yourself, bathe, avoid applying scents, etc. You should also avoid applying makeup or other cosmetics. However, besides the requisite sandals, women don’t have special clothes for Ihram – their ordinary clothes should be used, provided that they are clean and modest.
Note that in Islam, covering the head with a veil, scarf, etc. is “mandatory” attire for women and should be done on the Hajj too.
2. Declare your intention and say the Talbiyah. A special boundary called a Miqat surrounds the holy sites of the Hajj. Pilgrims cannot cross this boundary without having attained the pure state of Ihram. When a pilgrim in the state of Ihram approaches the Miqat at one of six historical entry points, he pronounces the Niyyah – a short recitation of his intention to complete the Umrah. Then, at the Miqat, the pilgrim recites the Talbiyah, a prayer that will be repeated often during the pilgrimage. The words of the Talbiyah are:
“Here I am O Allah, (in response to Your call), here I am. Here I am, You have no partner, here I am. Verily all praise, grace and sovereignty belong to You. You have no partner.”
If she or he has not already entered into the state of Ihram, the pilgrim must do so at the Miqat before crossing.
Note – it is tradition to enter these holy entryways and most other holy buildings right foot first.
3. Proceed towards the Ka’bah – the most sacred location in Islam. At first sight of the Ka’bah, keep your eyes fixed on it and stand to the side of the crowd as you say “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Great”) three times, followed by saying “La Ilaha Illallah” (“There is no god but God”). Recite other holy verses if you desire. Say a blessing for the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and, in total humility, make your prayers to Allah. This is an especially propitious, auspicious time to pray for something.
4. Perform the Tawaf. Tawaf is a ritual where Muslims circle the Ka’bah. To begin, men should make sure their Ihram garb is properly arranged – make sure the upper sheet passes under the right arm and lays across the left shoulder, exposing the right shoulder. Next, all should face the Ka’bah so that the Black Stone is on your right. Make another Niyyah for Umrah, saying: ” O Allah, I perform Tawaf of Umrah to please You. Make it easy for me and accept it from me.”
Next, begin to move to the right. Draw close to the Black Stone (the Eastern cornerstone of the Ka’bah) and, if possible, kiss it. If can’t get close enough to kiss it, you may touch it with your hand. If you can’t get close enough to touch or kiss it, lift your hands to your ears, palms facing towards the Black Stone, and recite this short prayer: “Bismi’Llah Allahu akbar wa li’Lah al-hamad”. Don’t shove or fight for a chance to touch the Black Stone.
Begin to circle the Ka’bah. Walk counter-clockwise so that the Ka’bah stays at your left. Circle the Ka’bah seven times, praying as you do so. There are no designated prayers for the Tawaf, so you may use ones from your daily life or simply pray from your heart. You may also point at the Black Stone each time you walk by it.
When you’ve completed seven circles, you are finished. Men can now cover their right shoulder.
5. Perform Sa’ey. Sa’ey means “to run” or “to make an effort”. In practical terms, it means walking back and forth seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah which are to the South and North of the Ka’bah, respectively. Originally, this was done outdoors, but today, the entire path is enclosed in a long gallery.
When you reach the top of Safa, recite another Niyyah, saying: “” O Allah! I perform Sa’ey between Safa and Marwah to please You. Make it easy for me and accept it from me.” Then, add: “Inn-as-Safa wal-Marwah min Sha’a’irillah” (“Indeed Safa and Marwah are among the Signs of Allah.”) Finally, face the Ka’bah and recite “Allahu Akbar” three times. Add any additional prayers you may wish, then proceed towards Marwah.
As you move towards Marwah, recite: “Subhan-Allah wal-hamdu-lillahi wa la ilaha ill-Allah wa-Allahu Akbar wa la haula wa la quwwata illa-billa”, or, if you can’t remember this, use the shortened form, “Subhan Allah, Alhamdu Lillah, Allahu Akbar.” You may add any prayers you wish. At the top of Marwah, repeat the glorification of God while facing the Ka’bah, then walk down from the hill again.
When you’ve walked back and forth seven times, you are finished.
6. Have your hair shaved or clipped. After completing the Sa’ey, men should have their hair either completely shaved or cut short – both are permissible, though shaving is preferred. However, a man may not want to have his head shaved completely during the Umrah if he plans to complete the Hajj rites in the next few days, which also include shaving. Women should not have their heads shaved but instead may cut a lock of hair or have their hair trimmed several inches. After the ritual hair-cutting, Umrah is complete and the restrictions of Ihram are lifted. You can return to your normal activities, wear your normal clothes, etc. However, if, like many pilgrims, you will proceed to complete the Hajj in the next few days, know that you will need to re-enter Ihram to do so.