Hajj and Umrah are two different types of Muslim pilgrimage. Compared to Hajj, which is a compulsory and heavily-weighted pilgrimage, Umrah is a much more scaled down pilgrimage. Umrah is not obligatory, but is recommended.
There are many tour operators offering complete visit packages for your journey, but as you can imagine, the quality differs hugely.
Read on to find out exactly what you should expect from your Hajj and Umrah tour operators.
Any great tour operator should offer you great customer service. Part of that includes being able to offer a personalised service. Whether you’re looking to travel on a budget, or splash out on a trip of your lifetime, you tour agents should be able to create a package tour to fit your needs.
You may want to customise your trip slightly, to include an extra rest day or a visit to family. A quality tour operator will be able to create a bespoke package that matches your needs.
You should never have to settle when it comes to trips away, especially pilgrimages. You need to feel comfortable with the details of your trip and have confidence that your tour operator is working with your best intentions at heart.
Clear advice on health and vaccination
The World Health Organisation has recently published guidelines on reported cases and risk to travellers of Mers-cov (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus). It does not advise any travel restrictions to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, based on MERS. For travellers, the risk is still very low.
However, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health has advised vulnerable people, including the elderly and pregnant women, should not travel. This is not unusual in these circumstances.
If you’ve not undertaken a Hajj or Umrah before, you may not be familiar with the vaccination processes. It is recommended that you have the seasonal influenza immunisation and update your measles and rubella immunisation too.
A genuine tour agent will be able to provide you with honest health information for your pilgrimage.
Detailed visit (Ziyarat) information
There’s lots of information you need to absorb before your pilgrimage. A trusted tour operator will ensure you are well-prepared and know what to expect from your journey. This will include details of the places you will visit and the kind of activities you will be doing. For example, collecting stones when you’re in Muzdalifah to throw at the Jamarat.
A really good tour agent shouldn’t just provide the facts, but handy information too. A smart tour agent will be able to provide you with clever tips, such as collecting slightly more stones than you need and also using an empty water bottle to transport the stones.
Your tour operator will also be able to provide you with details on the rules of ihran. This is the purification ritual which features in Hajj and Umrah. There are several rules and guidelines, including:
- Only using unscented soap (it is forbidden to use scented soap when in ihran).
- Never cover your head
- Preparing for ihran by trimming fingernails and removing unwanted hair
- For men, shaving your head using a brand new razor blade. Your barber should open the blade in front of you.
Tip: Men should bring unscented Vaseline to prevent chaffing, as they are forbidden from wearing underwear when in a state of ihran. Women may also benefit from packing Vaseline, as it can soothe worn skin on long walking trips.
Clear Visa instructions
You should also expect clear visa instructions from a trusted Hajj and Umrah tour operator.
As well as typical requirements, such as having a passport valid for at least six months, your tour operator should also remind you of the following:
- You must depart Saudi Arabia within two weeks of date of entry.
- You must provide evidence of a relationship between any female travellers and male travellers.
- Females over 45 years old may travel with an organised group, provided they submit the correct paperwork from a male relative.
- If you have a non-Muslim name, you must obtain a certificate, confirming you are a Muslim, from a mosque or Islamic centre.
A Hajj or Umrah is a humbling and powerful undertaking. Conducted properly, your pilgrimage will be an unforgettable experience.
Make sure you conduct thorough research and choose a company that has plenty of positive previous testimonials.
Muhammed Arif is the Founder of leading Hajj & Umrah travel agents – Haji Tours