Islam is a religion based on principles and rules that are set on every Muslim of the world. However, a Muslim’s gratitude towards Islam, and therefore Allah, is incomplete without the journey to the Holy city of Mecca. This pilgrimage of travelling to Mecca is called the Hajj pilgrimage or the Umrah. Though both the pious pilgrimages mean paying respect in person to the Holy Almighty at the Holy city, there is a difference of time between the two.
Whereas Umrah may be performed at any time of the year, Hajj has to be completed at least once in a lifetime of a Muslim (only if he is in the condition to afford it). Hajj is obligatory (fard) in a Muslim’s life and both the journeys are to be performed only in the state of Ihram – the state of being clothed in only two clothes that are not sewed together. Hajj is majorly adopted in the 8th, 9th or the tenth month of Dhul-Hijja.
Umrah involves performing Tawaf of K’abah and Saee – running between the holy hillocks that are Marwa and Safa. Tawaf means to make a circuit (7 circuits, precisely) and K’abah is a cubic structure that is constructed with stone and mofar at the holy city of Mecca. The K’afah is covered wth black cloth and is decorated with gold and has the verses of Holy Quran on it.
The K’afah is a very important structure of worship for Muslims all over the world as it is considered as the House of God, aka Bait-ul-lah or the Sacred Mosque, al-Masjid-al-Haram. It is revered so much because K’abah is said to be the first place on Earth that was built to worship only Allah. While offering their Salat (daily prayers), Muslims face in the direction of K’abah irrespective of where in the world they are situated.
Umrah is a shorter pilgrimage but not a substitute of Hajj. However, Umrah may be included in Hajj by including Umrah in Niyat (intention) of a pilgrim. Hajj is a Fard and is the fifth pillar of Islam. A Muslim has to visit Mecca and offer Talbiyyah – continuous chanting of the verse:
“Here am I, O Allah, Here am I;
Here am I, thou hast no associate, here am I;
All praise and bounty are Thine, and Thine the Kingdom;
Thou hast no associate.”
Tawaf has to be performed in Hajj from the 10th day to the 12th day; the days of Hajj are known as Zulhajj. An animal is sacrificed on the 10th Zulhajj and is a ritual in Hajj.
There are certain rules and regulation that are associated with Hajj and Umrah.
Whenever Hajj or Umrah has to be performed by a person, the person should be Muslim and should be sound from mind and health. He or she should be free from debts and compulsorily should be financially sound enough to go on the pilgrimage without putting his dependents at financial risk. A woman may decide to go on Hajj but only with her husband or Mahram – relatives that are close to the woman but whom she cannot marry (son, brother, etc.)