07/29/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 07/29/2021 14:53
As is well-known, the Hajj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam. Prior to the pandemic, millions of Muslims travel to Mecca from around the world to visit the Great Mosque of Mecca (Masjid al Haram) and perform various religious rituals and devotion.
However, in addition to this Ibāda (act of worship), there is also the Umrah or the 'minor Hajj,' which similarly necessitates Muslims to make their way to the Holy City and complete a set of rituals.
As of 25 July, Saudi nationals and expatriate residents have been able to perform Umrah following a successful Hajj season. But what of the foreign pilgrims? Will they be allowed to perform the Umrah this year? Let us learn more about the lesser-known Umrah pilgrimage for the year 2021.
What is Umrah?
Umrah literally translates to 'visiting a populated place,' but what Muslims essentially do is visiting the Holy Kaaba and seizing the opportunity to become closer to Allah and renew their faith.
Any Muslim who is able to successfully complete the pilgrimage is considered a guest of Allah Himself and is thus granted forgiveness and answered prayers.
How does Umrah differ from Hajj?
The main difference between Umrah and Hajj lies in the nature of the respective journeys. The Hajj is compulsory for all able-bodied Muslims with the financial means of doing so during the Hajj season. Umrah, on the other hand, is voluntary in nature and can be undertaken at any time of the year outside the Hajj season.
The Hajj is also a more extensive and comprehensive worship experience lasting for five days as opposed to the Umrah which can be completed in a matter of hours. As such, the cost of performing the Hajj is astronomically higher than that of Umrah and requires pilgrims to be physically and mentally prepared for the journey.
However, both the major and minor journeys are centered on the Kaabah sitting at the center of the Masjid al Haram; the sacred structure where Muslims all around the world direct their five daily prayers to.
What are the rituals of Umrah?
Compared to the Hajj, the rituals of Umrah are significantly shorter and simpler. The following are the essential rituals performed in Umrah:
When is Umrah 2021?
Umrah may be performed any time of the year, but it's highly recommended to do so during Ramadan. As this year's Ramadan is behind us, there's really no reason to delay performing the Umrah for those with the means and the inclination to do so.
Will foreign pilgrims be allowed to perform Umrah this year?
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has confirmed that foreign pilgrims will be allowed to partake in the Umrah starting from 10 August 2021. The announcement also states that unfortunately, the direct entry of expatriates for Umrah from nine countries facing travel bans remains in force. These countries are India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Lebanon.
However, the ban doesn't necessarily prohibit foreign pilgrims from said countries from entering Saudi Arabia provided that they are willing and able to spend 14 days in a third country following their departure. Foreign pilgrims outside the aforementioned countries may travel directly to Saudi Arabia to fulfill their religious calling.
Umrah 2021 guidelines and vaccine requirement
The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrahhas stated that the kingdom will only allow pilgrims who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered from coronavirus to embark on the pilgrimage into the Masjid al Haram in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. In the case of foreign pilgrims, Umrah visas will only be issued to fully vaccinated individuals.
Additionally, the authorities require aspiring pilgrims to be in excellent health conditions and adhere to protocols aimed at ensuring the safety of pilgrims coming from abroad.
An individual's vaccination status will first need to be registered on Saudi Arabia's COVID-19 app, Tawakkalna and the Umrah app Eatmarna. The Tawakkalna and Eatmarna apps are the only official portals authorized to issue genuine permits, and the authorities have warned the public to avoid shady websites and filling out bogus forms.
The Ministry of Hajj has announced a set of guidelines regarding the implementation of Umrah and Ramadan prayer this year, mandating that Taraweeh and night prayers should not exceed 30 minutes in all masjids across the Kingdom. Also, no children will be allowed to enter the two main masjids.
Every worshipper must ensure that they have the proper permit to enter the masjids while always attempting to maintain social distancing. Those who are caught entering the masjids without a permit will be fined SR1,000. Furthermore, unauthorized vehicles will not be allowed in the central region around Makkah, and worshippers must arrive on time or risk losing their time slot.
Rules for foreign Umrah seekers
First and foremost, foreign pilgrims must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with complete doses of either Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or J&J. Complete doses of China's vaccines with a booster shot of either Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or J&J. Age 18 and above will be allowed.
For foreign pilgrims allowed to enter the kingdom and perform the Umrah this year, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has laid out specific rules and guidelines to be followed, as follows:
It's also important to note that the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has authorized hotels to book Umrah pilgrims directly without any third-party involvement during Ramadan. This means that hotels in Makkah are in a position to assist foreign pilgrims wishing to undertake Umrah.
What type of visa is needed for Umrah?
The Umrah visa is required for pilgrims looking to undertake the journey. The Umrah visa requirements are as follows:
A completed original Umrah visa application form. The statement written at the end of the application form must be carefully read and signed. (To obtain a visa application form by post, send a large, self-addressed envelope to your nearest Saudi Consulate.)
Note: If someone has a non-Muslim name, he or she should submit a certificate from a mosque or an Islamic center stating that the applicant is a Muslim.
One recent passport size color photograph with a white background should be attached to the application form. The photograph must be a full-face view in which the visa applicant is facing the camera directly. Side or angled views are NOT accepted.
Passports should be valid for at least 6 months from the date of submission of the application form.
Women and children should be accompanied by husband/father or a male relative (Mahram). Proof of relationship is required (a marriage certificate for a wife, a birth certificate for a child indicating the names of both parents). The Mahram must travel into and out of Saudi Arabia on the same flight as his wife and children.
Note: If a woman is 45 years old or older, she is allowed to go without a Mahram if she travels with an organized group or family and submits a notarized No Objection Certificate from her Mahram.
Note: If the applicant is not a national of the country he/she is applying from, a valid residency permit must be submitted with the application.
Umrah visa is valid for 2 weeks only. Within these 2 weeks, you should perform Umrah, making sure your departure from Saudi Arabia is within two weeks of the date of entry.
Finally, the Umrah visa itself is free but you may need to pay for some services associated with the Umrah visa upon arrival in Saudi Arabia.
A step-by-step guide for all pilgrims: a quick recap