Read and understand the various etiquettes to be observed and rites to be performed during your blessed stay in the Haramain. This information is available in any standard textbook on Hajj and Umrah. Our advice to you is to follow only one standard text and to use another one for reference.
Commence your “homework” in Ramadhaan as it will give you an ample opportunity for revision and in addition you will get multiple blessings for this Ibaadaat being performed in the holy month of Ramadhaan.
If you do not understand anything, do not hesitate to ask any of the learned Ulemaa. At the same time, jot down your query for future reference.
Hajj & Umrah Tutorials
Attend all Hajj classes in your locality. During these lessons do not be shy to ask any questions, no matter how trivial or petty they may appear to be. Do not be surprised if even the Ulemaa are unable to answer immediately, as they may defer answering you till the following Majlis. Also, all those present at that Majlis will benefit, one way or another, from your queries.
Do not hold a private audience with the Aalim after the Majlis because your colleagues will not stand to benefit from your private query.
Duration of Sojourn
Those going for Hajj for the first time are advised to make their total stay in Saudi Arabia at least four to six weeks, preferably six weeks.
Over the years the following dates have been pursued by the Saudi authorities in issuing visas, last date of entry into Saudi Arabia and last date of travel within the kingdom. Note that these dates are according to the Islamic date prevailing in Saudi Arabia and not necessarily the same as the one in your country, hence make the necessary adjustments when planning travel(!)
New Visa Rules
These have been revised as from 1422 AH (2001) and are set out below as a general reference, as there are slight variations from country to country. Visas will no longer be issued until accommodation and transportation have been paid for in advance as described below.
Before 2001, you could look around, (both in Makkah and Madinah), for accommodation on arrival there. This is not the case now as outlined above.
Hotels/apartments/boarding houses of varying categories are found in the vicinity of both the Haramain – the nearer to the Haram, the more expensive the establishment. The rates also vary according to supply and demand at certain times of the year, depending on whether the season is low, mid, high or peak.
Inquiries About Prepaid Accommodation
When making bookings, inquire from your travel agent of the various facilities at your choice of hotel/apartment, its rating, proximity to the Haram in terms of walking time, whether the building is situated on an incline or in a hilly area, (especially for Makkah), whether there are any stairs to climb to get to the ground floor of the establishment, (again especially for Makkah), whether the individual rooms have an attached bathroom/shower/toilet, a fan, an air-conditioner, a telephone or a bar fridge, whether the front-desk staff speak English/Urdu, whether a cooking facility with utensils is available in the room or on the same floor, whether laundry facility available in or near the establishment, whether house-keeping facilities are regular, what type of food is served, how many elevators are there, on which floor will you be housed, how many rooms per floor are there, how many people will share a room, whether men and women will be separate, who will represent the agent during Hajj, whether you will be moved to Azizya prior to Hajj, will the rooms be available during the Days of Hajj, will the rooms be available after Hajj, etc.
Inquiries About the Actual Hajj Days Package
In addition to all the above queries, don't forget to ask about what the format of the actual Hajj package will be i.e. is it a:
6-day package (8th Zil Hajj to Mina until and including 13th of Zil Hajj)
5-day package (8th Zil Hajj to Mina until and including 12th of Zil Hajj)
5-day package (9th Zil Hajj to Arafat until and including 13th of Zil Hajj in Mina)
4-day package (9th Zil Hajj to Arafat until and including 12th of Zil Hajj in Mina)
Also inquire whether food will be provided during the actual Days of Hajj and if so will it be pre-packed meals, (in which case you will be eating cold meals for 5-6 days!), buffet service, (in which case there will be alot of intermingling of the genders because only one set of tables will be set-up due to limitation of space in-between the tent corridors), or will the meals be cooked in the camps and served in the tents, how many people will share a tent in Mina, how far will your tent be from the Jamaraat, how far will your tent be from Masjid-e-Namerah and Jabal-e-Rahmat in Arafat, will your group spend the night in Muzdalifah, will food be provided in Muzdalifah, on which day will your group return to Makkah to perform Tawaaf-e-Ziyyaarat, will transport be provided for this, etc.
Your local agent may not have all the answers but his response should give you a fair idea of what to expect. However, keep in mind that there are many things that could go wrong or follow another pattern at the last minute despite meticulous planning. Such pitfalls are beyond the agent's control and one should not fall into unnecessary arguments with him but be patient and be thankful to Allah the Almighty for bringing you this far. Be prepared not to get what you have paid for or for what you had been promised.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Prepayment
The more obvious advantages and disadvantages of prepaid packages are as follows:
Passports & Drafts
Ensure all your passports have reflective tape, (red or cream set in a specific way), on the bound edge, for easy identification from among a large pile of passports.
Ensure that the expiry date of your passport is at least six months after your return date.
Ensure that you have at least two adjacent pages vacant for visa purposes.
Keep photocopies of your passport and other documents separate from the originals.
Do not enclose your passport in a passport wallet.
Ensure that the drafts made out to the United Agents, (or their representatives), are issued per passport, and not per family, as the latter may cause unavoidable clearance delays at the Hajj Terminal. Children aged 7-15 years pay half the amount while under 7 years are free. These Hajj drafts should be stapled to your passport. The travel agent will have your name and passport number endorsed on the drafts by the issuing authority as this will facilitate your clearance formalities on entry.
Ensure that you double-check everything as your local travel agent may have missed out on something genuinely. This is in order to avoid any misunderstanding later.
Obtain the computer reference number of your air-travel booking from your local travel agent together with names, addresses, telephone numbers, (both landline and mobile numbers), of your airline’s officials in Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah.
The most ideal money to take to Saudi Arabia is US$ cash.
The rate of exchange to the US dollar is usually fixed within a narrow range of 3.65 – 3.75 Riyals and is dependent on the bank or exchange bureau/money changer you use. It also depends on whether you have cash or travellers cheques.
Most major credit cards are accepted in the larger stores. Before your departure for Saudi Arabia ensure that your cards are valid.
Cashing travellers’ cheques in banks is cumbersome and time consuming. It is quicker to exchange cash at the money changers. (Note that you tend to get a more favourable rate from those situated further away from the Haram).
Carry small denomination US $ notes for use at various transit airports for food and/or departure taxes. It may also be prudent to carry a small amount of currency of the country you may be transiting through as transit delays can occur.
Do not forget to budget for overweight, (as charges in Saudi Arabia are quite high), and custom duties.
If you are carrying travellers’ cheques then ensure that some are made out in your spouse’s name and not all in your name.
Do not carry all the money with you all the time. Deposit the bulk into the hotel’s safe.
Unfortunately, there are pickpockets in the Haram, more so in Makkah than in Madinah.
The health system is well organised in Saudi Arabia.
Most of the common medications, including antibiotics, are usually obtainable over the counter from the pharmacist who is only too willing to assist.
If you are carrying any medicines into Saudi Arabia, keep your doctor’s letter/prescription with you regarding this medication.
Clearly label all medication.
Sunglasses are very handy, especially for protection against the glare off buildings and off the marble floors.
Four sets of clothing are ample, as laundry services are quite efficient and scattered all over while certain residential establishments are equipped with washing machines.
Clothes should be loose-fitting, comfortable, easily washable and iron-able.
Ihraam for men should be made of towelling material as this absorbs sweat and not the thin, cotton material which sticks to your body.
Take comfortable walking gear for Ihraam and for everyday use.
Also carry either a plastic bag or cloth bag to place your walking gear in while inside the Haram.
Ensure that all your luggage is sturdy and well labeled, as there will be a lot of mishandling of it throughout the journey. It is also advisable to mark it with a coloured ribbon around the handle of the bag for easy identification later from a heap of scattered luggage as most bags look alike!
Ensure that your suitcase is about 70 cm wide. A larger suitcase will be difficult to handle on a journey.
One piece of hand luggage weighing no more than 5-6 kg is allowed on board in addition to a handbag or briefcase.
Clearly identify your luggage both inside and outside.
Most airlines allow a certain volume of Zam Zam water as free baggage. Inquire before departure from your home town. This water is no longer allowed as hand luggage.
Ensure you have one tag/sticker for each checked-in item.
If you do not receive your entire luggage, report and complete any paperwork at the first stop and request for the file and telephone numbers for later follow-up.
Do not put your home contact address on the lost baggage claims form; put the local contact address i.e. Makkah or Madinah.
Make a mental note of the size, colour, brand or any special identification marks of your luggage as these will be required for the paperwork.
Checking-in very late can cause your bags not to come on the same flight as yours.
Because of fear of losing your bags, it is better to keep a spare set of clothes in your hand luggage.
If you have not received your baggage before you depart for your home country, then obtain a claim form from the airline in order to do a follow-up once you reach your home.
Prohibited/Restricted Items Into Saudi Arabia
Very strict laws and severe punishment applies regarding importation of the following items into Saudi Arabia:
Rulings Related to a Musaafir
As you will be a Musaafir, (“traveler” in the eyes of Shariah), acquaint yourself with the Shar’ee rules governing the performance of Salaah in a conveyance, and of the rules as a traveler.
From experience of others, the quietest time, (i.e. minimal crowds or low season), to go for Umrah is either Muharram or Safar, provided visas are being issued for these months. The busiest times, in order of descent, are as follows:
Have a lot of patience as things are different in Saudi Arabia as compared to your home country.
Prepare yourself mentally by “hoping for the best but expecting the worst”.
Ponder whether you are getting your money’s worth of Ibaadat rather than pondering on your money’s worth of accommodation/food & related services.
Try to reform yourself during this Mubaarak journey by changing your attitude towards life.
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copyright February 2006 (Muharram 1427)
(updated December 2013 - Safar 1435)