Bismillahirrahmanirrahim. All praises be to Allah.
I reverted to Islam in May 2015. Alhamdulillah, Allah had eased the journey for me. I was able to recite the Shahadah, in the presence and under the full support of my family and friends.
My husband and I had our nikah in September 2015. I was fulling expecting to be going on a romantic honeymoon, but Aizat had other plans. He told me that before anything else, he wanted us to perform our Umrah together as husband and wife. That upset me quite a bit. Everyone other couple on Facebook was going on their honeymoon in Santorini, Paris and Maldives.
We argued a lot over this as newly weds. It was hardly the dreamy "life after marriage" I expected. Eventually, this conversation ended it:
Me: I’m just sad that everyone is going for romantic honeymoons. And you’re forcing me to perform Umrah. I’m not even ready for Umrah!
Aizat: Do you want to be happy?
Aizat: Do you want us to be happy? Do you want a happy marriage?
Aizat: If we make Allah happy, He’ll make us happy. If we strive to please Allah, insha Allah, he will smile upon our marriage and bless it with happiness. Okay?
Aizat: Plus, where better place to make dua for our marriage than in the Holy Land?
Masha Allah, Allah opened my heart there and then. I was ready for Umrah. So in March 2016, Aizat, his mother, sister, aunt and grandmother and myself set out on our journey for Umrah!
My husband and I at the airport in Singapore. He was actually very sick when we set out for Umrah; he had a high fever and throat infection. But Alhamdulillah! That did not stop him from being a good Mahram for the 5 women he had in his care.
There were so many things that I learnt from performing my first Umrah as a convert. I did not know how to read the Quran and only knew a few Surahs, so it is was a different experience for me compared to my family who were born Muslims. As I was reflecting upon my experience (and making plans for my next Umrah!), it occurred to me that I should perhaps share my experience with sisters (and brothers) who might be preparing for their own journey. Insha Allah, this will help someone out there who is feeling a little hesitant or anxious about their Umrah.
WHAT TO BRING FOR UMRAH
Naturally, we are expected to cover our awrah in the Holy Land. We dress up nicely when spending our day out with our family and friends, what more when meeting Allah who has invited us to His home?
My mother-in-law bought us black and white khimars, which are basically long instant hijabs that can be slipped on easily. I was so thankful I had this and didn’t have to struggle with styling my hijab during my Umrah. Just slip on an inner to keep your hair in, put it on and you're ready to go! Mine were made of lycra, so they were very cooling.
Tip: The white khimar (typically used for Umrah) can be a little see-through, depending on its material, so remember to bring along an inner that provides neck coverage.
My mum and sis-in-law in their khimars
2. Arm socks
Some abayas and maxi dresses have very wide sleeves that tend to fall to our elbows when we perform solat. Every prayer performed in Masjid Nabawi is worth 10,000 prayers elsewhere, and 100,000 in Masjid Al Haram, so why waste it! We want every single one of our prayers to count. So get arm socks to ensure that your wrists are constantly covered. They can be easily found in Saudi Arabia at 10 rials for 3 pairs!
3. Wudhu socks
Isn’t taking ablution a chore when you’re wearing socks? Well, get ready for the invention of the century! Instead of having to take off your socks, this wudhu socks have slits at the base of the socks that allow you to roll them up to your ankles without taking it off! Masha Allah! No more taking off and putting on your socks back on every time you perform your ablution.
We first saw it on an elderly lady at Jeddah airport and it blew our minds! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find it in Saudi Arabia. I managed to get myself a few pairs in Singapore and I can't wait to use them for Tarawih prayers during Ramadhan.
It works like this!
4. Plastic bags
Remember to stock up on plastic bags to carry your footwear along with you when performing prayers in the mosque. There is a plastic bag dispenser in front of Masjid Nabawi but there usually is a long queue and it runs out sometimes, so I would definitely suggest to bring your own.
I wouldn't advice you to put your footwear on the shoe racks because almost everyone has the same pair of black shoes or slippers! Odds are someone would take yours by mistake.
Then again, if you can’t find your shoes, Sabr! These are just little trials Allah has put in your journey to test and insha Allah, reward you with. When I couldn’t find mine, I remembered that I still had the shoe-socks that I wore for Sa'i the night before, so Alhamdulillah! I was able to walk back to my hotel with it. Along my way back, I came across a stall that sold slippers and sandals at 10 rials per pair so Alhamdulillah once again! If you face these small tests with patience, Allah will ease your affairs for you, insha Allah.
Masjid Nabawi. Masha Allah, so beautiful!
It is actually very common to fall ill during Umrah. My entire family did. So, if you can, pack ample medication for fever, cough, sore throat as these are very common ailments there.
6. Water bottle
Zam Zam water is freely available in the mosques of Medina and Mecca. So drink up! Get everyone in your family a water bottle they can bring along to the mosques to fill up with Zam Zam water. That way, you’ll have Zam Zam water to consume even at your hotel!
7. Lip balm
The climate in Saudi Arabia is usually hot and dry. Bring a lip balm to prevent your lips from cracking, especially if you’re planning to perform your Umrah during the drier parts of the year, between March to June.
In and around Masjid Al Haram, Mecca. There was still the mataf (temporary ring) when we went in March 2016.
8. If you’re a convert, bring a Quran in your own language
We typically make our way to the mosque 1-2 hours earlier for each prayer to perform sunnah prayers, make dua and dhikr, and read the Quran. The mosques have Qurans but they are all in Arabic so I couldn't read them. The bookstores there didn’t sell any in English either, so I was bored most of the time. So bring along a Quran in your own language. You'll probably be able to cover more chapters during Umrah than you would at home!
HOW TO PREPARE FOR UMRAH
1. Have a dua book
This was something I learnt from my mum-in-law. When she went for her previous Umrah in 2015, she got all of us to write our duas in tiny notebooks like these. She and my dad-in-law would take turns reading our duas whenever they could.
I didn’t want to miss making a single dua during my Umrah, so I did the same thing and wrote all my duas down into a book that I could carry around with me everywhere I went. On top of the usual duas I make for my family, myself, and my marriage, I would recommend that you include these as well:
As a recent convert, I did not know many Surahs or duas, so I copied some of my favorite ones in English into my notebook so that I could recite them in the mosques. Shaykh Omar Suleiman mentioned that the best duas are the ones made by our prophet because they are always so beautifully worded and complete. So in the weeks before you head for Umrah, look for some of the best duas that are relevant to you and get them into your notebook!
As you seek forgiveness and blessings from your family and friends before Umrah, take the opportunity to also ask if there is anything they’d like you to make dua for on their behalf.
Duas made for others when you perform Umrah or Hajj are extremely powerful for two reasons: It is a dua made for a brother, and it is a dua made by traveller.
Abdullah ibn 'Amr ibn al-'Aas r.a. reported that the Prophet s.a.w. said:
"The supplication that gets the quickest answer is the one made by one Muslim for another in his absence."
[Hadith narrated by Imam Abu Dawood and Imam At-Tirmidzi]
In relation to this, our Prophet s.a.w said:
"The dua of a Muslim for his brother (in Islam) in his absence is readily accepted. An angel is appointed to his side. Whenever he makes a beneficial dua for his brother the appointed angel says, "Ameen. And may you also be blessed with the same."
[Hadith narrated by Imam Muslim]
From Abu Hurairah r.a., he quotes the Prophet s.a.w saying:
"Three prayers are answered without doubt: A prayer by a person suffering injustice, and a prayer by a traveller, and a prayer by parents against a child of their own."
[Hadith narrated by Imam At-Tirmidzi]
So take this opportunity to make lots of duas for yourself and your loved ones as they will most surely be answered! Insha allah, with a sincere, pious and pure heart, Allah will answer your duas in the best way possible.
My dua book as well as the tasbih that I received from a sister in Medina (read below)
2. Prepare gifts for your brothers and sisters
My mum-in-law initiated this wonderful practice. Before we went for Umrah, she prepared small gifts, such as shawls and handmade brooches for people we would meet there. Although there was always a language barrier, the smiles and words of “Shukr! Shukr!” made for such meaningful interactions with sisters from around the world. I met sisters from Turkey, Tunisia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia who shared a smile, a salam, and sometimes, even a hug with me!
When I entered the mosque for Asr one day in Medina, I saw a sister in niqab praying without a mat. So I quickly laid out the mat I had with me in front of her. When she was done with her prayers, she removed her niqab to flash me a warm smile, while she said “Shukr, Shukr”.
Remembering the brooch I had with me, I reached into my bag and handed it to her.
“For you,” I said.
She initially thought that I was getting her help to pin it on for me and asked where exactly I wanted it. I waved “No” and placed the brooch into her hand.
“For you!” I repeated.
“Ahhh,” she smiled, and thanked me.
She fumbled around in her bag before stuffing her tasbih into my hands. I tried to decline politely as it was obviously her own personal one!
“A gift!” she insisted, as she placed her hand on her chest and clenched my fist around the tasbih. Masha Allah, it was a truly beautiful moment.
Another lady from Tunisia was struggling with her hijab as she didn’t have any pins or brooches. My mum-in-law nudged at me to pass a brooch to her. When she received it, she wouldn’t stop saying “Shukr! Shukr!” and gave me a big bear hug. After that, she led me in dhikr, somehow sensing it was my first time in the mosque and that I was a convert. Masha Allah.
In Mecca, we met a brother who gave away dates to anyone he came across, and another who was giving away bottles of Zam Zam water he collected to the elderly in wheelchairs. Subahanallah, it was such a heart-warming sight to see. So I urge you to be a part of that beauty.
3. Read up more about the prophet before you go
One of the greatest regret I had about my Umrah was not getting to know the prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) before I visited his mosque. In Medina, I watched as people broke into tears, overwhelmed about being able to send their salam to the prophet. I didn’t feel any of that because I didn’t know who he really was. I knew he was the last messenger of Allah. I knew he was the most beloved among the servants of Allah. I knew he was a man of exemplary character. But I never felt that connection with him. When I confided in Aizat about it, he did his best to tell me stories about the prophet before we went to sleep each night. He told me of the magnitude of the prophet's love for his ummah, and how we were the first and last thing on his mind even when death approached him.
Inside of Masjid Nabawi, Medina
Since returning to Singapore, I started reading more about the prophet. I have learnt so much about him! Insha Allah, I'll be granted another chance to give a heartfelt salam to the prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) during my next Umrah.
4. Dua, dua, dua
Before you go, pray hard for allah to ease your affairs during Umrah. Ask that he doesn’t burden you and test you during your Umrah. Ask to be blessed with patience and for Him to purify your heart and fill it with sincere intention. Seek his forgiveness over and over again. Ask to be invited into the Rawdah and Hijr Ismail in Masjid Nabawi and Masjid Al Haram. Most importantly, ask for your Umrah to be accepted and that it will not be the last you’ll ever perform. Ask to be invited back year, after year, after year...
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU'RE THERE?
Well, that was a lot to prepare for! Read the continuation of this post here, where I will share more about the experiences I had when I was there in Mecca and Medina, as well as lessons learnt to make your Umrah a fruitful and blessed one.