Tour operators promise you the most fulfilling spiritual journey – an Umrah package that takes care of your entire travel itinerary, a five-star hotel room that overlooks Masjid al-Haram, and a buffet breakfast. It does sound perfect until you start preparing for the journey and realize that an Umrah trip with children is likely to be a spiritually and physically exhausting experience, rather than the invigorating one you had envisioned.
I recently went for Umrah with my family, including four children ranging between the ages of one-and-a-half and thirteen. Experience is the best teacher, and I hope the following tips will ease the experience for other families planing the same journey.
Apart from budget and time constraints, keep in mind the ages and physical stamina of your children. The commute to and from the Masjid five times a day is tiring. This is especially true for Makkah, where the walk is often uphill. Also, it is difficult for younger children and even children in strollers to traverse thick crowds. Parents are often forced to carry children which is an exhausting task in itself and even more so after the rigours of daily Tawaf or Umrah. Therefore, choose a hotel that is reasonably located near the Masajid.
Also, if possible, try to include a buffet breakfast or dinner meal in your package. This will save you the time and hassle involved in procuring an appropriate meal for your family within the short time slot between prayers. A buffet spread allows choices even for the pickiest eaters among your brood.
You should start assembling your Umrah gear, as soon as you make the Niyyah for it. Keep the following pointers in mind:
- You need a complete set of Ihram for your boys, including footwear.
- Girls need manageable scarves and Abayas, preferably ones that they can quickly slip over their heads without the hassle of buttons. This also allows them to wear whichever clothes they feel comfortable in, without worrying about short sleeves or matching tops.
- Do ensure that children have comfortable walking shoes or slip-on sandals.
- Boys should have caps that can shade them from the glare of the sun during daytime Tawafs or Ziarat trips.
- Provide a small backpack style bag with a shoe bag inside to each child, in which they can carry their own shoes/slippers, Dua books, and a water bottle. In the Masjid al-Haram, a number of entrances now provide plastic bags for shoes.
- For your babies and toddlers, pack an ample supply of diapers, especially if your baby uses a cheaper brand.
- Try to purchase a Thermos beaker, which not only retains the correct temperature of milk or other beverage but also prevents spillage during air/road travel or in the Masjid.
- Likewise, carefully consider the medication you might need for yourself or your children. Ask your tour operator if you need to get medicines sealed or if you need to carry a doctor’s prescription along with them.
- Apart from such medicines as Calpol, Brufen, and cough syrup, do take anti-histamines, if your child is prone to allergies.
- Do not forget to carry a nebulizer and spacer along with the requisite medicines. Vaseline and Band Aids are essential.
- Consider carrying a small supply of plastic spoons and refillable bottles. Each child can carry his/her own supply of Zamzam from the Masjid – a wonderful way of maximizing the Barakah of Umrah. Spoons and a Swiss Army style knife will help you feed your younger ones on the go with tinned food, fruit yogurt, cheese, and cereal.
- If your children are older and responsible, put some cash in their hand-carry as a precautionary measure in case of emergency or theft.
An Umrah trip has multiple benefits. It not only provides your children with the opportunity to visit a foreign land and experience another culture and language, but also offers the foundation, on which they can build strong Iman and personal relationship with Allah (swt).
- Younger children are easily excited, and chanting Talbiah with them is a source of much fun and motivation.
- However young a child, now is the perfect time to memorize Surahs and Masnoon Adhkar.
- Explain each ritual with the help of pictures and field questions.
- Refresh their methods of Wudu, Salah, and Ghusl, and stress the importance of Taharah.
- Practice wearing Ihram with the boys.
- Since girls seldom visit Masajid in Pakistan, it is essential to teach them the Masjid etiquette and how to perform congregational prayers.
- Also, teach your children Salah for the deceased, since they will get plenty of opportunity to pray it in both Makkah and Madinah.
- Make them understand that prayer, rituals, and Duas are one way of pleasing Allah (swt). Fulfilling people’s rights and obligations is another aspect of earning Allah’s (swt) eternal pleasure.
- Encourage and inspire them to act positively and helpfully towards everyone. Ask them to smile and greet everyone they meet, to share their food and prayer rugs with their neighbours in the Masjid, and to assist the elderly in climbing stairs or finding chairs.
- Prepare them for crowds and pushing and shoving people, so that they do not react angrily.
- Persuade them to be patient and forgiving even towards their own siblings, since bullying and teasing is the bane of most brother-sister duos.
- Likewise, push them towards physical activities that build stamina since their physical strain is likely to add to your own stress!
Probably the most common fear of parents is that their children might get lost.
- Make your child wear a plastic-coated wristband, which contains vital information, including phone numbers and hotel names.
- Explain carefully to all your children, however old they may be, where they are to go in case they get separated from the family and whom to contact.
- Point out the police and Mutawwa (religious police) to your children, as the people they should turn to for help. In Madinah, in the women’s section, lost children are kept by gate number 25.
- Also point out prominent landmarks to help them get their bearings.
You can enrich and enliven your children’s Umrah by arranging Ziarat tours in both holy cities. Try finding a driver, who knows your language and seems enthusiastic or at least patient about the Ziarat. Your children might want to climb Jabl Al-Noor at least part of the way, or clamber up the hills around Uhud to get a better view of the graves of the martyrs that is now obstructed for public viewing. Your girls might want to wander around amongst the many vendors in Uhud, where you can also procure succulent dates at very reasonable prices. Alternatively, you can arrange for a Madinah University student to give you a guided tour in the light of the Seerah of the Prophet (sa).
Apart from the commonly-visited historical sites, try to explore the well of Badr located at a distance of 100 km from Madinah. Your children can enjoy visits to the date packaging factory, the Quran publishing house, and the Attar producing plant in Madinah. Point out the Ottoman-era mosque and railway station in Madinah.
If you lack time, at least take your children to the libraries and museum located near the Masajid. In Madinah, girls can visit the small library located near gate 24, Bab Uthman, and interact with young female students of Madinah University. Interestingly, any queries you have will be answered by them in your own language. Fathers can take their sons to the museum in the men’s section of Masjid-e-Nabawi. Likewise, point out the older parts of the Masjid and the pillars of historical significance on your way to the Riyadh-ul-Jannah.
Finally, encourage your children to write about their experiences. You will be pleasantly surprised by their observation and appreciation of things that we, as adults, take for granted. Umrah Mabroor!