The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked a woman from Madinah: “What prevented you from embarking on the Hajj pilgrimage with me?”

She replied: “We had two camels. My husband and child took one and left the other for the rest of us to ride on.”

The Prophet then told her: “When the month of Ramadān arrives, go for `umrah, because `umrah in Ramadān is like accompanying me on Hajj.”

09 July 2014

This is an authentic hadīth related in Sahīh al-Bukhārī (1782) and Sahīh Muslim (1256).

Its Legal Implications

1. `Umrah in Ramadān. There is the great reward for undertaking `umrah, the lesser pilgrimage to Mecca, at any time of the year. Abū Hurayrah relates that Allah’s Messenger said: “Performing two `umrahs is an expiation for the sins that occur between them, and the reward for an accepted Hajj is no less than Paradise.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī (1773) and Sahīh Muslim (1349)]

The reward for doing so is multiplied in the month of Ramadān. For this reason, scholars of the Hanafī school of law consider `umrah in Ramadān to be a strongly recommended act. They support this with the hadīth under discussion that `umrah in Ramadān is like accompanying the Prophet on Hajj.

What a great achievement it would be for one of us to accompany Allah’s Messenger on Hajj! Think of standing beside him on the Plain of `Arafah. Imagine spending the night in his encampment in Muzdalifah and then getting up the next morning to go with him to Minā. What would it be like to circumambulate the House and make the circuits between Mount Safā and Mount Marwah alongside him? The apparent meaning of the hadīth is that our performing `umrah in Ramadān is really that significant.

It is wonderful to see the vast number of people who come to Mecca in Ramadān from all over the world to perform `umrah. To witness them firsthand or even on television is an amazing experience. It shows how people can come together for the sake of something good. It also shows the strength and global reach of Islam. It prophet Muhammad could see all these people of diverse backgrounds praying together at Allah’s house behind a single imām, bowing when he bows and following his every move, it would certainly please him immensely.

2. The ruling for `umrah in general. The majority of scholars hold the opinion that performing `umrah in one’s lifetime is not a religious obligation at all. This is the view of the Hanafī and Mālikī schools of thought. It is also one of the views expressed by Ahmad b. Hanbal. Al-Shāfi`ī also one time held this view, and it seems to have been his older opinion. The official position of the Shāfi`ī school of law is that `umrah is obligatory upon a Muslim, just like Hajj, once in a lifetime.

The stronger of the two opinions – and Allah knows best – is that `umrah is not an obligation. The Qur’an clearly mentions the obligation of the Hajj without once indicating anything similar for `umrah.

The Prophet further emphasized this by saying: “O people! Allah has enjoined the Hajj upon you, so go for Hajj.” [Sahīh Muslim (1337)]

He also did so by saying: “Islam is built upon five things: the testimony that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger, the establishment of prayer, the payment of Zakāh, the pilgrimage to the House, and the fast during the month of Ramadān.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī (8) and Sahīh Muslim (16)]

As for specific hadīth on the topic of the ruling of `umrah, there are some which indicate that it is obligatory and others that indicate it is not obligatory. However, all of these hadīth have some weakness that can be levied against them.

The strongest evidence in support of `umrah being an obligation is a certain narration of the hadīth where `Ā’ishah asks: “Messenger of Allah! Do women have the obligation of jihād?”

The Prophet replied: “Yes, they do, but it involves no fighting: Hajj and `umrah.” [Sunan Ibn Mājah (2901)]

However, this wording is at variance to the well-known narrations of the hadīth which make no mention of `umrah, like the one found in Sahīh al-Bukhārī where `Ā’ishah says: “We see jihād as the best of deeds.” To which the Prophet replies: “But the best jihād is an accepted Hajj.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī (1520)]

This puts into doubt the narration which mentions “`umrah”. It is most likely a mistaken narration. Indeed, all the hadīth discussing whether `umrah is or is not obligatory are weak hadīth. Therefore, the question is best referred back to the default ruling on religious duties in the absence of specific evidence, which is that there is no obligation. Moreover, the rites of `umrah are all included within the rites of Hajj. This is why the Prophet said: “`Umrah is incorporated in the Hajj.” [Sahīh Muslim (1218)]

Therefore, we say on the strength of the general evidence that `umrah is a Sunnah. It is not an obligation.

Things to Consider

1. Some people neglect their families to perform `umrah in Ramadān. This is a serious problem, because the blessed month of Ramadān is a time for people to show greater concern for their families. It is especially bad for parents to neglect their children during this month.

Unfortunately this is exactly what a lot of parents do. They leave their children behind – because those children are in school – and abandon them for at least half of Ramadān. The children spend these precious days without anyone to look after them and guide them. Younger children miss out on essential aspects of their upbringing. Older children may even fall into sin.

There is another mistake parents make regarding their children. Some parents take their children along with them to Mecca. Then, the father decides to spend his time in seclusion at the Sacred Mosque, leaving his children to languish in the hotel.

This is a serious concern. Children who are left to their own devices in a strange environment can easily get into trouble. How often we see adolescents and young adults behaving badly in Mecca during this sacred month.

It is, without doubt, a good thing for parents to take their children to Mecca. It can be a wonderful, faith-inspiring experience, instilling in them a sense of identity with Islam’s history and with all the nationalities to which Muslims belong. However, this requires parents to be responsible and conscious of their duties to their children, and give them the time, effort and emotional support they need.

Likewise, we find mosque imāms, preachers, and others who are responsible for the welfare of the Muslims in their localities, abandoning the people who depend on them in order to perform `umrah and spend the last ten night of Ramadān in Mecca. It is their duty to spend this important time carrying out their duties to the Muslims in their communities. This is where they will realise the greatest blessings, because they have enormous responsibilities at home. They would understand this if they really considered the objectives and general principles of Islamic teachings with respect to the Muslims’ welfare.

Many imāms leave their mosques for protracted periods of time to observe i`tikāf and perform `umrah, not realising how much their congregation needs them in Ramadān to lead the Tarāwīh prayers and the Late Night prayers and manage the mosque’s affairs. This month is a very precious time for the community, when they need their imām the most. It is, of course, alright for the imām to leave for a brief time if someone is there to carry out the duties in his stead.

2. Repeating `umrah. It is not related anywhere that Prophet Muhammad or any of his Companions ever performed `umrah more than once on the same trip.

The only exception to this was the case where `Ā’ishah sought permission to make a single `umrah after Hajj because of special circumstances. Ā’ishah’s menstruation started while she was performing Hajj and `umrah together. When her menstruation ended and she completed the rites of Hajj, she complained to the Prophet saying: “Messenger of Allah, everyone is returning home having performed Hajj and `umrah, but I am returning home having only performed Hajj”. Thereupon, the Prophet commanded her brother `Abd al-Rahmān b. Abī Bakr to accompany her to Tan`īm so that from there she could enter into the state of ihrām for `umrah. So she did so and performed `umrah. [Sahīh al-Bukhārī (1557, 1784, 1785) and Sahīh Muslim (1211-1213)]

`Ā’ishah entered into the state of ihrām with the intention of `umrah twice during the same trip. This merely indicates that it is permissible to do so, since the Prophet would not have allowed it otherwise. Indeed, some of the Pious Predecessors have said that it is more virtuous to stay in Mecca praying and offering tawāf than to go out and return to perform another `umrah. Therefore, it is not recommended to offer multiple `umrah’s on a single trip to Mecca, though it is permissible to do so. No one can object to it. Some people come from far away and wish to perform `umrah on behalf of their deceased parents or others. There is no harm in this, even if they perform the two `umrahs close together.

3. A description of `umrah. First, the pilgrims enter the state of ihrām at the designated location on the way to Mecca known as the mīqāt. Then, they enter the Sacred Mosque and perform tawāf by walking seven circuits around the Ka`bah. Then they perform sa`y by walking seven times between Mount Safā and Mount Marwah. After completing these rites, they shave or clip their hair, though shaving is preferable for men. Before departing from Mecca, it is preferable to offer a second tawāf around the Ka`bah, known as the farewell tawāf.

While the pilgrims are in Mecca, they should take time for heartfelt reflection after every act of worship in order to maximise the spiritual effects of their stay in Mecca and to keep Allah’s munificence and great favour constantly in mind. Allah’s mercy is ever near to those who do good.