The Umrah (Arabic: عمرة) is a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, performed by Muslims that can be undertaken at any time of the year, in contrast to the Hajj. In Arabic, Umrah means "to visit a populated place". In the Sharia, Umrah means to perform Tawaf round the Kaaba and Sa'i between Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, after assuming Ihram (a sacred state), either from a Miqat like Zu 'l-Hulafa, Juhfa, Qarnu 'l-Manāzil, Yalamlam, Zāt-i-'Irq, Ibrahīm Mursīa, or a place in Hill. It is sometimes called the 'minor pilgrimage' or 'lesser pilgrimage', the Hajj being the 'major' pilgrimage and which is compulsory for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. The Umrah is not compulsory but highly recommended.
- Perform a tawaf "طواف", which consists of circling the Kaaba seven times in an anticlockwise direction. Men are encouraged to do this three times at a hurried pace, followed by four times, more closely, at a leisurely pace.
- Perform a sa'i "سعي", which means rapidly walking seven times back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah. This is a re-enactment of Hajar's frantic search for water. The baby Ishmael cried and hit the ground with his foot (some versions of the story say that an angel scraped his foot or the tip of his wing along the ground), and water miraculously sprang forth. This source of water is today called the Well of Zamzam.
- Perform a halq or taqsir, meaning a cutting of the hair. A taqsir is a partial shortening of the hair, whereas a halq is a complete shave of the head, except for women, as they cut a little amount of hair instead.
These rituals complete the Umrah, and the pilgrim can choose to go out of ihram. Although not a part of the ritual, most pilgrims drink water from the Well of Zamzam. Various sects of Islam perform these rituals with slightly different methods.
The peak times of pilgrimage are the days before, during and after the Hajj and during the last ten days of Ramadan.
Types of Umrah
There are two types of Umrah, depending on whether one wishes to combine the Umrah with Hajj: al-Umrat al-mufradah al-mustaqillah 'an al-Hajj (al-Umrat al mufradah) and al-Umrat al-mundammah ila al-Hajj (Umrat al-tammatu).
al-Umrat al mufradah refers to Umrah that is performed independently of Hajj.
Umrat al-tammatu refers to Umrah that is performed in conjunction with Hajj. More precisely, the rituals of the Umrah are performed first and then the Hajj rituals are performed.
History of umrah
The first military campaign related to the Umrah was the Nakhla Raid ordered by Muhammad, Abdullah ibn Jahsh’s was the commander of this expedition. During this raid one of Abdullah ibn Jahsh’s men , Ukkash ibn Mihsan, was shaven in head to hide the real purpose of their journey and to give the Quraysh the impression of lesser Hajj (Umra); for it was the month (Rajab) when hostilities were forbidden. When the Quraysh saw the shaven head of Ukkash, they thought that the group was on its way for pilgrimage and they felt relieved and began to set up camp. They said, "These people seek the `Umrah, so there is no need to fear them."  The sacred months of the Arab Pagans were the 1st, 7th, 11th and 12th months of the Islamic calendar according to the Muslim scholar Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri.
Muhammad also ordered the Expedition of Abu Qatadah ibn Rab'i al-Ansari (Batn Edam) in December 629  to divert the attention from his intention of attacking Mecca. He despatched 8 men to attack a caravan passing through Edam. During this expedition one Muslim was killed by another Muslim. After this, verse 4:94 of the Quran was revealed. Ibn Kathir interprets this as, God asking Muslims to be more careful when fighting "in the way of Allah", as to reduce the chance of killing Muslims accidentally, as happened in this incident.
Finally Muhammad ordered and took part in the almost entirely peaceful Conquest of Mecca in December 629. After the conquest the people of Makkah who had persecuted and driven away the early Muslims, and had fought against the Muslims due to their beliefs were afraid of retribution. However, Muhammad forgave even the most ardent of enemies of Islam to establish safe sanctuary in their homes. This was a significant moment where Muhammad showed mercy as opposed to revenge to the people of Makkah. Thus, the right to perform Umrah and Hajj were guaranteed.
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