In Part 2 of our Umrah with young kids series, we recap on our time spent in the holy city of Madinah and wrote down some useful tips for families whilst there.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Medina is a sanctuary from that place to that. Its trees should not be cut and no heresy should be innovated nor any sin should be committed in it, and whoever innovates in it an heresy or commits sins (bad deeds), then he will incur the curse of Allah, the angels, and all the people.” (See Hadith No. 409, Vol 9).
1. Orientate yourself in the vicinity!
In Madinah, we stayed in Leader Al Muna Kareem hotel, and our hotel was about 3 minutes walk away from Nabawi Mosque. We only had to walk down the pathway, cross two roads and we would have reached the gates of Nabawi Mosque. Our guide led the group to the mosque together to perform Maghrib prayers on the same day that we reached Madinah.
Nabawi Mosque is huge, and there are a lot of people at the mosque at any time. The first thing you should do is to take note of the gate that you enter from. For our umrah group, it was pretty easy as our gate was the left-most one, nearest to the ladies’ entrances, and the shops nearest to the gate were pretty recognisable despite the Arabic spellings of the names.
One elderly uncle from our group got separated from the group during prayers on the first night and he didn’t return to the hotel for dinner. That night, the men were activated to search for him but to no avail. Thankfully, he eventually found his way back to the hotel.
2. Choose a strategic after-prayer meeting point
Apart from the first few Jemaah prayers, the umrah group went to the mosque separately for the rest of the Jemaah prayers. Initially hubby and I would agree to meet at the mosque gate after prayers, but we realised that it could get pretty crowded so eventually we decided it was easier to meet outside Starbucks. Some families in our group made arrangements to meet back at the hotel, which is also a convenient meeting point if you don’t intend to do any shopping.
3. Be prepared for Bag checks
There were strict bag checks at the entrance of the mosque. Among the things they look out for were toys which appear life-like, e.g. animal toys, dolls, soft toys, action figurines. A fellow Jemaah’s daughter was carrying a doll which was taken away from her. Our boys had a play-doh set with human figurine parts, and those were taken away from us too. Thankfully we managed to retrieve both the doll and the play-do figurines after prayer. (They usually place these items in small plastic boxes at the entrance, so do take note which box your item is at and you can retrieve them back after prayers.) Similarly, do ensure your kids do not wear t-shirts with images of action figures either and avoid bringing picture books, just to be on the safe side.
4. Bag your shoes/slippers
Bring along a small bag to keep your shoes in when you are praying. Trust me, it’s easier to have your shoes with you then trying to locate your shoes from amongst the thousands of pairs outside of the mosque or in the shoe storage areas at the mosque entrances. Hubby and I brought along a drawstring bag each which we found to be very convenient as we can easily sling them around our body. My mum and dad used plastic bags, which worked well for them.
5. Family prayer spaces
In Madinah, the boys were mostly with my mum and I. There are separate prayer areas for women, one of which which was out of bounds to children. I prayed in that area once for Subuh when the kids were still sleeping and mum offered to take care of them in the hotel room. Most of the time, I’ll be at the larger family friendly prayer spaces. What my friends told me were indeed true, there were plenty of families with young children in both Madinah and Makkah! Being among other families made prayer time less stressful as people were generally tolerant of the level of noise made by the children. People were also very friendly and generous. The boys (especially Dani) made friends easily and the kids kept receiving small items of food from the fellow Jemaah. We felt really blessed.
6. Be at the mosque early for prayers!
Especially for Maghrib prayers and on Friday Jumaat prayers. The mosque tends to be extra packed then. We were late for one Maghrib prayer and we had to pray on the cold marble surface of the mosque exterior compounds. It was extra challenging praying outside than inside because there was a higher chance of the boys wandering off further than they should while we were praying. Thankfully they didn’t and they were contented snacking and playing with their toys.
Reaching the mosque early also meant that you need to have more activities to engage the kids for a longer period of time. I usually had about 5 to 6 different sets of toys/activities in my bag and an equal number of snacks, and I’ll then take them out one at a time so that they would always be entertained. The good thing about reaching the mosque early and settling the kids down early is that we can also pick a good spot. I try to avoid the front-most row in the prayer area as Dani who was just learning to walk then would wander off on his own, especially if there were other kids in the prayer area in front. He did that once before! I also tried to avoid being close to the cupboards and pillars (where there are usually Qurans) because again, there were a few times Dani knocked his head against them.
We usually remain in the mosque after Maghrib prayer in preparation for Isyak, as the timing in between the two prayers are very short. We found it convenient and if the kids were settled, I used the time to read the Quran and make extra supplications and prayers.
7. Best time for Rawdah…
is without the kids with you. I didn’t go to Rawdah with the group (they went in the morning, after Subuh on the day after we arrived). Mum went along with the ladies in our group and she said that it was very packed and they had a long wait. The ladies supported one another so that all had a chance to perform a short prayer and supplication in Rawdah. I decided to go over at night, left the kids with husband and I made my way to Nabawi Mosque. I was at Nabawi slightly after 11pm and there were still many people outside the mosque. It was a different sight to Nabawi then what we saw in the day – empty prayer halls, people sleeping outside and around the mosque exterior compounds, workers cleaning and packing up for the night, refilling Zamzam water and so forth.
Mum suggested that I wore black tudung and jubah so that I can blend in with the locals, and I did. Before you can enter Rawdah, the mosque officials will group us according to the region we come from – Asians in one group, Arabs in one group etc. You will then move from one waiting area to another with your group. Going alone means I could easily move from group to group, and before I knew it, I was already part of the group that was the next to enter Rawdah.
The ladies in black were among the officials controlling the crowd and letting us in group by group.
Sign reminding us not to rush in and injure one another, but to wait for our turn. With Allah’s grace, we would be able to enter.
That’s me, one step away from the green carpets indicating the region of Rawdah. Almost there.
Once you are in Rawdah, I would suggest you move all the way in, as front as possible so that you can avoid being trampled on by others while doing your prayers. People literally step and cross over one another, just to find a spot to do a quick prayer and supplication. On my second night there, I managed to reach the front-most row of Rawdah, away from all the pushing and shoving. Both nights I was out at about 1am. Don’t go too late because I think they’ll close the entrance to Rawdah soon after. Rawdah for men is 24 hours though.
There are many people whom you can give sadaqah too, elderly and kids being the two most common group (hence why our kids received plenty of goodies). You can also go to the nearby shops and waqaf items for the mosque such as Quran and foldable stools for prayers.
We enjoyed the site visits and excursions because it was a break from the daily routine of going to the mosque and back. These usually took place in the morning, after breakfast, and we would be back by noon for lunch and Zuhur prayers. When we stopped by mosques for a visit, we would perform 2 rakaat sunnah prayers and we’ll try and take turns with the hubby /parents where possible so that the kids need not have to enter the mosque. Among the places we visited in Madinah were Quba Mosque (we had ice cream from the ice-cream truck outside the mosque!), Mount Uhud, kurma and souvenir shops etc.
10. Best time to shop is…
After Subuh prayers. A lot of shops will be lined outside the mosque, and according to my Chief shopping consultant (the mum), the best deals can be found then. Most of the jubahs we gave as souvenirs were bought then. Of course it is important to meet the husband first and hand over the kids to him so that you can shop at ease.
Part 1 – Have niyyat, just do it.
Alhamdulillah, a year ago, our family performed our Umrah (mini pilgrimage) to Makkah and Madinah. Like most other families who brought their young children along on their Umrah/Haj trips, we were anxious and didn’t know what to expect. Yet we knew that there was no way we would leave the kids behind, we had to figure out how we could make this trip happen. Here are some things that we did in preparation for umrah with our young kids.
1. Research, research, research…
We started planning for our trip a year in advance. We researched on travel agencies and their packages, explored who could be our fellow companions, kept track of our finances and spoke to everybody we know who have recently performed Haj and Umrah to hear their experiences. The people we spoke to have been nothing short but supportive of our niyyat to perform Umrah with our kids. We were told that there are plenty of families with young kids in Makkah and Madinah and that it was a common sight to see kids in the mosques. We were assured that it was a right decision to bring our kids, and that we should go along with it.
2. Umrah companions matter…
We didn’t want to travel during the peak year-end period, as such there were lesser providers and packages for us to choose from. We decided to book a package with Shahidah Travel as we heard good reviews from friends and family. Our group leader with Shahidah Travel, Kak Mus, was very supportive throughout. Right from our first phone conversation with her, she assured us that all would be fine and that we should not worry about whether we would be able to manage. She reminded us to keep praying to Allah SWT and believe in His plans for us.
We also invited my mum and dad to perform umrah with us as we felt that we could do with the additional help to take care of the boys. That was probably the best decision we made, because having my mum by my side performing our prayers and umrah was not only comforting for the boys, it was comforting for me too. I could not have asked for better companions for my first Umrah pilgrimage, if not my own family.
3. Preparing the kids…
We started talking to our firstborn, Ari, on what Umrah is all about. His brother was too young then, so we paid more attention to Ari and described to him the places that we would be visiting. We also brought the kids along to the Umrah preparation courses organized by Shahidah Travel and started bringing them along to the mosques at prayer times.
We watched videos of the Umrah pilgrimage in Makkah. Ari attended religious classes at Little Muslim Readers then and there was a session where his Ustazah got the class to make a paper Kaabah. We often made reference to the paper Kaabah in our conversations.
For our final pre-umrah course, Shahidah Travel erected a makeshift Kaabah for the Jemaah to “rehearse” the Umrah rituals of Tawaf and Sa’i. We carried the boys exactly like how we were planning to perform our Umrah in Makkah. Personally, we found this session very useful as it gave us a glimpse on what to expect in Makkah.
4. Preparing self…
As it was our first Umrah pilgrimage, both hubby and I were equally clueless on the rituals and what to expect in Makkah and Madinah. The preparations we did with Ari were equally useful for us as well. We also started attending regular religious classes to strengthen our knowledge and understanding of the Deen, two of which were Beginners Class in Islam by Ustaz Zhulkeflee Ismail and Understanding Recitations in Solat by AtTartil.
Shahidah Travel held 3 pre-umrah sessions which we found very useful. You might want to attend all the pre-umrah classes that your agency organised for you. If you have a longer lead time, we would suggest that you attend a more intensive umrah preparation course to better prepare yourself for the actual pilgrimage. That was something which we felt that we could have done better so that we could be more knowledgeable and done more spiritual obligations, supplications and prayers while we were in Makkah and Madinah. Even if you do not have time for this, the umrah booklet that the travel agency provides usually contain a lot of useful information on the types of supplications and prayers that you can carry out. You might want to go through the materials beforehand and make mental notes on those that you intend to carry out in Makkah and Madinah.
5. Trip packing…
Our packing list for umrah was longer than our usual trips. One reason was because we would be spending the bulk of our day in the mosque for prayers and rituals. We needed to have sufficient and varied snacks, books, toys and activities to entertain the boys in the mosques at prayer times and these easily took up one whole cabin bag.
The clothes that we packed for umrah were also slightly bulkier than our usual travel outfits. I wore jubahs mostly, and we each had multiple sets of prayer garb. The white cloth for the men (Ihram) were bulky and easily took up half a luggage space. We received an addtional set of Ihram for the boys which I then modified into two kid-size sets.
It didn’t help that we only had one huge luggage, two would have been useful as it would mean we could cut down on the number of bags that we had to manage. This is us with all our bags waiting to check in at Jeddah airport for our return flight to Singapore.
One very useful item that we packed at the advise of some friends were what we referred to as our mosque shoe bags! Will share more on this in our next post, but basically do bring along a bag that you can keep your shoes in when you enter the mosque. Plastic bag works too, my mum and dad used those. Hubby and I brought along a sling bag like in the photo below, as we found it to be useful, compact and yet you can sling it on you.
6. Invest in a good carrier!
No prizes for guessing which carrier we brought with us on this trip. Yup, our trusted Tulas! Strollers aren’t very useful because you can’t bring them into the mosque. An alternative you can consider is to rent a wheelchair and you can then push your kids during Tawaf and Sai’e. My understanding is that the wheelchair rentals aren’t cheap especially if you need someone to help you to push. It’s not easy to manoeuvre the wheelchair amongst the sea of people performing their Umrah either. We tried letting 4-year old Ari walk next to us one time (we brought along a kid harness), but he got overwhelmed by the people around him and asked to be carried.
If you are thinking of buying a carrier, do pick one that provides good support. Umrah itself is physically challenging, especially during Sai’e as there are slopes at either ends and depending on which level you perform your umrah, they can be pretty steep. If your kids aren’t used to baby wearing, you might want to familiarise them with the carrier and carry them for a bit prior to your trip.
You will need to submit 4 photos for your Visa application. There’s a standard size for Visa photos (4x6cm) and some requirements like white backdrop and dark coloured hijab so do check with your travel agency. Shahidah provided a list of recommended photo shops, as follows:
- GRAPHIS ONE 7
390 Victoria Street, Golden Landmark, #02-44. Tel : 62951517
- TPS PHOTO
Blk 201C, Tampines Street 21 #01-10. Tel : 67829255
- T & L PHOTO SERVICE
Blk 248 Simei Street 3 #01-26. Tel : 67822195
- JIA YI WATCH & PHOTO
Blk 253 Jurong East Street 24, #01-221. Tel : 65633918
- MARINE HAWAII PHOTO STUDIO
58 Marine Terrace Tel : 6242 139
There are also two jabs that you will need to go for, influenza and meningitis. Again, Shahidah provided a list of clinics that you can go to get these jabs. We went to our usual family doctor, Dr Suraidah from Medina Clinic. There was a slightly different arrangement for one of the jabs for Dani as he was only 15mth old then. Instead of taking the jab in one dosage, he was given the jab in 2 smaller dosages, one before and one after the trip.
We also took the opportunity to get prescribed medication for the boys like paracetamol and brufen which we brought along with us. Good thing we did because the boys took turns to fall sick during our trip. More on that in our next post.
As I only started donning the hijab at the start of last year, my passport photograph was not the most updated photo of me. I was worried that this might pose a problem at immigration and I checked in with the travel agency on whether I would need to renew my passport. According to them, it wasn’t necessary and that the photo in my Visa was the critical one.
Cost-wise, we took up the full-board package with Shahidah Travel. It would probably be sufficient to go for their half-board package instead as it was easy to get food in Makkah. (Shahidah’s half-board package is inclusive of lunch and dinner in Madinah.) We paid child price for Ari, and we only had to pay for Dani’s airfare which worked out to be barely $500 on SQ. We were among the last few groups to board the SQ-Jeddah flight on SQ, which have since been removed from SQ flight routes.
In our next post, we will share our experiences in Madinah and Makkah and include more useful tips for families intending to bring your young kids along for Umrah pilgrimage.