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.