Pilgrims can only perform Hajj at a certain time each year. At all other times of the year, pilgrims may travel to Mecca to undertake the small pilgrimage, called Umrah.
From all over the world millions of Muslims travel to Mecca every year. Most travel by plane, train or bus, but there are also people who cycle there. Many go in an organised group. Women up to the age of 45 who do not travel with a group must be accompanied by a ‘mahram’, a close male relative, such as their husband, father or brother.
Pilgrims also often moved together in convoys in the past. Those travelling overland, mostly by camel and on foot, congregated at three central points: Kufa (Iraq), Damascus (Syria) and Cairo (Egypt). Pilgrims coming by sea, including Muslims from Indonesia, would arrive at the port of Jedda. The long and sometimes dangerous journey was a test of physical and spiritual endurance. Pilgrims often fell ill or were robbed on the way and became destitute. However, they could find solace in the belief that those who die on Hajj will go to heaven with their sins erased.
Both pilgrimages begin at stations known as Miqat, which one cannot cross as a pilgrim unless one is wearing the garments known as ‘ihram’. It is here that pilgrims put them on, and express their intention to do the Hajj, reciting the talbiya prayer to announce their arrival for pilgrimage to God.
Umrah involves rituals which take place in the sanctuary of Mecca itself: walking around the Ka‘ba (tawaf) and passing between the hills of Safa and Marwa (sa‘i). Pilgrims also pray behind
the Maqam Ibrahim (station of Abraham) and drink water from the well of Zamzam. All of these rituals together last a few hours in total. The Hajj begins with the same rituals as those of Umrah, on day one, and continues with visits to the holy sites of Arafat, Muzdalifa and Mina on subsequent days.