One of the most satisfying things in life is to be able to share your knowledge or experiences so that it may benefit another. I really try to keep this website relevant and up-to-date but it’s not always possible, but that in itself feels like one very large excuse. I made time this weekend along with my guest contributor, my niece Aaminah Gangat to put some points together as an update to this article: http://www.niqi.co.za/the-south-africans-guide-to-booking-an-umrah-a-detailed-explanation-on-how-to-do-it-yourself/
With many people already planning for an Umrah in Ramadaan, or getting reading material together for Hajj, we decided that it was time to correlate everything that we have experienced on our trips into one concise place. Make no mistake, we are still learning, and with each trip, comes an opportunity to learn and share with my readers.
I have tried not to repeat anything from the previous two posts but please do forgive us for any errors or omissions.
If you are embarking on Hajj soon, you might find this guide helpful: http://www.niqi.co.za/hajj-is-a-pilgrimage-of-the-heart-a-guide-on-how-to-pack-to-return-with-spiritual-richness/
We would love for you to save it, print it out, pass the link or the copies onto family or friends who are traveling, and in turn, all we ask if for duas for both Aaminah and my children if this guide has been of any benefit to you.
It’s best to book a hotel with a breakfast option. It somehow works out cheaper if it’s included in your room rate as opposed to booking it on the morning that you need it. Most start from immediately after Fajr and if you have a full breakfast, you will likely need lunch much later on in the day.
At your hotel breakfast buffet, request if you could take a few snacks back to your room. This is convenient for snacking on later during the day and can also be taken with to the Haram to eat in between salaahs. We usually pack muffins and croissants into lunchbox sized containers. We also use these containers to store lotus biscuits and tubs of labneh to bring back home.
Due to strict food laws, you cannot take food back to the room (hot food) so ensure that kids make it down to breakfast to avoid missing it. Don’t argue or insist to take it (I did once and only understood the reasoning after).
In Makkah we usually buy something from our hotel food court. Most hotels such as the Hyatt as well as the Conrad have their own food courts in the hotel building. The Zam Zam towers also has a food court. All of the food courts usually have similar variety of options. During our previous trip we had executive lounge access at the Conrad. This was convenient as light snacks as well as drinks (soft drinks and a selection of teas and coffee) were available throughout the day. A hot dinner was also served. This way queuing in the food courts was avoided. If staying at a hotel which offers an Executive lounge, I cannot encourage you to take this perk or book a room that offers the lounge access. If you are a Traveloyalty member, you are almost always guaranteed an upgrade to an Executive room. This allows you to have daily meals and drinks conveniently at your hotel without having to go out in search of food. We only bought one meal while in Makkah (broast ;)) and then regretted it after. It was so noisy and smelly that you never went back to the food court. The executive lounge offers meals between set-times throughout the day and snacks during the non busy times. All drinks including soft drinks and hot beverages are complimentary (can you see why this is so appealing now).
In Medinah we usually had dinner at Al Modeef Restaurant, located in the Movenpick Hotel. They have a variety of meals including pizzas and pastas, traditional Indian food and well as a Turkish selection. Their portions are large so 2 orders can be shared between 3 people. Their seating arrangements are comfortable however we usually ate in our hotel room.
Additional: From the Hilton, the restaurant is approximately a 4 minute walk. There is a book store located outside which keeps the nicest variety of English literature and guides. A good book to purchase for someone back home intending on doing an Umrah or Hajj is The Ultimate Guide to Umrah by Abu Muneer Ismail Davids.
A closer alternative option is the Abu Khalid Restaurant in Taiba Centre. The restaurant offers Indian/Asian cuisine. Take paper plates from home if you plan to have meals in your room.
There are many people in Makkah and Madinah who prepare South African home-cooked meals however the list that is circulated yearly is never up-to-date and accurate. Consult facebook or community WhatsApp groups to try to get details before you travel.
Consider taking small snacks for the kids or even biscuits (older people love Maskana on an Umrah) and individual rusks or breakfast biscuits. We always pack a small box of Five Roses teabags and buy milk from Bin Dawood for a proper cup of tea daily.
Given the South African exchange rate, food can be very expensive. If you are able to source an electric frying pan, basic toasted sandwiches may be prepare in your room if you are on a budget. Please check what the regulations are at your hotel and please don’t try to ‘beat the system’. Most hotels have those scanning machines and you don’t want to be singled out with something that is not permissible in your luggage and asked to have it confiscated. If your hotel allows it, there is an option of purchasing one at Bin Dawood and also stocking up on anything that you might be able to cook in it (after a few weeks abroad, sometimes a simple toasted cheese is what you need).
There are people who keep your food in freezers for you however we have never used that option. Ask around if you really need to use this service or message me and I’ll try help you source someone.
If you are conscious about imported versus locally slaughtered meat, your options for eating out will be limited. You need to ask whether the meat is ‘Watani’. If possible, try to stick to vegetarian options, it’s really not that bad.
Instead of constantly trying to squeeze in time for shopping in-between salaahs, we usually opt to take a half day out for shopping. During our recent trip we spend half a day in Jeddah and I felt that that this was a good break especially since we were traveling with children ages 6 and 8. We left the hotel after Zohr as many outlets and stores in Jeddah only open around asr. We have a family member located in Jeddah who showed us the shopping areas frequented by the locals. This included Souk Shatea. You may use google maps to mark your parking spot in this souk to avoid wasting time trying to locate your taxi or uber driver if you’ve requested them to wait for you.
Advice on the Rowdah in Madinah:
In Madinah, confirm with your concierge or a traveler who is already in Madinah, the times for women to be able to visit the Rowdah. Each year during our trips we notice the different schedules and often found ourselves waiting for up to 2 hours for the doors to open in the afternoon only to find that the times have changed. The times are generally after Fajr at around 7am, after Zuhr, and after Isha. Entrance at night is closed around 10h00ish , so best go at 09h45 and if you can stay until 12h00 when the crowds lessen at the Raudah. Remember gate entrance is number 25.
If you’re travelling with toddlers or younger children try to avoid entereing the Rawdah itself with them as they may feel discomforted and overwhelmed due to the rushing and pushing that usually occurs. We’ve found that if you wait for the crowds to pass and wait till last, you will avoid the rush and will able to perform salaahs on the green carpet with ease. Morning Salaam is often very busy, so opt to go at night when it might be quieter. If you have problems with crowds and being pushed, walk around to the back of the Prophets SAW’s masjid and make salaam at the Green Dome. This is the closest point to his (SAW’s) qabr.
Take a taxi from Madinah to Jeddah, or from Makkah to Madinah instead of a connecting flight – we found this to be less tiresome from the rush of having to board another flight. However make sure that your flight back to South Africa is still reserved. We had a flight from Medinah to Jeddah booked, but due to use taking a taxi instead, our flight to South Africa was cancelled and alternative arrangements had to be made.
Rinse out your mineral water bottles and take a few to the haram each time to fill with Zam Zam water. Wrap the bottles securely with duct tape and pack into your check-in luggage. We managed to fill at least 20 small bottles and fortunately none leaked. (Keep in mind not to keep your tape in your hand luggage as it will be confiscated during airport security checks.)
Keep a small spray bottle handy in case you need to renew your wudhu and don’t want to leave the Haram. Only perform the fardh actions (face, arms, 1/4 of your head and feet). Bin Dawood is stocked with aisles of spray bottles.
Keep Riyals in small dominations handy when leaving your hotel to give to cleaners on your way to the haram.
If you need to change currency, the money exchange under Abraj (Zam -Zam) takes South African currency if you need more cash or there’s an option to withdraw at most ATM’s. They don’t always ask for your passport, but consider having a copy in your bag anyway at all times for safety.
Pack small packets of sweets to hand out, especially in Medina after the Maghrib Salaah outside. This is also a spacious area to perform salaah if you’re with children. If you are intending on giving out older abayas or kids clothes, take larger packets with you and fill with 1 or 2 fruit, a packet of sweets, small change and the item of clothing.
Download Surahs and Duas on your phone for convienience while travelling. Alternatively you can use a kindle. We also used a comprehensive dua book that has English duas which may be read throughout the day. This book may be bought in bulk by contacting 0723786231. They make really nice gifts too.
It’s advisable to carry something warm for late nights or early mornings even in Summer. It tends to get slightly chilly, and especially if you have children with you, you really don’t want to be left having to go shopping for a jacket or jersey. (usually in December or early January).
Best time for Tawaaf is after Esha or around Tahajjud. Ensure that you buy the sealskin shoes or really thick socks from WW because your feet ache after too long on the marble. Don’t forget to take an easily identifiable shoe bag and don’t carry a large napsack as you will be asked to store it in the lockers.
If you are hiring a wheelchair for Safa saee, know that those guys are really fast and the language barrier might deter you from conveyed that you need them to slow down especially if your kids are sitting on one. It’s recommended that you give your child a cellphone with a local Sim card so you are able to contact them should they get lost in the crowd or you need to keep up with them. When booking your accommodation, request a wheelchair from the hotel. When we stayed at the Conrad, they arranged a wheelchair for my mother-in-law at no additional charge.
Before the actual Umrah, make sure that your kids are well rested. We performed our Umrah very late when we arrived into Makkah and our children were exhausted. If they are doing it by foot, take it slow and allow them to rest between each act. If your children are not keen on being pushed and squashed for the other tawaafs, it’s an option to do it with them on the top level. It’s quieter although it takes much longer. Be cognisant of the salaah times because you will need to halt immediately and find a spot to make salaah once azaan goes. We opted to sit on the stairs or in corners with the kids while they coloured or slept. They soon got tired of the routine and fortunately it was already time to depart to Medina to beat the monotony. Remember to take colouring books and crayons with and give them each a bag with their daily snacks and books. Show them the cupboard where the goodies are kept so they may refill at their leisure and also see what they are able to take the next day.
If you have really young kids that aren’t able to sit still (or stay where you left them, or wander off during salaah), a leash may be your only option. Baby City keeps them and unfortunately you have to put it on for their safety. Funny thing is, that as South Africans, we feel bad to do that to our kids, but there are so many kids on leashes in the Haram. Strollers aren’t allowed on the Mataaf so this might be the safest option.
We highly recommend using the services of Saleh in Madinah for accommodation or transportation. He is available on WhatsApp to discuss options or to make arrangements before you arrive and he will try to get you the best available rate for your hotel stay. He charges a fee for his services and I can assure you that he will offer you the best service during your stay.
He took me to the shopping areas for abayas after Esha and also negotiated prices for me in the stores in the Mall (which usually won’t discount to a visitor).
He also took Mohamed directly to the farm for Ajwa and we got a really good rate. Don’t try to get information out and not use his services. It’s only fair to support this brother and I can assure you that he is honest and reliable. (P.S He’s probably more South African than some of us!).
My children loved his nature and he treated us to Bardessi when we had the time to go out. If you do use his services, give him our Salaams!
Salehs number: +27 79 366 2174
Please feel free to add your own tips or recommendations in the comments section. Let’s all assist in sharing our knowledge with the Ummah.