• EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: DO study the fiqh of Hajj & Umrah before you go, well in advance. (I mean really advanced, not the weeks before it’ll be so hectic you won’t be able to do it at your leisure. Think 2-3 months in advance.) Get some good books, tapes and videos. Look online and print everything out. Write all the Duas out on index cards. Try to memorize as many as you can BEFORE you go. Make flash cards whatever it takes!

DO NOT go there and expect to learn how to do everything from your guides/ppl with you. This is too important not to know for yourself. Remember if you do anything incorrect your umrah or hajj WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED. There are many stories of the tour people taking people to do things too early or too late. Also, the crowd there is so enormous it is incredibly difficult when millions of people are all trying to do the same thing at the same time. This is where your fiqh of hajj knowledge comes in. It makes it much easier if you know things like you can pray your 2 rakats of Maqam Ibrahim all the way back in the Haram, or on the different levels or even anywhere in the Haram, or that you can do your Saiyy on the secod level or that you can throw your stones from after sunrise to anytime at night. If you know things like this you can avoid the crowds of people who will try to stick to only one thing because they don’t know what else is allowed. Also if something happens you will know what you should do to compensate for it and you may save your hajj or umrah.

A NOTE about all the books and info. Everyone will tell you something a little different. Try to piece everything together so that you at least know what the required conditions you must fulfill are and what things would break your hajj or umrah absolutely or what things will necessitate compensation. Ask your Imam or local knowledgable people to help you understand the Fiqh and answer any questions you have.

  • Also VERY IMPORTANT: Learn the fiqh of praying a tomebtravels (funeral prayer). You will be doing it after every single prayer, no joke. (There was only one prayer in our entire 2 week stay that we didn’t.) Learn the dua for it too. Praying at someone’s tomebtravels is a very good thing and you have ample opportunity of participating so take them. Also learn the different ways to send Salams on the prophet (saw) for the time you are in Madina. Another good suggestion is to draw a chart of the Kaaba (looking from above) and along each of it’s walls (and along each of the special points), write the relevant duas.
  • The best times to visit the Haram of Makkah, do tawaf and saiyy, ibadah and to try to touch the black stone etc is from 1AM until Fajr and from about an hour after Fajr until 9 or so. A good schedule would be to sleep from Fajr until Dhuhr, pray Dhuhr in the Haram then go back to the hotel and eat and rest. (After Dhuhr about noon to 2 it is HOT.) Go back for Asr. Then go back for Maghrib and STAY there for Isha/Taraweeh. After you can take a few hours to go shopping if needed. Otherwise stay at the haram, alternating doing different things like Tawaf, reading Quran, praying until Qiyam which is about 1AMish Then stay until Tahajjud which is about an hour before Fajr. Then stay for Fajr. If you are going to Ziyara or doing multiple Umrahs and can’t sleep after Fajr, take a few hours at night before Fajr to sleep. (You might say to yourself.. gee doesn’t look like there is any time for sleep there! That’s true.. don’t waste your time sleeping.. you can always sleep when you come home  But know when your body is tired and can’t take it anymore. Don’t make yourself sick. Naps of 3-4 hours worked for me.)The best spots in the Haram are right in front of the Kaaba on the marble surrounding it or on the second level at the front. If you want to be on the haram floor you have to go early and stake out a spot. Sisters should head towards the Zamzam area and sit right near there, otherwise you’ll get kicked out of any other area after awhile. A really good spot I found for sisters is upstairs all the way in the front of the sisters section. You have an incredible birds-eye view of the entire haram and can still pray witht he Kaaba in sight. Remember to bring your prayer rug to sit on. This is so that people don’t come and sit right in front of you or back of you so you’ll have room to pray later. Two things that I wish I knew before hand about this.You can pray anywhere in the Haram without a sutrah ie people can walk in front of you without breaking your prayer. (This was extremely annoying to me at the beginning when people would walk right through my sutrah every time!) (But you should try your best not to do this to others). And you can also look at the Kaaba while you pray in the Haram.
  • PREPARE yourself mentally for alot of frustration, mental anguish, annoyance and anger. To obtain a Hajj Mabrur (one that is accepted and forgives all your sins) you must not let these things interfere with your goal.
  • PREPARE yourself physically for alot of walking and physical exercise. You may be walking back and forth from your hotel to the Haram at least 10 times a day, not to mention logging Tawafs and Sai’ys that come out to miles in the end.
  • DO NOT bring alot of clothes. All you need really is 3-4 jilbabs – mostly black for umrah time (lighter colors for hajj and summer season) and a few clothes underneath that you can mix and match. Bring enough socks and underthings. You can always wash clothes if you have to. But bringing alot of clothes just wastes your time and suitcase room. A regular travelling rule of thumb is to never pack more than you can carry for a trip!

It goes without saying that you should bring some comfy shoes/sneakers for when you go on Ziyara or shopping. Also bring some good chappals/shibshib for when you are going to the haram. Don’t overpack your suitcase. You won’t be able to get it all back home especially if you buy things. You can always give away some of your clothes/shoes while there or try this well-known travelling tip: bring an extra empty suitcase/bag with you or buy one there.

  • A NOTE for Madina. The weather there is very different from Makkah. Madina is much cooler. We were in 80-90 degrees everyday in Makkah and then in Madina we were at 60-70s and it was extremely COLD around Fajr, so bring a sweatshirt/sweater and a few warm clothes so you don’t get sick.
  • DO NOT bother bringing anything expensive, like jewelry or electronic equipment. If it’s lost or stolen you’ll never see it again.
  • DO NOT change money before you go. There are tons of exchanges there that you can go to on the streets and you’ll get a better rate than the usual bank rate too. Bring enough cash for what you want to buy. Don’t rely on using your credit card. There are finance charges of at least 2-3% and the exchange rate of Visa sux.
  • DO bring alot of medicine – Tylenol, asprin, Theraflu, Tums, Pepto Bismol, Midol, Chapstick/Vaseline. Believe me you’ll be glad you did and if by some miracle you don’t get sick other people in your group will.
  • DO bring some snack food like granola bars, goldfish, dried fruit. You’ll be glad when your stomach starts doing loops or you are starving in the haram. Not to mention sometimes getting stuck for hours on a bus during heavy traffic or waiting for clearance.
  • DO bring a cheap plastic bag/canvas bag to put your shoes and janamaz (prayer rug) and quran in when you go into the haram.

Don’t bring a janamaz from home. Just buy a nice one there. You can also bring a small bag/purse you can wear under your jilbab for your money/passport. Don’t bother with big handbags- you’ll get searched every time you enter the haram and will have to watch it all the time.

  • DO NOT waste your time shopping. You’re only in Makkah once in your life (anything could happen and due to life circumstances, being busy, illness etc you may never return again).

Make a list of what gifts you have to give to whom beforehand and write down what you need to buy and quantities. That way you won’t waste alot of time trying to decide what to get for who.

Some common gifts include:

  • Dates (yes they have chocolate covered dates :))
  • Zamzam water
  • Tasbeeh Beads
  • Hijabs & Jilbabs
  • Prayer Rugs (called sajadahs there)
  • Jewelry (gold, fake and everything in between)
  • Metal work (tea sets etc)
  • Incense Perfumes & Perfume bottles
  • Thobes
  • Kufis
  • Cards
  • Desi (IndoPak) dresses
  • Books
  • Watches
  • DO NOT bother going any malls. They’re usually WAY too expensive, but if you want to waste your time window shopping or looking at American and European designer stuff go ahead.

A NOTE about shopping, every shop owner and I mean EVERY (even those who are very nice and islamic and kind to you) will try to get every penny (riyaal) from you if they can. For your first time out just walk around and ask for prices of different things until you get a handle of how much things go for. (Brothers please ask your mothers/wives what a good price for gold/gram is before you try to buy anything there!)

  • DO NOT speak English or any foreign language in stores, just urduor arabic. . They will totally rip you off. Even if all you know is “Kam Hatha” and they know you don’t speak Arabic as your native language because of your accent for some reason if you speak English they up the price 200% automatically. You must bargain for everything you buy. Everything is marked up as par for the course. A good trick is to offer half then work your way up. Remember to go to many stores to get an idea of price range. Sometimes they will tryto bully you into buying something by grabbing it and stuffing it into a bag. Don’t let them.. take yourtime, get what you want and check it. If you feel that the guy is ripping you off but really want/need the stuff, buy it anyway because you’ll regret it after. Anything there is cheaper than anywhere here. Don’t let pride stand in your way 
  • DO learn all the Arabic numbers (1 to 20, and every 5 after that till a hundred and you’ll be set) and phrases like that “Kam Hatha?” – How much is that?, “BiKam?” How much?, “Shuayyeh” Move over, and “Laa…” No…

Don’t tell them you’re from America unless you’re window shopping. Don’t dress expensively, shop keepers there are extremely sharp. You can even wait a few days until everyone else has found the best places to buy things cheap – find out where they are and THEN save time and just get what you want.

SISTERS be careful about going shopping alone (as in, DON’T) always go with a bro (hate to say it but you’re safer from harassment) or with a group of sisters.

  • DO be careful about taking pictures and bringing cameras.They don’t let cameras into either of the Harams and they’ll check your bags too.
  • DO agree on prices for cab rides, camel rides and any other service in between beforehand. A note about the camel rides. They will immediately go and take polaroids of you on the camel/horse and then force you to buy them. Tell them beforehand NO PICTURES please. (One guy cursed our group and made dua that Allah never answer our duas b/c someone refused to buy the pics !!)
  • BEGGARS – There are beggars everywhere. On the streets of Makkah, at historical sites like Uhud, Arafat etc. They’ll even come up to you (to sisters too!) and tell you stories about how they lost all their luggage and possessions and need to get back to tomebtravels /Makkah/Madinah. It’s hard to figure out who is faking and who isn’t. I would suggest deciding on an amount you would like to give as Sadaqah beforehandand. Then give that to a reputable Islamic relief agency or relatives you have in poor countries or even friends/ppl traveling back to their home countries.They would know better who is truly in need.
  • MAKE SURE to go to Ziyara. Ziyara is visiting the local historical sites in Makkah or Madina. It’s extremely important to visit those sites, give your salams to the dead, to really get a feeling and understanding of how Islam began in this place. I would say it should be almost as important to you as making sure you do your Umrah. (But please don’t think it’s fard or anything else. :)) Don’t go there thinking it’s part of any worship practices. Many people do go to those sites and commit strange innovative practices (you’ll see all the Saudi signs in Arabic, English, French, Urdu and Turkish!! telling ppl not to). This is where learning some Seerah (study of the life of Muhammad (saw) and the early Muslims) is extremely important before you go so you can actually feel where you are visiting. Just take one day after fajr and have some cab driver take you out to the different places. Get a map of Jannat al-Baqi` and make sure you say salam to all the sahaba/saliheen buried there. For both Ziyara’s go immediately AFTER Fajr at the haram, come back BEFORE dhuhr, pray dhuhr at the haram and then rest at the hotel for awhile.
  • DO NOT forget what gate you enter the Haram from and the hotel you are staying at.
  • DO make multiple Umrahs. It’s not hard to take theshort cab ride to TAN’IM sometime after Fajr. (The place you’ll need to go to state your intention andre-enter Makkah in Ihram). Make ghusl and change into your ihram before you go. Then at Tan’im you just pray 2 rakats and make your intention for umrah again. Comeback before Dhuhr and perform your second (or third orfourth) umrah… Remember you can also make umrah on behalf of another person, a dead relative or someone back home who could not make it.
  • DO NOT look at pictures of the Kaaba before you go. From now until you see it with your own two eyes It RUINS the impact it has on your heart.
  • REMEMBER you are there to worship. Shopping, eating, etc are all just a waste of time. Food: it will be tempting to eat all this food there, but remember this much: the more you eat, the more tired you will get and in Makkah you will NEED your energy.

Take all this advice with a grain of salt. Every situation/time is different. Most of the information here is suitable for umrah. Hajj may be a completely different experience!