A lot of people feel that Umrahs are somewhat impractical for children who have not yet reached the age of maturity.
'Why spend so much money when they won't even get rewarded for it?' or 'They don't even understand what they are doing so why take them?' is the usual response you get when you tell someone that you intend on taking your kids with you on this holy yet voluntary pilgrimage to Makkah. Many people feel that it's simply just in vain because your child will understand or remember nothing about the trip and will possibly reap no benefits.
However, the teaching of the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) indicates that a child may do Hajj and be rewarded for it, but that it does not count as the “Hajj of Islam” (obligatory Hajj). Additionally
Muslim (2378) narrated that Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allah be pleased with him) said: A woman lifted up a child of hers and said: O Messenger of Allah, is there Hajj for this one? He said: “Yes, and you will have the reward.”
So although an Umrah is not a hajj, Allah S.W.T is most Kind and if the child is not given any reward surely he or she still learns a considerable amount about his religion and receives the blessings that bestow upon all of us while in the Haraam. So yes definitely take your children on this trip because their love for their religion will only grow from this experience and if Covid has taught me anything, it's that I'm so thankful for all the times I just put my kids onto a plane and went off to see the world. But... be prepared because an Umrah with children does come with its fair share of challenges.
My eldest went on his first Umrah when he was 4 years old and fortunately for him it was during the month of Ramadaan. His second Umrah was when his baby brother aka my second son was born. He was six years old and my youngest was just 6 months at the time. You know how veteran parents always tend to caution with that not so believable chuckle that having one child is one thing but having two is another thing completely? Well, I have to follow suit with that very same advice and chuckle... especially when it comes to going on an Umrah with two kids in tow.
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Before we get to that part of the trip though let's first talk about the pre-trip and some ways to plan for an Umrah with kids :
My very first piece of advice would be to use a reputable travel agent. Unfortunately especially in South Africa, the most unreliable travel agents are the ones who book Umrah trips. They usually promise you one thing but end up giving you something very very different and because you are in your room quite a bit while on Umrah because it's not your typical holiday you want a comfortable room. Also avoid booking online because the pictures provided by the hotels, even from the most reputable websites can't always be trusted and it hardly ever meets your expectations. Pay a little bit extra and choose a good travel agency, let them know that you will be taking your kids with you, and specify exactly what you want and need. Many rooms in Saudi follow a single bed concept and although they say kids stay free they actually mean the child shares a single bed with you which can be a bit uncomfortable. There's plenty to eat so just ensure that your package includes breakfast because most shops only open after 1 pm. A particular preference of mine in Makkah is the Marriott hotel - stick to the chains; they are the safest option.
Choose a direct flight... I can not stress this tip enough. Umrah in itself is not a holiday so you can not always guarantee that you'll be swapping flights, sitting through a long layover and that you will still be rested when you reach your destination. Also if you are landing in Makkah first you will need to already have an ihraam on so to have to sit through a layover with kids will not be the most ideal situation. Usually, I prefer night flights because the kids sleep but in the instance of an Umrah, it's better to leave in the day, get there at night and then do your Umrah the next day. The newer Saudi planes from South Africa for some unknown reason do not have TVs and yes I know it's the ultimate irony... Why are you watching sitcoms before an Umrah? But it's not so much for your entertainment but rather for your sanity. No entertainment means a bored child cooped up in an aircraft for 8 hours straight. To be safe ensure that you have a device filled with games and shows to keep them busy for the duration of the flight. Don't forget to also book a kiddie's meal. Fortunately, all meals are halaal so that is at least one less thing to worry about.
However in the same breath while it feels like a burden off your shoulders sometimes you can experience a game of Russian Roulette with the food. Remember that the airline is Arab so obviously, they serve Arab cuisine. The Saudi airlines tend to follow quite a bit of American culture so you may get lucky and get nuggets and chips or on the flip side you could end up with a chickpea curry as a kiddie's meal or worse as their breakfast. So be sure to have carry-on snacks and buy some local drinks once you pass the security checkpoint at the airport. My kids don't particularly like the brand of juice served on Saudi Airlines because they find it a bit too sweet so the carry-ons is a lifesaver. A rule of thumb especially when traveling is also remembering a hungry child is a moody child so always have snacks available. Also, pack snacks that they enjoy in your luggage. To avoid the snacks being smashed, use old shoe boxes and fill them up with noodles and biscuits or whatever non-perishable they may enjoy. Although it's relatively easy to get snacks around the Haraam it helps to have these treats on hand
Most stores actually sell child-size ihrams but because this is more just for the benefit of the parent rather than the requirements of the child, I found that even a broad white scarf works. When we took my six-month-old for Umrah they obviously didn't have an ihram in his size but the scarf worked perfectly fine especially in the scorching heat. Also, pack lightly for them because the days are hot and my sons were comfortable in just a pair of shorts with a kurta over. In the summer months, a vest isn't even necessary and in Makkah, the temperature is still very warm even in winter.
As mundane as it sounds a list will avoid you leaving important essentials at home. The best way to travel with kids is to always have their usual comforts from home with them. Remember they are in a foreign place and although children are resilient they can and do get homesick. Vaccinations are also a must. The Arabs are quite strict and if you are unable to produce a yellow fever inoculation card they will not hesitate to inject you at the airport which will most definitely be a very traumatic experience for your child. Rather give them their shots a few weeks before the trip so that they can recover fully at home and will be fit and ready for the trip ahead.
The preparation before an Umrah with children is imperative and will hopefully result in a smoother, more enjoyable, and easier trip In Sha Allah.