Taking your Kids on Umrah? Practical tips and pointers you need to know (part three)
Alhamdulillah your first Umrah is complete, you’ve caught up with sleep and almost adjusted to the time difference. Now it’s time to get into a routine that will help you and the kids get the most out of your days in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, ensuring they are as renewed and excited by their faith as you set out to achieve.
Routine is key
34. Plan your day around salah
The best way to map out your day is to work out the pockets of time between prayers and plan what you want to do in that slot. Check your prayer times for Makkah or Madinah in an app like iPray, screenshot the page and set it as your screensaver. They can differ greatly to UK prayer times so a quick glance every time you check your phone will help you remember when the next one is.
35. Line up time
When going to the Haram for salah we naturally tried to find a place as close to the front as possible, however this had two drawbacks. One, it took more time to get deeper into the mosque therefore more time coming back out; if we were planning on doing something after salah this took us longer to get back to our meet point. Two, other worshippers sometimes disregarded that the girls had also sat down to pray with me and would push them out of the way and take their place. We’d end up having to move and after a few frustrating repeats of this we changed to staying back a section or two where there was more room and they were less likely to be shoved around. Sad but true.
For little children and babies, work out how much night sleep they are getting (on average we had two hours less than normal) so you can factor in time for a nap (or some downtime for bigger kids) perhaps between dhuhr and asr. When our kids are tired they can be quite miserable and also difficult to manage, so we made sure to let them sleep in as much as possible in the morning, just waking them in time for breakfast. Baby is on the verge of dropping his nap at the moment, so on the days that we wanted to visit other sites we allowed time for him to have a nap, and when we were staying local to the Haram we carried on with our daily routine and headed back for an early bedtime.
37. Fancy some child-free time?
If you can be consistent with some sort of bedtime routine, it can give you the chance to go out child-free during the early night when both the Harams tend to be less crowded and so peaceful. Most nights the kids were asleep by 9pm so Hubby would have an early night with them and I would go out for a couple of hours to pray, recite, reflect and just sit by myself. During the days my mind was always split between ibadah and tending to the kids so these night trips were a welcome haven.
Let’s go exploring
38. Set the scene
The night before we planned to visit any special place, Hubby would tell the girls a bedtime story about what it was like and what had happened there that made it special. Back at home they normally ask questions about anything and everything (bedtime delaying tactics maybe?!) so naturally they also got excited about this mini adventure they were going to have the next day. Keep the story simple and describe the sights in as much detail as you can so they can let their imaginations build up the excitement.
39. How shall we go?
If you know someone who’s recently been on Umrah, you could ask for a recommendation for any drivers they may have used regularly. The advantage of this would be you could prearrange trips, you can rest assured they speak a language you’re comfortable with and you’ll get same person over a few days. We chose the other option which was more flexible and simply flagged down taxis outside our hotel foyers as we wanted to keep our commitments as flexible as possible. If you do this, first agree a rate for the location you want to visit, check they can speak the same language, and let them know if you want to be back in time for the next salah. Nothing like an upcoming adhan to move things along faster!
40. Click click away
Take lots of photographs. And I mean lots. While you’re there, all the sights and sounds are fresh in your mind however when you return home, things begin to fade and for children even more so. Whenever we travel, we take plenty photos and video clips and piece them together using a basic app like iMovie or Flipagram. Months and sometimes even years later when we watch them back, the kids find it easier to recall those days and definitely more so than the odd occasion which we haven’t got round to editing.
41. Hand over the camera
Alternatively, let the kids take their own photos! Even the little ones know how to use camera phones now and it’s interesting to see how they capture the things they notice. Print them off using an app like FreePrints and let them make an album when you’re back at home. Big Miss made hers during half term last week and loved recalling all the things we did.
So how do we make this trip extra special?
42. Salaam! What’s your name?
One thing the kids quickly noticed was how many people were handing out dates and sweets at the mosque. Almost every time we went somebody gave them something and they loved this gesture of doing something nice for sadaqah so we started doing it too! One section in the Umrah Diary sheet asked them about a new friend they may have made that day, so we took mini biscuit packs out with us and they would look for other kids to share them with and ask them a little about where they were from. This was fantastic for their confidence and also showed them that Muslims came from all over the world!
43. Qur’an reading
The girls were in awe of shelves full of Qur’ans and once they knew they were for anyone and everyone to read whenever they wanted, they would always pick one up each and happily sit reading while waiting for the next salah. Big Miss is becoming a fluent reader and Little Miss has only just learnt her Arabic alphabet, however they were both equally excited to be at the Ka’aba reading Allah’s words. Alhamdulilah it was beautiful to see how children will naturally always be inclined to Him, and I hope it is something that continues as a lifelong attachment to the Qur’an.
44. Pray and play
One thing the kids missed was having some space to run around and play safely. Sometimes if we were at the Haram late in the evening, the carpeted areas further back on the ground or first floors would be quiet enough to let them loose for a couple of minutes. The other place which seemed handy for this was the prayer room at the hotel we were staying in. We’d sometimes go here for dhuhr and it was generally always quiet except for another sister or two with their children. Being an enclosed space, it was safer to let them run about here and make a friend while they were at it. They definitely enjoyed stretching their legs and seemed happier after a little play.
45. Dear Diary
For downtime between salah and making visits, we had a variety of desk based activities that kept all three kids busy. Yes, even Baby is keen to put pen to paper seeing as thats all the girls seem to do some days! We had the Makkah and Madinah Sticker Activity Book, as well as the Wudhu Sticker Activity Book which they worked through super quick because, hey, who doesn’t love stickers right?! The other daily activity we did was to plan and fill in the My Daily Umrah Diary sheet, which surpassed my personal expectations of how well they would work, especially for Little Miss. She’s just learning to write but is a fantastic drawer and would illustrate her notes with little pictures of the things she remembered. It never ceases to amaze me how children interpret their experiences and I’m glad they had this way of recording them. In sha Allah in future when they look back at them with their photographs I know they’ll remember it as fresh as the day itself.
Next stop, Madinah!
46. Travel on, travel on…
There are lots of options to get from Makkah to Madinah and we looked at both private car hire and taking a domestic flight. The total door-to-door journey time was working out roughly the same, sp we opted to go by road as it was quicker to settle the kids down for a long drive once, rather than be stop start with everything that airports and local taxis entail. The road is smooth and there’s a big well-equipped service station around the halfway mark to break for food and prayer if you need to.
47. Madinah weather
You’ll instantly notice the weather being cooler in Madinah, whatever time of year you go. Daytimes, even over the winter season, are sunny, warm and pleasant, and after dark you'll feel a light breeze so you may want to wear leggings under abayas and a cardigan layered on top.
48. Al fresco salah!
The girls were fascinated with the idea of praying outdoors, something we never really experience in the UK. In Makkah we were always either inside the mosque or at the hotel for salah, so in Madinah we almost always prayed outside on a carpeted area. They also loved watching the umbrella shades opening and closing, and especially looking at the colours in the sky at maghrib time. They’d never seen so much pink and purple before!
49. Offering Salaam to the Prophet (saw)
Men have access almost all day long to present their Salaam, however there are set time slots for women which your hotel can let you know. Whichever slot I went in, it was always crowded to full capacity and the average time it took me to get through the queues was two hours. Even then, there was hardly any space to pray peacefully at the Rawdah, there was lots of pushing and shoving and I had to be extremely careful where I sat down to avoid getting trampled on. Visit on your own first to scope out what it is like and decide if your kids can handle it or not. I took Big Miss on one occasion, we waited over an hour and a half in the queue, and when doors opened there was such a big stampede that she was overwhelmed to the point she couldn't continue.
50. So how can I get close with my kids?
There’s two ways you can do this. One is to hand the kids over to your Hubby and let him take them in. It is much more calmer and easier in the men’s area, and boys – perhaps even little girls – will be able to go in with them. The second way is to walk around the outside of the mosque which is still very close by. Here we could stand as long as we wanted and pointed the green dome out easily, explained who was resting there and said our Salaam together as a family. We were lucky to be there on a Friday Alhamdulillah and the girls were super chuffed they could give salaam direct to the Prophet (saw) and that he was returning theirs too.
Time to be a tourist!
51. Museum visits
Madinah is fortunate to have lots of exhibits, which we very well planned and designed. They were located on the boundaries of Masjid an Nabawi so there were super easy to access and ideal to pop into between salah. The queues could at times be long so check the entry times and plan accordingly. Most of them led people into the exhibits in groups with a guide speaking a certain language, so there were sometimes three or four queues forming outside. Ask for whichever language you prefer, as the English guides we toured with were always very knowledgeable and interesting.
52. Hop on, hop off!
You’ve seen it in everywhere else in the world and yes, Madinah has a tourist bus too! It came recommended to us from family who had recently visited and it definitely looked like a good way of getting around. The route plans are online and you can make a day of visiting lots of places. Although we didn’t try it, it maybe more suitable for older kids if you don’t mind being on the go for longer chunks of time.
53. Shop till you drop?
We were told the shopping in Makkah and Madinah is great for clothes, ouds, food, gifts, you name it. We’re personally not big shoppers (the kids don’t like it much either) but we spent an hour in each city browsing close to our hotel. We collect fridge magnets from all our travels so we hunted them down from a funky gift store called Duraibah in Makkah, picked a new prayer mat (standard), found some Ajwa dates, and the girls bought some tasbih bracelets for cousins and friends. For us that was enough, however if shopping is your thing, you’re bound to find beautiful treats to take home and remind you of your travels.
As we flew in and out from Jeddah, we took an extra couple of days and stopped here for a relaxing break before we came home. We had actually intended to stay three days but were missing Makkah so went back there for a night and performed a second Umrah Alhamdulillah. The last two days were spent in Jeddah around the waterfront, playing on the beach, eating out, going to an amusements fair, and recovering from the colds we had all picked up. For the kids this was a very welcome change and freshened up their moods, giving the end of this trip more of a holiday vibe. Our intention from the start was to instill a love of making Umrah in them, to please Allah (swt) and become better Muslims; and the last leg in Jeddah was like a cherry on the top. In sha Allah it’s something they look back on happily in future years and yearn to return to.
Has this blog series been useful to you? If you are intending on taking your kids please do comment and let me know what you found beneficial and also how your experience of Umrah as a family was. May Allah call us all to visit His blessed cities again and again to keep our Emaan strong, Ameen. Until next time… xxx
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