Instead of planning vacations in Caucasian destinations and snow-capped mountain regions, some UAE residents have chosen to embark on the spiritual pilgrimage of Umrah during the upcoming extended weekend from September 29 to October 1.
Sharjah resident Rahmat Ali has been planning to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah for the past two years. A tailor by profession, Rahmat seized the moment and decided to take the journey this time. "Without looking any further or giving much thought, I applied for a visa and booked my flight tickets from Dubai on Thursday night (September 28). This week, I will offer my Friday prayers at the holiest site for Muslims. I cannot describe my feelings," said Rahmat.
Both private and public sector employees will get a holiday on Friday, September 29, to mark Prophet Muhammad's (Peace be upon him) birthday. When combined with the Saturday-Sunday weekend, this translates into a three-day weekend. However, Sharjah government employees will get a four-day break as their official holiday to mark the occasion is Thursday, September 28.
Umrah is a pilgrimage that can be performed at any time of the year. It involves rituals, including the tawaf around the Kaaba, sai'i between the hills of Safa and Marwah, and prayers at holy mosques. At the end of Umrah, men exit from Ihram by shaving their heads, which is called 'taqseer.'
"Umrah holds a great spiritual significance and is seen as an opportunity to seek forgiveness, self-reflection, and a closer connection with Allah," said Rahmat.
UAE resident Irfan Sheikh plans to fly his parents directly from his home country to Jeddah. Irfan said, "I wanted to go to Umrah for a long time along with my parents. I managed to get a one-year multiple entry visa to Saudi Arabia, as I am an expat here. However, my parents got the regular Umrah visa and will fly directly to Saudi Arabia. This holy experience makes me feel closer to my religion."
Irfan said he wanted to go to his hometown for vacation, but his parents insisted on the holy trip. "I will be flying from Dubai at 12pm and arrive at Jeddah at 2.30pm, and my parents will arrive at 3pm," said Irfan.
Travel companies have said that the Umrah trips during the long weekend have considerably increased. "Umrah trips have always been in demand in the UAE. But this long weekend, we have noticed a surge in travel plans as many Muslims are considering spiritual journey and religious tourism in Saudi Arabia," said Shihab Parwad, Rehan Al Jazeera Tourism.
From the UAE, residents can either travel by bus or by flight. "However, people prefer flights due to limited extended weekends. For those who are flying, the faithful can either wear Ihram (cloth worn during Umrah) from Dubai airport or can be worn on some flights before reaching Jeddah," said Parwad.
Experts also mentioned that Umrah during the long weekend is becoming more popular because of the recently introduced visa. "UAE residents can apply for an e-visa, which is issued in minutes. This is a multiple entry visa valid for one year," said Jaffer Pulappatta, who facilitates groups for the Umrah pilgrimage.
"With this visa, faithful can book their ticket, and the process has become a lot easier, facilitating multiple Umrah trips in a year," added Pulappatta.
A package for Umrah starts at Dh3,000, depending on preferred accommodation. These packages include flights, accommodation, transportation, and guided tours to the holy sites in Makkah and Medinah.
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