The Pillars (arkaan) of ‘Umrah are four:
- Ihraam: which is assumed at the Meeqaat,
- Tawaaf: around the House, which consists of seven circuits,
- Sa'ee: between the hills of as-Safaa and al-Marwah, which consists of seven circuits,
- Tahallul: which means coming out of the sacred state of Ihraam, making lawful what which was previously prohibited during ihraam
Ihraam is assumed at the specified Meeqaat, or on the plane before passing the Meeqaat, as we have discussed before.
The men are to change into their clothing of Ihraam while the women only need to make their intention at that time in the clothing they are already wearing. There is no specific clothing designated for women, except that they are prohibited from wearing the Niqaab (face-veil)  and gloves. Yes, it is obligatory and correct that women should cover their faces and hands (generally), but (at this time) it is forbidden for them to do so using the Niqaab and gloves. Instead, they should cover their hands with the lower part of their khimaar (head covering), while using the upper part of their jilbaab (outer garment) or a separate piece of fabric to cover their faces.
This is the most preferred opinion according to the People of Knowledge, whereby the covering of the face and hands while in Ihraam is not forbidden, but rather what is prohibited is the wearing of these two specific articles of woman's clothing, designed to cover the face (niqaab) and the hands (gloves).
Therefore, women must cover their faces and hands with the clothing they are wearing, but are prohibited to use the Niqaab and gloves for that purpose.
As for men, they must assume their Ihraam at the Meeqaat by wearing two pieces of fabric called the Izaar and the Ridaa'. The Ridaa' covers the top half of the body, while the Izaar covers the lower half. No other clothing is allowed to be worn in addition to these – no underwear, no pants, no shirt, no turban, no hat, etc. are to be worn.
As for women, their Ihraam is limited to only their faces and hands. They are not allowed to wear the face-veil or gloves, but must assume Ihraam in their regular clothing. Unlike men, they do not have special clothing to wear.
The intention (niyyah) is made at the Meeqaat to begin the state of Ihraam. The Prophet (صلى الله علیه وسلم) said:
“Actions are only by intention.”
The intention that enters one into the state of Ihraam must be made in the heart, while the statement made afterwards is:
“Labayk Allaahumma Labayk.”
This statement begins the rites of ‘Umrah and Hajj just as the pronouncement of Takbeer (saying Allaahu Akbar) begins the prayer. So just as a person enters into prayer with the opening Takbeer, likewise, the Muhrim enters into the sacred rites of Hajj and ‘Umrah by saying:
“Labayk Allaahumma bi-‘Umrah”
“Labayk Allaahumma bi-Hajj.”
When assuming Ihraam at the Meeqaat, it is sufficient to mention just the ‘Umrah in the opening Talbiyyah (i.e., say: Labayk Allaahumma bi-‘Umrah), since the person will be a Mutamatta'ee, i.e. he will be performing Hajj at-Tamattu’ (joining ‘Umrah with Hajj). Allaah says:
“And whoever performs the ‘Umrah in the months of Hajj before (performing) the Hajj (i.e. Hajj at-Tamattu' and al-Qiraan), he must sacrifice a hadee such as he can afford without difficulty...” [Surah Al-Baqarah: 196]
So whoever enters into Ihraam for ‘Umrah, he must complete his ‘Umrah and then come out of Ihraam. Then he must wait in Makkah until the 8th of Dhul-Hijjah, then go into Ihraam another time, this time for Hajj, while in Makkah.
This division between the Hajj and the ‘Umrah is known as at-Tamattu', and one who performs this type of Hajj is known as a Mutamatta'ee. A Mutamatta'ee is required to sacrifice an animal (hadee) in the sacred precincts during Hajj on the 10th of Dhul Hijjah.
So the first pillar of ‘Umrah is the Ihraam. The intention is made in the heart, while the tongue recites the opening Talbiyyah, which is: “Labbayk Allaahumma bi-‘Umrah”, or “Labbayka ‘Umrah.”
This opens the sacred state of Ihraam exactly like the Takbeer opens the prayer. The Ihraam dress is then put on and the restrictions are:
- No sexual contact with your spouse
- No wearing of clothes that conform to the body surface (for men only)
- It is prohibited to wear pants, shirt, shoes, socks, khuffs (leather socks)
Sandals can be worn as long as they do not extend above the anklebone.
With regard to “No Sexual Contact”, this means no sexual intercourse, foreplay, kissing or anything that leads to the physical act of sexual intercourse. This is based on the statement of Allaah:
“So, whoever intends to perform Hajj, then he should not have sexual intercourse (with his wife), nor commit sin, nor argue unjustly during the Hajj.” [Surah Al-Baqarah: 197]
So no sexual relations between the husband and wife is allowed until they come out of Ihraam.
Now once the state of Ihraam has commenced, the calling of the Talbiyyah begins:
“O Allaah, I am here at Your disposal, ready to serve only You. I am here for You, there is no partner (in worship) to You. I am ready to serve You. Surely, all Praise and Blessings, and the Ownership of all that You created is Yours (alone). There is no partner (in worship) to You.”
The Talbiyyah continues from the Meeqaat until one reaches Makkah. The recitation of the Talbiyyah should be done in a raised voice as well as individually and not in unison with a group.
This repetition out loud continues until the Muhrim enters Makkah and sets sight on the Sacred Masjid and the Ka'bah. It is at this point that we come to the second pillar of ‘Umrah, which is:
The Tawaaf of the Sacred House consists of making seven circuits around it. The Tawaaf always begins at the Hajr al-Aswad (The Black Stone), or at the point where you can greet it. Each circuit of the Tawaaf begins at the Black Stone. By pronouncing the Takbeer (saying Allaahu Akbar), he begins the first circuit. Each time the Muhrim circumambulates the Ka'bah and returns to the point of the Black Stone, he must repeat the Takbeer while pointing at the Black Stone.
If the Muhrim (a person in the state of Ihraam) is able to do so, he may kiss the Black Stone with his lips or alternatively, he can wipe over the Black Stone with his hands or any other object and then kiss that object. Or if the crowds are too heavy, merely pointing in its direction with your hand is sufficient. Do not oppress or cause harm to those around you in your attempt to kiss or touch the Black Stone.
The Tawaaf consists of seven circuits. There is no specific statement or supplication legislated to be said during each circuit. There are some books available with specific du'aas (supplications) for each circuit; i.e. the first, second, third, etc. These books contain innovations and are a misguidance, so they should be avoided.
Make du'aa from your heart, for that which will benefit you. Recite whatever you wish, supplicate to Allaah by asking for good, make dhikr (remembrance) of Allaah, recite the Qur'aan, anything you wish. There are no specific statements or supplications to be recited during the Tawaaf that are authentically established in the Sunnah.
The completion of seven circuits means you have completed the Tawaaf al-Qudoom (The Tawaaf of Arrival). This particular Tawaaf al-Qudoom is to be performed in a specific way:
The first three circuits are performed as "Ramal", i.e. taking short quick steps, not running with long strides. This is walking, with fast short strides for the first three circuits only. The remaining four circuits are completed by walking at your normal pace.
When beginning the Tawaaf al-Qudoom, the Muhrim should adjust his Ridaa (top piece of fabric) by lowering the right side under his right armpit and throwing the end over his left shoulder, thus exposing his right shoulder.
This manner of wearing the Ridaa is only done for the seven circuits of the Tawaaf. From the time the Muhrim puts on his Ihraam garments at the Meeqaat until he reaches Makkah and is about to begin his Tawaaf al-Qudoom, he should wear his Ridaa such that it covers both shoulders.
The Ramal is a manner of brisk pace in walking; taking short strides, and it is done only for the first three circuits. The remaining four are accomplished in your normal walking pace.
The Muhrim must do the Ramal of the first three circuits from the Black Stone to the Rukn al-Yamanee (The Southwestern Corner) only. The distance between the Rukn al-Yamanee and the return to the Black Stone should be covered in your normal walking pace. This is done for three circuits. The remaining four are accomplished in your normal walking pace throughout.
This is the complete description of the Tawaaf al-Qudoom.
Remember, while performing it, the Muhrim should make du'aa and supplicate to his Lord by any means he wishes. This can be accomplished in Arabic or in any language other than Arabic such as English. What is important is that the slave of Allaah asks Him from his heart, while knowing the meaning of what he is supplicating for. It is not good that one makes du'aa and requests something when he does not even understand what he is asking for. One can make du'aa in his native language, so long as it comes from his heart (with good, pure intention, as Allaah Hears All).
When the Tawaaf al-Qudoom is completed, with all of its components, the Muhrim then goes to the area known as the "Maqaamu-Ibraaheem" (The Place of Ibraaheem's Standing), where he performs a two-rak’aat prayer of Tawaaf.
From here, the Muhrim descends to the well of Zam-Zam, where he drinks the water of Zam-Zam until he fills his stomach completely and also pours it over his body. Verily, Zam-Zam water is not only a nutrient, but it is also a cure from disease. After he drinks as much Zam-Zam as his stomach can hold, he returns to the Black Stone and recites the Takbeer (Allaahu Akbar) and thus completes the second pillar of ‘Umrah, the Tawaaf.
At this point the Muhrim now moves to the small hill, named as-Safaa and recites the ayah of Allaah:
“Verily, as-Safaa and al-Marwah are from the signs of Allaah.” [Surah Al-Baqarah: 158]
Then he must say:
“We begin with that which Allaah has begun with.”
The Muhrim then climbs part of the way up the hill of as-Safaa and faces the Ka'bah until he can see it, if possible, and then recites:
“Allaah is the Greatest. Allaah is the Greatest. There is no one worthy of worship except Allaah – alone and without partner. To Him belongs all the Dominion and the Praise, He gives life and causes death. And He is Able to do anything. There is no one worthy of worship except for Allaah – alone and with no partner. He has fulfilled His Promise and He has aided His slave (Muhammad). And He alone has defeated and destroyed the Confederates (of Disbelief).”
After reciting this, you should then make du'aa for whatever Allaah opens your heart to. This can be done in any language, even in English. After completing your supplication, repeat the same opening supplication as before (the one above). Then, make du'aa a second time (for that which benefits you). After that, repeat the opening supplication a third time, followed by more du'aa on your behalf.
After completing this supplication, descend from the hill of as-Safaa and head towards the hill of al-Marwah until you reach the first and second green pillars (indicating the ancient bottom of the valley between the two hills) and run quickly between these two green pillars. This running in the bottom of the valley reminds us of the actions of Umm Isma’eel, Hajar, who when descending into the valley between the two hills of as-Safaa and al-Marwah, ran quickly in order to climb to the higher point on the other hill and thus be able to see if her infant son, Isma'eel, was in distress or not. She walked the remaining distance on either side of the valley, as we do today. So, we remind ourselves of the patience, sacrifice, and duty the mother of Isma'eel, Hajar, undertook for the sake of Allaah.
So we continue all seven routes between Safaa and Marwah the same way: walking until the green pillars, then running in between them, then walking the remainder of the distance to the next hill.
What do we say or recite during this Sa’ee? Well, you should recite whatever you wish, as was the case in the Tawaaf, even in the English language. There are no prescribed supplications to be made during the Sa’ee. Keep away from those books that contain false du'aas in them of which there is no basis for them in the Sunnah. Make du'aa from your heart.
When reaching the hill of al-Marwah, you must climb it part of the way up, face the Ka'bah and recite the very same supplication and then your own du'aa – three times – exactly as you performed on the hill of as-Safaa.
Do not do what the other people do when they reach the hill, such as shouting Takbeer (Allaahu Akbar) then moving on to the next hill. This is wrong. Stop, repeat the supplication we have learned (above), make your du'aa then go on to the next point.
Leaving from al-Marwah, walk back towards as-Safaa, until you reach the "Green Mile" and then run as before. On the hill of as-Safaa, repeat exactly the same statements and du'aa as you did before then proceed back to al-Marwah.
Going from as-Safaa to al-Marwah is a complete circuit (i.e. the first circuit) and from al-Marwah back to as-Safaa is another circuit (i.e. the second circuit), and so on. This goes on until you complete seven circuits and end up on al-Marwah.
Some of the ignorant people assume that one complete circuit is going from as-Safaa to al-Marwah then from al-Marwah back to as-Safaa. This is wrong. Going from as-Safaa to al-Marwah is one complete circuit, and going from al-Marwah back to as-Safaa is another complete circuit.
Therefore, you commence the Sa'ee on as-Safaa and complete it on al-Marwah; after seven circuits. This completes the third pillar of ‘Umrah.
Now we come to the fourth and final pillar of ‘Umrah, which is the shaving or the cutting the hair. This takes one out of Ihraam (known as Tahallul).
Shaving the entire head is better than cutting the hair, at all times, except during the ‘Umrah that is connected to the Hajj (at-Tamattu’). In this case, it is preferable to cut the hair after the ‘Umrah, leaving some hair on the head in order to be able to shave the head completely after the completion of Ihraam for the Hajj. Cutting the hair completes the order of rites of the ‘Umrah, and this brings you out of the state of Ihraam (Tahallul), thus making Halaal (permissible) to you that which was prohibited during the sacred state of Ihraam.
You may have sexual relations with your wives, wear scented oils or perfume, wear a "Qamees" or a turban, etc. You are now free of Ihraam and have become “one who is able to enjoy and partake with pleasure in those things now permissible without Ihraam” in between the ‘Umrah and the Hajj. As Allaah has mentioned:
“Whosoever performs ‘Umrah before the Hajj (at-Tamattu') must sacrifice a hadee such as he can afford without difficulty.” [Surah Al-Baqarah: 196]
During this period, remain in Makkah and visit the scholars; recite the Qur'aan; perform your prayers in the Haram (Sacred Mosque) – do whatever you wish, but don't waste your time by talking idly with your friends or by arguing. Obtain the most benefit of your time there by visiting the scholars and going to their classes, engaging in the remembrance of Allaah, etc., until the 8th of Dhul-Hijjah arrives.
On the 8th of Dhul-Hijjah, known as Yawm at-Tarwiyyah, you must enter into the sacred state of Ihraam a second time, which is now the Ihraam of Hajj. This is accomplished wherever you are, whether inside the (Masjid) Al-Haram, or at the hotel in which your are staying.
I forgot to mention earlier when discussing the Ihraam, that is is preferable (mustahabb) to take a bath and apply scented oil or perfume before donning the clothes of Ihraam. But it is not obligatory, so if you do not take a bath prior to Ihraam, there is no harm.
If you applied scent before Ihraam and the scent remained in your head or beard after entering into Ihraam, there is no harm. What is prohibited is to apply a scent after the Ihraam has been assumed. This is Haraam (prohibited). Any effects from previously applying scent upon the head, body, or beard, before assuming Ihraam, is overlooked.
 Translator’s Note: The Niqaab is a piece of clothing specifically designed for the purpose of covering the face and/or head and is in direct contact with the surface of the skin.