Umrah an arabic word that means to visit or to construct in general. As an Islamic rite umrah is making ziayarat or paying a visit to the Baitullah Sharif (the house of Allah) in Mecca under certain specific rules. The rite is also known as the minor haj. The quran says: “Thou perform the hajj and the umrah for (the satisfaction of) Allah” (2t196). On the basis of the verse Imam Shafii (R) and Imam Ahmad (R) drew inference that it is wadib (obligatory) for the able Muslims to perform the umrah at least once in life. According to Imam Abu Hanifa (R) and Imam Malik (R), it is sunnat-e-muaqada. As in the case of the haj, the umrah performer must also make arrangement for sustenance of his family while he is away. In addition, he is to take enough of necessary things with him for his own support during the period of his journey.

There are some differences of opinion among different Muslim madhhabs (sects) on the rukans (things that are required to be invariably performed) of the umrah. According to Malaki and Hambali madhhabs, umrah has three rukans: (a) observance of the ihram (a haj vow which requires one to clip his nails, shave head, take bath, do combing, and to wear a piece of seamless white cloth before entering the border of the Baitullah Sharif); (b) observance of the tawaf of the Baitullah (to walk round the Baitullah and complete seven rounds starting from the hazr-i-aswad), and (c). observance of the sa'ii (rapid walking) between the Safa and the Marwa. According to the Shafii' madhhab, the sequence of each element of the rukans is also a rukan. Hanafi madhhab, however, holds that observance of the tawaf is the only rukan.

The umrah can be performed either together with the haj or at a different time. Umrah can be performed in three ways: (a) any time of the year except the month of the haj, but performing it in the ramadan is mustahab (not mandatory, but of great piety); (b) together with the haj, but with separate ihrams; and (c) together with the haj with the same ihram.

As in the case of the haj, different prescriptions and prohibitions, along with the sunnah and the wadibs, also apply to the umrah. But staying at Arafah and Mujdalifah, throwing stones, and mandatory sacrifice of animals, which are required in haj, are not necessary in umrah. hazrat muhammad (Sm) performed the umrah with his companions in the seventh hijri. Since then umrah has become a custom followed along with haj every year. Many devout Muslims of Bangladesh perform umrah during the haj, or before and after it. [Mohammad Abdur Rahman Anwari]