Every year, thousands of Muslims from around the world converge on Mecca to perform Umrah. A sacred journey once made on foot, travel options these days are many and varied, but the spiritual significance of the trip remains as strong as ever.
For Sayfullah, who cycled the 3,500km from London to Mecca in 2017, taking time to make the journey was very important. “Cycling for 36 days was a unique experience,” he says, “it gave me and the rest of the group time to focus on our destination. Riding our bikes through Greek forests and the Egyptian desert built up a real sense of anticipation for what was to come. Time on the road meant we could mentally prepare for the spiritual experience of Mecca.”
Those travelling to Mecca can’t help but feel the weight of history as they journey to the place where it all began: “It’s amazing to think that people used to spend months walking from all over the world to perform the pilgrimage,” says Sayfullah. “For me, taking the time to cycle there allowed me to feel more connected to those who had made the trip before me.”
It wasn’t always easy: “there were a few times throughout the journey when I felt lacking in strength, but it had always been my childhood dream to perform the pilgrimage. Making the trip was like coming home. I had spent years praying and exploring my faith, so arriving in front of the Kaaba almost felt like greeting an old friend.”
Elena, otherwise known as blogger Muslim Travel Girl, has performed Umrah a number of times. Despite opting for a more common mode of transport – flying – Elena shares Sayfullah’s feeling of connection with Mecca. “For me,” says Elena, “performing Umrah is a spiritual uplift. It makes me want to be a better version of myself and to share my experiences with other Muslims around the world so that they can feel it too. You come home from a trip like that feeling like a new person.”
Despite plenty of travel options, many Muslims find performing Umrah to be expensive. “It’s possible to do Umrah on a budget if you are flexible with your dates, look out for airline sales and research your options,” says Elena.
“I’d advise anyone thinking of performing Umrah to get used to walking long distances – it’s quite usual to walk up to 10km per day. It’s also important to make sure your journey is well tailored to your group, taking into account the needs of any young children or elderly travellers. Once everything is organised, you can mentally prepare yourself to get ready for the trip of a lifetime!”
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