SHAFAQNA – Sarah Omar arrived in Makkah this week with her son Saeed and grandson Mousa Obama to perform `Umrah, or the minor pilgrimage.
Unlike Hajj, or major pilgrimage, which is one of the five pillars of Islam that can only be performed during the month of Dhul Hijjah, (the 12th month of the Muslim calendar), `Umrah can be performed any time of year.
The word `Umrah means visiting or attending. `Umrah is an act of worship. Allah Almighty says, “Perform the Hajj and `Umrah for Allah…” (Al-Baqarah 2:196).
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have performed `Umrah after the treaty of Hudaybiyah, thereafter, he explained to other followers how it should be performed.
To begin the performance of `Umrah is to enter the city of Makkah with ihram (a sacred state), and the intention of making `Umrah, before crossing the pilgrimage boundary, known asmiqat, by performing the cleansing rituals and wearing the prescribed attire.
Upon entering the Holy city, pilgrims then perform circumambulation (tawaf) around the Ka`bah, then perform sa`i between the two small mountains of Safa and Marwa, and finally to shave the head or have a haircut; a woman cuts her hair from the ends of the hair the length of a finger tip.
This was the ancient practice from the time of Prophet Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him). Its purpose is to allow Muslims to visit the city of Makkah during the year whenever possible. It is to keep the Ka`bah visited not only during the Hajj but to keep it visited by Muslims throughout the year.
According to [some] Muslim jurists`Umrah is obligatory (upon those who can afford it), at least once in a lifetime, either with or before Hajj or at any other time during the year. As one of the five pillars of Islam, Hajj is incumbent upon those who can afford it, once in a lifetime.
After finishing Umrah, Omar and her grandson visited an exhibition in Makkah on the life of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Highly impressed by their two hour visit, Omar told Al-Arabiya News that she was “very happy to visit this exhibition, which is a good example for the propagation of Islam in a modern way, supported by scientific and authentic documents.”
She further stated to Arab News that, the arrangements and facilities provided by the Saudi government in Makkah and Madinah for the pilgrims were excellent; adding that she hoped the exhibition would visit other countries in order to remove misconceptions non-Muslims have about Islam.
Barack Obama, who describes himself as a proud follower of the Trinity United Church of Christ, is the son of a Muslim-turned-atheist Kenyan father and a white American mother who did not practice religion.
Omar, 93, who lives in Kenya and is active in charity work, became a national celebrity when her grandson visited the country in 2006.
Her modest homestead has become a tourist attraction since President Obama was elected as America’s first ever black president in 2008.
It was not Omar’s first visit to Makkah; in an interview with Al-Watan newspaper during Hajj in 2010, she recalls praying to God to guide her grandson, Barack, to Islam.