By Dr. Uzma Jafri
I know, I know! Muslim moms are supposed to be “excessively hopeful.” It is the modus operandi of Muslims to expect only the best from Allah (S). We are taught to ask for ALL of it, spending our sujood (prostrations) and salah (ritual prayer), including fervently asking for the chance to visit His house for our forgiveness as part of the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimage.
As parents though, we are also asking for the chance to witness His House with our kids so we can see their young bosoms alight with faith.
So many of us fell madly in love with Islam during our impassioned college years. Thus, we may believe that our adolescent children MUST be greatly advantaged if they perform pilgrimage earlier than we were able to, right?
Um, not always. Why? Because they are normal adolescents and we are middle aged mothers who are after all, excessively hopeful, especially when curating “the perfect family Umrah.”
As so many rules around Hajj and Umrah (as set by the Saudi government) have changed and so many more families are going for these pilgrimages now, let me share the realities beyond that hope, which I learned for myself on my very recent (and very expensive) Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) this past spring break.
The last time I went for Umrah, I was heavily pregnant with a grandparent and three kids in tow. It was fantastic despite me having to be wheeled through most of it. My husband carried one or more of our children during the rites while I held someone in my lap in my wheelchair. My daughter, newly fully potty trained, would make it to iqamah during most prayers inside the masjid before she proudly announced her need to poop. Right then. Back to the hotel or bust.
I would waddle back with her every time, praying for my contractions to stop and drinking zamzam (holy water) to calm that baby down who threatened to come out looking for what all the excitement was about. We had Baskin Robbins every day and took a lot of naps.
Most of our prayers were performed in the Clock Tower musalla (prayer room) because the kids could see the Ka’aba from there in those days, and I just couldn’t walk to the masjid that many times without serious delivery concern. Even though I couldn’t fight the crowds with my contracting rotundness to touch the black cloth and let its fragrance seep into my hands, my kids did.
Two of the author's children, who accompanied her on her recent Umrah, in Makkah. Image source (for all photos): Dr. Uzma Jafri
I have spent the past eight years patting myself on the back because a) I did not lose a child once on that Umrah, b) I took a five, four and two-year-old while pregnant without premature labor for Umrah, and c) my kids always talked about going back after that trip.
I counted on a future when we could experience it together again, when every one of us was old enough to be aware of what we were doing and for the rites to count. I considered that Umrah a practice run for my innocent littles.
Well, now I have three pubescent kids, but this year only one came with me from that set, plus the one I was cooking eight years ago. This is what I learned about my hopes and choices after this Umrah and how as mothers, we all would do better to manage our expectations:
The Reality of Umrah with Teens, Tweens and Kiddos
1. Remember what we liked (and were like) as teens: At my oldest son’s age (13), I was in love with a boy I had never spoken to, wanted to be valedictorian, and had mastered call return on our home phone so I could call back and verbally barrage the stupid boys who did ring my house. My goal in life was not to perform Umrah because I was taught that we did that as adults.
On the other hand, my teen has a cell phone, cool friends, and a life outside of school. Also, Wifi. He is not going to stare at the Ka’aba, eyes brimful and grateful because he could see it live in his hand before he could speak. Besides, he’s seen it IRL as a little kid at his last Umrah and now, “Well, I’ve seen it once in person. This trip I can watch it live from the hotel.”
Teens don’t have a fully cooked frontal cortex. At least that’s what I told myself so I wouldn’t bash in my own when they refused to come back to the Ka’aba to perform voluntary worship with me. It wasn’t a teen priority, and I couldn’t force it. Or I COULD HAVE, but that’s not great practice of our sunnah.
2. Umrah is expensive! It is astronomically expensive to go visit Allah’s (S) house now, due to increasing bureaucracy and KSA national expenses and policies. It’s no less than $3,000 during periods when the kids have vacation, which are peak seasons. Want to go with a celebrity imam? Count on a scarier bottom line. Have multiple kids or multiple other family members with you? Keep that calculator out. Better yet, liquidate your 401K.
Just eight years ago, we could eat at the Clock Tower food court as a family of six for about 50 SR (Saudi riyals). Now we ate for 50 SR per person! Granted, my kid is now a teen and eats like one, but that’s some crazy inflation to make up for COVID losses and masjid expansion costs.
Two of the author's children in Masjid Haram on their recent Umrah.
The next time I take a teen, I’ll have them pay for half of it so they feel invested in making the most of the trip. Scratch that, I’m not inviting my teens next time unless I get a strong sense that this is something they want to do, or if I hit some lottery.
3. It’s not just about spiritual rites, but spiritual RIGHTS. I’m not going to lie; I ordered all the “I’m going to Umrah” books for my little guy. It didn’t cut it. He was tired after our Umrah and let everyone know, especially me: “Ammi, why are you making us walk so much?” He couldn’t understand why the stories he’d read didn’t say anything about sore feet. He was sad about his right to comfort in this process.
Then there was my teen. Despite his education in Islamic school and three years of homeschooling, I was reviewing the rites with him until we reached the gate of Masjid Haram to start our actual Umrah. We’d already gone over the rewards of Umrah and how it’s not an Instagrammable moment but rather a time to connect with Allah (S). Then I found him texting his friends on Discord during tawaaf, or grumbling about the crowd. Or exclaiming about the size of the grasshoppers.
I glared at him through most of my rites, concerned that my tongue would violate his spiritual rights and ruin it for all of us. So instead I tried not to engage with him. (You know, as opposed to the “perfect Umrah” that was going to bring us closer together as a family.)
After our Umrah was complete, the kids were content to stay in the hotel except for their five daily prayers and Juma’a salah. In Madinah the best I got from my oldest was, “Okay, I prayed six [rakah in the Rawdah]. Can I go back to the hotel now?” Cue air dagger to my heart. What I wouldn’t have given for six uninterrupted, unassaulted rakah in the Rawdah for myself!
We’d reviewed the rewards from praying “in the green,” yet his youthful confidence of “I’ve done enough” was just that. Youthful confidence, not middle-aged I-see-the-writing-on-the-wall fear of not being able to come back and repeat these rites. It’s a spiritual mismatch of our generations, and it’s no one’s fault. Getting angry at my teen or even frustrated would not have served either of us.
The author's youngest child, tired after the rites of Umrah.
4. There are challenges when we do Umrah with teens, but there are also miracles. So until now I’ve focused on all the challenges. The new rules by KSA pose some new curveballs, too. There will be disappointments, lost appointments, rearranged lines, pushing and even pain. We adults say Subhan’Allah and move on because we are afraid to complain and offend the Greatest Host. So we hold our tongues and pray the discomfort away. That last one is easy because we do that as moms of teens all the time.
However, our kids haven’t developed that skill – fear or “gratitude muscle” if you will – and are wont to audibly complain about most things non-America. They call out their fellow Muslims, many of whom don’t understand why American kids don’t like to be touched, their prayer space squished or their shoes “borrowed.” They don’t love all the tours, global lack of taking turns, and infringement of already limited physical space at Umrah.
Then unexpected rain or schedule changes permit us all to experience a moment of Allah’s (S) mercy: A stranger does something so out of the blue, so kind that even your kids are quiet for a second. Or your fast food order is actually correct this time. There are probably several points during the day when we wonder why on earth we brought teens and tweens with us here (again, at no small expense), but it may be Allah’s (S) way of saying, “You’re okay, mom. They’re okay. Chill out and have a milkshake.”
5. I’m still a good mom if I Umrah without my kids. Teens are going through their hormonal yucks, and some of us are going through ours, all at the same time. And during these developmental lows and woes, we all need a spiritual pick me up. While we moms may be able to get that through God and pilgrimage (and iced coffee), our kids may just need time to hang out with their friends or Nintendo Switch. That’s developmental, and that’s okay.
Teens are not destined for a life of haram (forbidden or bad things) if they’re not eager beavers for the pilgrimage (or particularly excited about any religious rites in Islam, for that matter.
Families who are all smiles at Umrah in matching ihram are #cute, Masha’Allah, but they are not #goals or even Insha’Allah. I have those family pictures, too, and while taking them my kids were begging through clenched teeth:
- “Can we soak our feet now?” And,
- “When can I wipe the Vaseline off my thighs?” IYKYK.
Two of the author's children as they recently performed Umrah with their parents.
I’m not a good mom for taking them to Umrah before they’re ready to really appreciate and avail it. I’m certainly not a good mom or Muslimah for taking my kids while seething my way through tawaf when I could have been doing it with my husband or girlfriends who are on the same generational, spiritual and developmental wavelength as me. I’m just a mom who is trying.
How will I know when my kids are ready? In my house, it’ll be when they can raise their half of the cost and say they want to go with their dad and me next time. I won’t be bringing back any teens to this experience, because it’s not fair to them or to me. And certainly it’ not fair to my pocketbook. (If you can’t tell yet, this part hurt me a LOT). We each have to do what is right for us and our kids. You'll figure out what is right for you and yours.
We all pray that our children are great Muslims now and will be so as adults, all while being the coolness of our eyes. But neither of those is up to us. As moms, we are so intent on creating experiences and situations, like “the perfect Umrah,” instead of letting go and letting God. Guidance is in Allah’s (S) hands, and we pray that He gifts it to all of us and the generations to come.
In the meantime, ya Rabbi, let me come back to Umrah without the kids in tow. Allahuma Ameen.
Have you performed Umrah with kids (whether young ones, tweens or teens)? What was your experience like? Would you do it again? Share with us in the comments below!