Why Muslim Pilgrims Perform Sai’ between Safa And Marwa

In my first Umrah in 2003, I thought it strange that the Muslim pilgrims had to walk 7 times between the twin hillocks called Safa and Marwa. Honestly, I couldn’t see the point of it. All we did was to walk back and forth between the two mounts and to make a few prayers duas as we moved. 

When I asked the other pilgrims why we walked in this way, the answer was always-’Well, the Sai’ is part of Umrah! But, it all seemed seriously weird to me. So later, I went to the desks of the Haram Mosque scholars to ask them. And, here is what I discovered.       

Ramp in Safa In The Direction of Marwa

So, why do Muslim pilgrims walk back and forth between mounts Safa and Marwa? Muslim pilgrims do Sai’ during Hajj or Umrah because it is an Islamic rite that pleases Allah (Quran 2:158Opens in a new tab.) and it was a practice of Prophet Mohammed (SAW) who did it four times. Also, it is a reminder of the heartwrenching story of Hajar and her baby son Ismael lost in the parched Meccan valley without food and water that evokes feelings of mercy and compassion in our hearts. 

So, Sai’ was established by Allah (SWT) in the Holy Quran. It became exemplified by our beloved Prophet Mohammed (SAW) and it is a divine way to connect the hearts of the 1.9 billion Muslims worldwide with the earliest Prophet Ibrahim (AS) in Islam and his family in the beautiful story of Hajar and Ismael.  

However, knowing completely why Muslim pilgrims have to do Sai’ can make it all the more satisfying and rewarding if you intend to do Hajj or Umrah yourself (again even) in the future.  The purpose of this article is to explain and expand more fully on these reasons. 

Also, it is to help you even more by offering the best tips and ways of having the most successful Hajj/Umrah or Sai’ experience possible based on the lessons I have learned personally in the Haram Mosque and those of the tens of other Muslim pilgrims who I consulted for this article.  

So, How Is the Sai’ A Rite In The Hajj And Umrah? 

Sai’ Is One Of The Rites Of Hajj Or Umrah

In fact, the first answer I got to my question was the correct one. In Islam, the hillocks called Safa and Marwa are two of the signs or symbols of Allah (SWT)

As Muslim pilgrims struggle to walk between the two (and they do) their arrival at the mounts is intended as a reminder of Almighty God, Allah (SWT) and His mercy. Remembering or contemplating Allah (SWT)  pleases him. 

Click here to read and listen to this point about Safa and Marwa expressed in relation to pleasing Allah (SWT) in the Holy QuranOpens in a new tab.

What does Sai’ literally mean?

Also, the Arabic word Sai in English means ’to put forth an effort’ or ‘striving’. Google Translate returns the more sinister term ‘pursuit’. But the terms, effort or striving to achieve the seven walking distances Sai’ between the mounts Safa and Marwa are much more evocative. 

So then, Mounts Safa and Marwa are two of Allah’s (SWT) important signs and the walking (striving)  between the two mounts (Sai’) was established as a rite as in the living example of Prophet Mohammed (SAW) in the following way.

The Islamic Hadith informs us Prophet Mohammed (SAW) performed only one Hajj and four Umrahs.    

Also, in relation to establishing the rite of Sai’ Prophet Mohammed (SAW) instructed the Muslim companions to: 

“Learn your (Hajj) rituals from me.”

Muslim 1297 

In performing the rite of Sai’, Muslims are simply obeying the commands of Allah (SWT) as personified in the words and the living example of our beloved Prophet Mohammed (SAW). 

Prophet Mohammed Performed the  Sai’ Five Times

Conquest Of Mecca 629 CE

Before Allah (SWT) revealed the Quran beginning in  610 CE, the Kaaba, the Haram area, and the holy sites were occupied and controlled by the pagan (Kuffar) inhabitants. 

In Madina, Prophet Muhammed (SAW) dreamed that he and the companions (Sahabah RA) were performing Umrah.  

Prophet Mohammed (SAW) later explained to the Quraysh leaders that he and his followers only wanted to enter Mecca for pilgrimage and without using force out of respect for the holy sites. 

Thereafter, The Treaty of Hudabiyah was drawn up between the Quraysh and the Muslims in Dhuhl Qa’da 6 AH (628 CE) that allowed the Muslims to enter the Kaaba area for only 3 days of each year starting in 629 CE.      

However, the following year in 7 AH (629 CE) Prophet Mohammed (SAW) with 2,000 Muslims of men, women, and children ordered the Conquest of Mecca (Dec 629 CE). 

After a peaceable takeover of the city, they undertook the first Umrah which lasted for three days. 

The List Below Shows When Prophet Mohammed (SAW) performed Hajj and Umrah

RiteMonth / YearEvent
Hajj Dhuhl Hijah10 AHMarch 632 CE
1st UmrahDhuhl Qa’da7 Ah629 CEHudabiyah
2nd Umrah Dhuhl Qa’da8 Ah630 CEOne Year later
3rd Umrah Dhuhl Qa’da 8 AhCE 630 After Battle of Hunain
4th UmrahDhuhl Hijah10 AHMarch 632 CEWadda or  Farewell Pilgrimage

The Story Of Hajar And Baby Ismael Urges Muslims To Strive

Pilgrims Remember Hajar

The effort or striving involved in the walking (Sai’) between the hills of Safa and Marwa also causes Muslim pilgrims to recall the suffering of Hajar the wife of Prophet Ibrahim (AS) as she ran between the two hills looking for food and water for her baby son Ismael.

The event evokes mercy, tenderness, and compassion in our hearts. 

It also functions to connect every new generation of Muslims to the roots and origins of the Islamic faith and with the building of the Kaaba by Prophet Ibrahim (AS).  

The Well Known Story Of Hajar

Valley of Paran, Mecca

The story goes that one day Allah (SWT) caused Prophet Ibrahim (AS) to leave his second wife Hajar and baby son Ismael in a dry, deserted Meccan valley before walking away.  

Being alone and without means, Hajar felt desperate. There was little if any water in that hot, dry area of Mecca. She only had a skin bag of water and some dates. Hajar ate the dates, drank the water, and breastfed her son. However, quite soon the dates and water were finished. 

In sheer panic and desperation, Hajar ran seven times between the mounts Safa and Marwa looking for a source of water. Her thirst only increased and her son cried out painfully. 

Out of mercy, Allah (SWT) then sent the mighty Angel Jibreel (AS) to Hajar to help. The mighty angel slapped the earth with one of his huge wings. Then, Zam Zam water started to bubble up out of the ground until after a time it started to gush forth in huge amounts.

Later, her husband Prophet Ibrahim (AS) returned to that place and rebuilt the House of God called the Kaaba close to the newly discovered well called Zam Zam. 

The Best Way To Perform The Sai’

Start Of The Sai ‘At Mount Safa

In your Umrah and after finishing Tawaf, or circumambulating the Kaaba seven times, be sure to take a rest. You will need to recharge your batteries before doing the 2hr plus walking the Sai’. 

Click and read this article to find out Why Muslims Walk Around The Kaaba At The Haram Mosque In Mecca.Opens in a new tab.

After making Tawaf, I and my wife always stop, pray, rest, read Quran and just hang out for a while around the Kaaba before moving off to start the Sai’ at Mount Safa. 

Men: Make sure to cover both your shoulders with Ihram towel to pray and to begin the Sai’ 

Drink, Wash With Zam Zam Water And Then Pray

Even though the Zam Zam well fountains were removed from behind Maqam Ibrahim in 2018, be sure to drink and wash (sprinkle) yourself with Zam Zam from the available brown bucket dispensers or from the Zam Zam water hand servers. 

Then, make a two Raqaat prayer behind Maqam Ibrahim. It gets a little cramped in this area, so I always try to find a spot away from areas where women are praying. However, this is not always easy.  

Click and read the 20 Compelling Reasons Why I Won’t Drink Normal Water Again.

Going To The Entrance To Start Walking – The Sai’

Shaykh Mohammed Briefly Explains The Sai’

After your rest, slowly make your way to Mount Safa to begin Sai’. Today, it is well signposted. The entrance is behind the greenlight which marks the point where Tawaf begins which is opposite the Black Stone (HajrAswad). 

Click and read this article to find out Why Muslims Kiss The Black Stone (HajrAswad)

If you see the Mount Safa entrance is very crowded, walk around as far as halfway down outside the Sai’ lanes and you will find another two entrances onto the lanes. 

As you approach the Safa mount, be sure to recite and repeat the following Quranic verseOpens in a new tab. in Arabic.

Verse To Recite On The Way To Mount Safa

Translation: Indeed, as-Safa and al-Marwah are among the symbols of Allah. So whoever makes Hajj to the House or performs ‘Umrah – there is no blame upon him for walking between them. And whoever volunteers good – then indeed, Allah is appreciative and Knowing. Sahih International

Long before setting off for your Umrah, learn and memorize this verse (In Arabic if you can) until it becomes easy and natural for you to recite to yourself when you are in the Haram Mosque.

You can read, listen and practice this Quranic verseOpens in a new tab. here.  

Beginning Your Sai’

Making Dua’ At Marwa

When you arrive at Mount Safa you will have finished reading the above Quranic verse as you approach from the Kaaba

Choose the level you wish to do your Sai’. There is the basement, first, second, third and fourth levels. 

Ramps and escalators take you to them. 

Now, when you arrive, stand next the Mount Safa facing the Kabba and say:

  1. Allahu Akbar three times.  
  2. Then, recite this dua three times. 
  3. Then, supplicate to Allah (SWT) to ask for what you need. 
Dua To Recite Three Times & Each Time You Arrive At Mounts Safa and Marwa

Do this each and every time you reach either Mount Safa and Marwa. 

Now Walk From Safa To Marwa

Muslims Pilgrims Doing Sai’

After a few minutes in earnest supplication, slowly start walking to Marwa. Now from here (Safa), it is easy. Just follow the crowds. 

Note that you should use the right lane NOT the left and middle lanes to walk between the two mounts. The middle lane is reserved for wheelchairs users ONLY.

The following is how many times you should walk between Mounts Safa and Marwa and visa versa.

  • Safa-Marwa -4 Times
  • Marawa-Safa-3 Times

The Distances And Times From The Kaaba and Between The Two Mounts

Location / MountDistanceWalking Time in MinsPrayer/Dua Time in Mins
Kaaba To Safa100 m may be more according to the entrance you chose5-10 minsQuranic verseOpens in a new tab. 
Start at Safa 
Safa-Marwa450m / 1,480 ft10  (1)
Marwa- Safa450m / 1,480 ft10  (1)
Safa- Marwa450m / 1,480 ft10  (2)
Marwa-Safa450m / 1,480 ft10  (2)8
Safa-Marwa450m / 1,480 ft10  (3)8
Marwa-Safa450m / 1,480 ft10  (3)8
Safa-Marwa450m / 1,480 ft10  (4)30 mins
End at Marwa3,150m/10,360ft70 mins78 mins
Total Distance3.15 km/ 1.96milesTotal Time2.45 hrs

Walk And Make Dua As You Go Between Safa And Marwa

There are no set prayers to recite as you traverse the distances between the two mounts. Any kind of prayer (dua) or supplication is fine. Just remember to ask Allah (SWT) to bless you, your family and the people you love. 

Men Run Or Jog At The Strip Of Green Lights 

Short Clip Showing Male Pilgrims Jogging Between The Green Markers

On the walkway not far from Mount Safa, there are two markers separated by strips of green fluorescent lighting for a distance of about 30 meters. Here male pilgrims ONLY should run or jog between the two markers.

This is because in years gone by, at this place,  there was a small valley with a channel or river in which rainwater flowed. It was wet, sandy and difficult to traverse in the normal fashion, so the people ran across the river.

Today, the act of running or jogging across the ‘river’ is only symbolic and a way to remember the plight of Hajar as long ago she ran from Mount Safa to Marwa and back again in search of sustenance. 

The Sai’ Walk Time

The Walk Time Time Is about 1 hr-1:30 hr. Add to that a further 1:30 mins for prayer (dua), rest and supplication and your Umrah will take you 2 to 3 hours in total depending on your fitness level and speed.

A Nice Explanation And Walk through of The Sai’

Tips To Achieve The Best Sai’

If you choose the correct time and avoid the crowds, your walking (Sai’) will be an easy and comfortable one; 

All the levels have great air conditioning and huge fans to circulate the air. The entire length of all the Sai walkways is very well illuminated. There is an army of cleaners constantly brushing, mopping, dusting and sterilizing the Haram Mosque. It is always spotlessly clean in spite of the huge number of people.  

There are also many security cameras and Haram mosque police and religious advisors on duty. 

Preparation And Planning for Tawaf and The Sai

Before You Go

Be Fit

Long before you undertake Umrah, be sure that you are in good physical shape. Lose some weight, exercise regularly and take daily walks. You do not need to be a sportsman or woman to be able to do Sai’, but remember that you will be walking 6-7 km in very hot, and crowded conditions. 

It will be a great advantage if you are already in shape BEFORE traveling for Umrah

Ihram Kit Belt Wallet/Money/Phone

Author’s Ihram And Belt

Men should purchase a  good white Ihram belt with pouches for money and phones. I usually take some cash, a debit card, and a smartphone. Try it on over your Ihram after you buy it and see if it is comfortable and fits you. Wear it around the home for a few hours. Get familiar with having it on and find out the best way to secure it so it does not fall down when you are in the Haram Mosque. 

Note: Passports are usually too big to fit into the Ihram belt pouches. Sometimes I take a larger bag and belt if I feel the need to have passports or bulkier items with me. Remember you will sweat and this will leak into your bag and affect your passports unless they are sealed.  

Learn Quranic Verse and Prayers (Dua) Beforehand

Learn and memorize the Quranic verse above and prayers (duas) and any voluntary prayers or supplications before you travel to Umrah. It is a real struggle reading a booklet or holding a smartphone as you walk. 

Buy Shoes, Haircutter & Scissors

Soft Shoes With Grippy Soles For A Comfortable Sai’

It is permissible to use shoes/sandals to do Tawaf or walk Sai’ between  Safa and Marwa. However, wearing the leather mosque shoes for praying called the Kuffain is not permissible. Have scissors and hair cutting machine to cut your hair when you have finished the Sai. We keep ours in the hotel and cut our hair when we arrive back at the hotel.  

The floor in and around the Haram Mosque is made of slippy marble and very difficult to walk on. Also, your legs and feet will ache so they will benefit from the extra support. It is best to use sandals with grippy soles.

Note: The footwear MUST be VERY clean and not have dirt on them from outside. 

Buy Painkillers, Band Aids, & Anti Chaff Creme

Purchase good pain killers, iodine, bandaids, ankle/knee supports, and especially anti chaff cremes. Don’t forget the massage oil!

Petroleum jelly will help lubricate the parts of the body that rub together as you walk, for example, the inner thighs. I know from personal experience that walking in Umrah is for me agonizing without it. 

Also, I use Calamine powder or anything recommend at the Pharmacy for heat or body chaffs and/or rashes. 

Get A Wheelchair For the Elderly, Disabled Or Small Kids 

Elderly And Kids Can Be Pushed In Wheel Chairs

Arrange in advance for the hotel to provide you with a wheelchair, especially if you have elderly, disabled or young children as relatives. 

You can also hire them for SR 50-70 inside the Haram mosque. They are also available at an office next to the Haram Watch Tower for free in exchange for an ID card or Driving License.  

However, it is better to take it from the hotel so you can use until you return to the hotel. It really depends on the level of fitness of the people in the group. 

I used a wheelchair to take my pregnant wife to do Umrah together with two small children. It may have been impossible to complete without it.  It was hard work but a lot of fun too! Our little son fell asleep during Sai’.

Make Intention For You And Others

If you are doing Umrah for young children under the age of reason (age 8 and above), you can dress them in Ihram clothing but be sure to make intention yourself on their behalfs.

Plan Tawaf and Sai’ In Advance

Decide in advance how and what time you will do your Umrah and when you will do Sai’. The best times are at night after midnight and before Fajr prayer.

Start a few hours after Isha prayers about 12 pm-1 am. You will complete your Sai’ in time to pray Fajr and you can go to the hotel, cut your hair, take a shower and have breakfast before you sleep. 

Secure Personal Property

It is easy to lose personal items in the Haram mosque. Unfortunately too, there are thieves who will steal your money, shoes, and sandals. 

You can leave your footwear in the paid locker outside the mosque, or attach and carry them with you or store each one of the pair in sperate locations in the mosque. No one will steal just one sandal or one shoe. 

Sadly, I lost two pairs of good quality, leather sandals at the Haram Mosque and after completing Umrah had to walk back to the hotel in bare feet. 

Prepare Your Return Home In Advance

Your Sai’ will end in Marwa. After you finish you will feel exhausted and aching all over. Do you know which direction to take to get back to your hotel? 

Work it out before you do the Sai’ using a map or a quick reconnaissance. It is horrible getting lost when you are spent after completing Umrah. 

During the Sai’

Avoid Crowds In The Haram Mosque

Sai’ Can Get Over Crowded-Best TO Avoid

Overcrowding is the number one reason that pilgrims give for spoiling their Tawaf and Sai’ experience. Many actually criticize the Haram Mosque authorities for lack of organization and crowd control.  

In reality, the problems are caused by Muslims themselves, pushing, shouting and shoving as they move. The worst offenders are large the Hamlas or organized groups that move on mass around the Kaaba and in Sai’. 

Often they are unfamiliar with Hajj or the Umrah rituals and are afraid of separating from their groups so they tend to push and move together en masse. They are also usually the noisiest as they shout and chant supplications in unison to the level where you sometimes cannot even hear yourself think. 

Warning: For peace of mind, steer well away from the large groups. The loud voices of the groups sometimes sound loutish and unnerving. 

Choose Your Level or Floor for Sai’ Beforehand

Sai’ Has Four Levels

Decide beforehand on which level you want to do your Sai’ The basement and ground levels are often the most crowded. Most pilgrims won’t choose to go upstairs to the two top levels which are often much less crowded and much better for doing  Sai’

There are escalators that take pilgrims to the upper levels.

Don’t Drink Too Much Zam Zam Water

For obvious reasons, DO NOT drink excessive amounts of Zam Zam water before you start Tawaf or Sai’. There are no toilets inside the Haram complex. You have to exit the mosque and go to the underground toilets at the Plaza area opposite the Abraj Al Beit towers.  

That will add at least an hour more to your Sai’ timing .

Read the Inside Saudi article entitled Zam Zam- 20 Compelling Reasons Why I Will Never Drink Normal Water Again.Opens in a new tab.

Decide How You Want To Use Wheelchairs

Rent A Scooter Cart Or Wheel Chair See Prices Below

If you need to use a wheelchair you have the option to bring one with you, to hire one with or without a pusher or rent an electric scooter cart. 

Here Are The Types and Prices

From Hotel Free
From Watch Tower Office Free but deposit ID card or Driving License
From Inside Haram Mosque SR70-100
From Inside Haram Mosque With A PusherSR 175-230
Electric Driven 1 Seater Scooter CartSR 50 for Tawaf only
SR 50 for Sai’ only
Electric Driven 2 Seater Scooter CartSR 100 for Tawaf only
SR 100 for Sai’ only
Order Scooter Carts Online at www.gph.gov.sa
Call: 0515189675

Note: For Sai’, the electric scooter carts are only available for hire on the 3rd or 4th levels. 

Take Your Time

Plan your Umrah and take your time. It is not a marathon. It is, however, a perfect opportunity to get close to your creator God Allah (SWT) and that is something you really should not be rushing. 

You can do your Sai’ hastily without overspeeding and stressing yourself out. 

Set A Meeting Point In Case You Get Lost

During the running/ jogging green lite area of the (Sai’), I got caught up in a large group of pilgrims and lost my wife. Luckily, we had previously identified a drinking fountain and isolated area that either of us could sit and rest until one of us was able to reach the other.

Identify where you will meet your relatives and especially your children in case you get lost. 

Secure And Always Check Your Belongings

Lots of people lose items of clothing, personal belongings on the Sai’ walkways. Secure them and be conscious of them, especially if you are pushing a wheelchair or are responsible for children.

Avoid Bashing Other Pilgrims In The Legs With Your Wheelchairs

Wheel Chairs Are Everywhere In Haram Mosque

Bashing others or being bashed by others pushing wheelchairs is almost like a rite of passage in Tawaf or Sai’.  Due to the crowds, it is almost impossible not to be bashed or to hit someone unexpectedly. 

It really hurts your legs when a wheelchair hits the back of your legs. 

For this reason, I carry a cane or walking stick if I can. As I walk (Tawaf or Sai’), I hold the stick behind me in a defensive angle so as they are more likely to hit my stick before they hit the back of my legs. 

If you do not have a cane, steer you and your loved ones away from wheelchair pushers.

After You Finish

Cutting Your Hair

My Son After Sai’

After completing the Sai’, women just trim an inch or two off their hair lengths and men usually shave the hair completely. I usually do this at the hotel and have scissors and a hair cutting machine handy for these purposes.

At Marwa, you will see lots of ladies who for a small charge  SR 5-10 will cut the hair of ladies and them dump the offcuts in the bins provided. Also, close to the Marwa exit gate is a cluster of Barber’s shops for men. 

They charge SR 10 to lop off all your hair. Some will ask for more SR 20-25, but that is simply too much.  It is better and more hygienic to do it yourself in the privacy and comfort of your own hotel room! 

Taking A Shower 

Only take a shower after cutting your hair. Your Umrah will only be complete when you do this. Now, you can wear normal clothes, cut your nails and wear perfumes and deodorants.

You Want To Do Umrah Again 

Author In Ihram

If you are in Mecca and want to do Umrah (again) then you can take a taxi to Tanaeem mosque ( Miqaat for Mecca). Here you can shower, put on clean Ihram again, pray and come back to the Haram Mosque to repeat your Umrah

Related Questions

What do I do if I start at Mount Marwa by mistake? You must add another Sai’ and start counting from when you start at Mount Safa. Read The Ruling 

I do not have ablution Wudu can I do Sai’? Yes, you can! There is no harm! Read The Ruling 

What if my Tawaf or Sai’ gets interrupted? It is best if you walk Sai’ continuously, but there is no blame if your Sai’ gets accidentally interrupted say catching up wit others or resting. Just start again where you broke off. Read The Ruling 

Can menstruating women perform Sai’?  Yes, they can! However, they are NOT allowed to do Tawaf. Read The RulingOpens in a new tab.

Can I do Sai’ with shoes/soles on? Yes, you can! However, footwear MUST BE  clean and free of dirt. Read The Ruling 

Can I delay doing Sai’ for a period? Yes, there is nothing wrong with delaying the walking Sai’ after completing Tawaf for a few hours to avoid overcrowding and/or to rest. Read The RulingOpens in a new tab.

Can children do Sai? / Can I make umrah for my child? Yes, they can! Dress them in Ihram and speak to them about Umrah and the purpose of Tawaf and the Sai’. Then, make the intention for Umrah on their behalf if they are under the age of reason. Read The Ruling 

Useful References and Resources

  1. How Many Umrahs and Hajj Were Done By Prophet Mohammed Islam Stack Exchange
  1. Reasons Why Men Run In Sai between Safa and MarwaOpens in a new tab. Islam Question and Answer
  1. UmrahOpens in a new tab. -Wikipedia
  1. Hudabiyah: A Turning Point in The History Of IslamOpens in a new tab.-Arab News 2012
  1. 15 The Book Of Pilgrimage –Sunnah.com

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Mohammed Francis

I am a UK national, a college teacher, father of 3, writer and blogger.

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