Why does Islam ban non-Muslims from the holy cities of Mecca and Medina?
THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:
Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum is among the last people Saudi Arabians might want to listen to. Yet he penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month urging Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to end Islam’s longstanding ban against non-Muslims entering the faith’s two holiest locations, Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad issued the Quran and founded the religion 14 centuries ago, and Medina, where he led the first Muslim regime.
This prohibition hit the news when Gil Tamary, an American Jew and TV journalist in Israel, illicitly slipped into Mecca to record material and broadcast a much-hyped 10-minute travelogue. Muslims have enforced the ban so carefully, Pipes reports, that only 18 non-Muslims are known to have ever entered Mecca, including Tamary and two others in recent decades.
The violation of sacred space provoked an international furor among not only Muslims but Israelis and westerners who feared a rise in hostility. The regime has filed criminal charges against Tamary and his Saudi driver. Tamary apologized and said his intent was to “showcase the importance of Mecca and the beauty of the religion” and thereby foster religious tolerance. Guess again.
But cheerleader Pipes thinks Tamary “boldly challenged an archaic status quo that the world unthinkingly accepts. Bravo to him for breaking a taboo. . . . He deserves respect, not condemnation.” Pipes even wants unspecified international organizations to lobby for open access with the Saudis.
Pipes did not mention another exclusionary policy noted in the U.S. State Department’s 2022 religious freedom report. Saudi Arabia strictly forbids all non-Muslim houses of worship nationwide, though private or secret Christian gatherings are known to occur.