Answered by: Ustadh Faraz A. Khan
Question: Why can’t non-Muslim, Jews and Christians, enter Mecca or the Haram?
Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,
I pray this finds you in the best of health and faith.
The short answer to your question is that historically there was disagreement among jurists with respect to the matter. Abu Hanifa’s opinion was that non-Muslims can enter Mecca and even the Sacred Mosque [haram], as long as they do not do so for the sake of the pilgrimage [hajj or umra], which they are not allowed to perform. This is the opinion of the Hanafi school of law, which historically up to today has been the largest juridical school of Islam. Other schools of thought, however, differed on the legal ruling.
The Verse in Question
This ruling is based on the Qur’anic verse, “O believers, polytheists are not except filth, so let them not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year of theirs…” [9:28].
This verse was revealed in the 9th year after hijra, which is therefore what is meant by the phrase “this year of theirs.” The year is ascribed to them in the verse to emphasize the fact that the legal ruling therein is specific to them alone. [Ibn Ashur, Tahrir wal-Tanwir]
Most Qur’anic exegetes [mufassirun] interpreted the first statement as metaphorical, that is, polytheists are not literally filth, but their creed of associating partners with Allah Most High is so base and vile in the sight of Allah that it is akin to filth itself, so much so that it is as if those who adhere to such beliefs are themselves filth.
[Ibn Ashur, Tahrir wal-Tanwir; Alusi, Ruh al-Ma’ani; Nasafi, Madarik al-Tanzil; Abu Suud, Irshad al-Aql al-Salim; Abu Hayyan, Bahr al-Muhit; Suyuti, Tafsir Jalalayn]
Juridical Difference on the Resultant Legal Ruling
As for the legal ruling derived from the verse, as mentioned above there was disagreement among jurists historically.
Imam Shafi’i interpreted the verse to mean that after that year, polytheists were not allowed to enter the Sacred Mosque of Mecca, yet they could enter other mosques, as only the Sacred Mosque was specified in the verse. This was the opinion of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal as well.
Imam Malik understood the verse to be more general and therefore maintained that polytheists could not enter the Sacred Mosque of Mecca nor any mosque whatsoever.
Also, according to Imams Shafi’i, Malik and Ahmad, the term “Sacred Mosque” used in the verse linguistically refers to the entire Sacred Precinct, that is, all of Mecca as well as its outlying areas; hence, the legal ruling of barring non-Muslims from entry would apply to that whole area, not just the Sacred Mosque of Mecca.
Imam Abu Hanifa understood the verse to refer only to the actual pilgrimage, not to mere entrance, and therefore maintained that polytheists could enter any mosque, even the Sacred Mosque of Mecca. According to him, they simply could not perform the pilgrimage, neither hajj nor umra, as was customary among the polytheists of Mecca before the revelation of the above verse.
[Jassas, Ahkam al-Qur’an; Alusi, Ruh al-Ma’ani; Qurtubi, Jami’ li Ahkam al-Qur’an; Shirazi, al-Muhadhdhab; Nawawi, Majmu’; Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar; Kasani, Bada’i al-Sana’i; Buhuti, Kashshaf al-Qina’]
All of Humanity is Honored
However, regardless of this particular ruling and the Islamic view of polytheism as a creed, people that adhere to such beliefs are still our brothers in humanity, and all humans are honored by Allah as they are children of Adam and Allah’s vicegerents on earth. Muslims are commanded to treat all humans – whether Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, polytheists, atheists, or otherwise – with respect, dignity, and mutual regard.
Allah Most High states, “And We have indeed honored the children of Adam,” [17:70] i.e., all of humanity, irrespective of differences in creed.
He Most High also states, “O humanity! We have created you all from a male and female, and We have made you into nations and tribes so that you may come to know one another…” [49:13] Our differences, then, are merely a platform upon which we, as brothers in humanity, can have civil dialogue and open the doors of communication so as to come to know one another.
Furthermore, it is rigorously authenticated that our Beloved Messenger [peace and blessings be upon him] said, “The believer is one from whom all of humanity feels safe.” [Sahih Ibn Hibban; Mustadrak Hakim; Musnad Ahmad] Therefore according to the Prophet himself, the very definition and hence nature of the believer entails providing safety and security to all of humanity.
He also said, “I was sent to perfect good character,” [Mustadrak Hakim; Sunan Bayhaqi], and according to Islamic creed, he [peace and blessings be upon him] was sent not just to the Arabs, but rather to all of humanity. The prophetic perfection of character, then, is directed towards humanity at large. This is further echoed by the Qur’anic verse, “And We have sent you not except as a mercy to all of creation.” [21:107]
Out of emulation of the Prophet, Muslims are therefore commanded to reflect prophetic mercy to all humans, creedal differences aside.
And Allah alone gives success.
Faraz A. Khan