Saudi Arabia: Can a Non-Muslim Enter a Mosque?


One thing that will likely stand out to a non-Muslim expatriate in Saudi Arabia are the number of mosques.  For example, from my villa in Riyadh there were no less than 8 mosques within a three minute walk of each other.  This is not a coincidence either.  Part of the custom and tradition in Saudi Arabia is for each neighborhood to have a minimum of one mosque.  For many, one of the greatest honors is to be able to build a mosque in honor of a loved one who has passed away.

But, can a non-Muslim expatriate enter a mosque in Saudi Arabia?  After all, non-Catholics can enter the Vatican and non-Christians are welcomed at churches around the world.  While the holy mosques of Makkah and Medina are off-limits to non-Muslims, the rest of the country and its mosques are open.  However, there are protocols which must be followed.

Any expatriate, male or female, should enter a mosque clean.  A woman’s face should be free of make-up. As a non-Muslim it is recommended that he or she not enter the mosque during the time of prayer but rather between prayer times.  Similar to entering a church, he or she should be respectful and quiet.

First of all, for a woman, not every mosque will necessarily have a women’s section.  However if there is a women’s section then it would be okay to enter.  A woman must be properly covered and in this case she should not only wear the abaya but also have her hair properly covered and tucked away in her hijjab.  She should not forget to take off her shoes for individuals enter the mosque either barefoot or wearing socks. I recommend after entering, she kneel down on her knees and quietly take in the essence and ambiance.  It is NOT appropriate to take photographs from within a mosque, especially if it is a local neighborhood mosque.

The non-Muslim expatriate man should also be properly dressed.  He does not need to wear a thobe but he should be wearing pants which fall below the knee.  Sleeveless shirts or tank tops are not appropriate.  The man should also remove his shoes and leave them outside before entering.  Just like a women’s section, he should not take photographs or talk loudly.

Be sensitive to where you are and what is going on around you before choosing to enter a mosque.  If you are in an area unknown to you, then it may be better not to enter a mosque until you are more familiar with the area and surroundings.  If entering a mosque and there are Muslims inside, if you are given looks of suspicion or feel like you are intruding, then quietly exit.

Always remember a mosque is a place of prayer and worship for Muslims.  It is not a museum.  The ideal way to visit a mosque as a non-Muslim in Saudi is to be taken to the mosque by a muslim who can also be a defacto guide and readily answer any questions.


38 Responses

  1. ” If entering a mosque and there are Muslims inside, if you are given looks of suspicion or feel like you are intruding, then quietly exit.”

    Rather ironic considering those Muslims looking at you with suspicion would have no way of knowing whether you were a Muslim or not…and thus intruding.

    Then again if they are looking at you with suspicion and a sense of intrusion then they are not really behaving in a spiritual accepting manner that ALL mosques are meant to have.

  2. why arent non-Muslims allowed to enter the holy mosques of Makkah and Medina? is there something written in Quran about this? what is the procedure of visiting the holy mosques of Makkah and Medina? how do a person confirm that he/she is a muslim?
    thanks in advance for answers.

  3. just want to mention that no problem to ware make-up in mosque , it is up 2 you and no rules against it .

    Irina :

    yes , it is in Qura’an , you can read it from here :

    and this is it :

    Al-Tawba _ Verse:028
    ” O you who believe (in Allâh’s Oneness and in His Messenger (Muhammad SAW)! Verily, the Mushrikûn (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allâh, and in the Message of Muhammad SAW) are Najasun (impure)[]. So let them not come near Al-Masjid-al-Harâm (at Makkah) after this year, and if you fear poverty, Allâh will enrich you if He wills, out of His Bounty. Surely, Allâh is All-Knowing, All-Wise. ”

    { يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّمَا الْمُشْرِكُونَ نَجَسٌ فَلَا يَقْرَبُوا الْمَسْجِدَ الْحَرَامَ بَعْدَ عَامِهِمْ هَذَا }[التوبة: 28]

  4. For your first two question Irina, yes it does say so in the Holy Quran. It’s is Surah At Taubah (9) Ayat 28

    Muhsin Khan translation:
    O you who believe (in Allah’s Oneness and in His Messenger (Muhammad SAW)! Verily, the Mushrikun (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah, and in the Message of Muhammad SAW) are Najasun (impure). So let them not come near Al-Masjid-al-Haram (at Makkah) after this year, and if you fear poverty, Allah will enrich you if He will, out of His Bounty. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise

    As for how do they know whether or not one is Muslim and how they verify it, that question I wouldn’t be able to answer since I haven’t yet been able to make an Umrah or Hajj myself, I wouldn’t know what proceedure they use for verification. But here in my city, there is authorized travel agency who applies for Umrah/Hajj visa on behalf of the person who wishes to travel (you can’t go directly to Saudi Embassy to apply for religious visa, mist go thru this agency only) I assume the agency ensures that applicant is indeed a Muslim. How, I don’t know 🙂

  5. Cookie, the procedure is to get a letter from their Imam saying yes, they believe in in Allah and Mohammad, and submit it with the visa request.

    This is what I am told, anyway. Since I am one of those horrible impure folks, I probably wont be invited to Mecca this year. Oh, if I were only pure and good, like those Muslims. Woe is me.

    I do have a question. How much is the visa for hajj and how much does the agency charge for this service? I ask because I was recently in SA (South America) and although I didn’t have to pay, I found the visa agencies to be a rip off and probably working with consulate folks to fill their pockets. I say this because 3 years ago one could send passport and documents directly to consulate for visa. Then they came up with the “agency” thing…

  6. As far as i know there’s no way to tell if you’re muslim or not, especially if you drive to mecca and are not overtly wearing any other religious symbol and sitting in a car with your muslim spouse. However there are boards everywhere telling you where non-mulims needs to stop and no go beyond.

    Personally , in my opinion, it’s their place of worship and holy to them , if they decide that only muslims enter then non-muslims have no business negating their opinions and would you really want to go where you are not welcome?

    As for any mosque, i have visited numerous in many diff countries, especially thos ethat are old & hold great architectural appeal, i have always found a sense of peace there , the quiet, the calm cannot be explained. There are a few in saudi that are fantastic , and i have no one stopping me, just berespectful. however the ones near where we lived were too ill-maintained in the womens section for me to want to go inside, especially with kids..
    Irrespective of where it is located, i doubt anyone will have issues with non-muslims going in as long as the space is respected.

  7. And it’s really weird that non-muslims are not allowed in the Kaaba, as it was a place for worship of different Gods to start with.
    Before Mohammed took over, the main deities worshiped in the Kaaba were Allat, Al-Uzza and Al Manat.
    Mohammed played with the idea of allowing the worship of these goddesses next to his new invention Allah for a short while, calling them the ”daughters of Allah” (although they are much older), but then retracted the idea, this incidence is now called ”the satanic verses” because he excused his change of plan with the story that Shaytan had deluded him.

    Black stones (meteorites) have been dedicated to the great Goddess all over the world, and the Kaaba, with a black stone, a cave in the vicinity, ànd a well which never dries up, (all ancient symbols of the Great goddess) cannot be more ideal for a religious center of worship to the great goddess.
    The place was kept up by seven priestesses, now seven men, and people did the perambulations naked. The symbolic rituals done by Muslims now were done by earlier believers of earlier faiths in the Kaaba. So in that sense the hajj is really a remainder of much older cults. For a while Muslims and other worshipers worshiped together in the Kaaba, but after a few years, when he was powerful enough, mohammed forbade anybody but Muslims to worship.

    Mohammed first had other plans anyway. His first plan was to have Jerusalem as his center of religion. He had to give that up when he realized he would not be able to stretch his power that far and choose the next largest religious center which was is his grasp already: Meccah.
    So it is really just a matter of chance that it is Meccah which is the holy center of Islam today and not Jerusalem.
    In the earlier beginnings of Islam muslims were instructed to pray in the direction of Jerusalem, and mosques were oriented in the direction of Jerusalem. One of the oldest mosques is called the ”Mosque of the two qiblas” since it has a prayer niche towards both directions.
    The mosque was recently ”restored” and the prayer niche towards Jerusalem was removed.
    I suppose because the Saudis don’t like historical proof that Mohammed changed his mind every now and then.

  8. The incident of the “Satanic Versus” is not well documented. I see no compelling reason to believe it at all.

    Polytheism pre-dated Mohammeds cycle of monotheism- but along with the polytheism was always monotheism. And Muslim belief has the origins of the Kaaba as monotheistic, so what Mohammed did was a restoration. The Qibla was towards Jerusalem initially because it wasn’t appropriate for monotheists to direct prayers towards a house of worship full of polytheistic idols.

    I don’t see it as chance Mecca is the focal point of Islamic prayer. The Kaba’s roots go way back to Ishmael or perhaps farther. And it is local to where the message of Mohammed was delivered.

    I don’t trust any translation of the Quran in which Khan was involved- but even that tranlation only mentions the Mosque, not the whole city. Logistiacally speaking they are not equiped to let others into Mecca (except in special circumstances) however, religiously I have never been shown any evidence they should not be allowed in Mecca. I have asked.

    As a Muslim woman I refuse to enter any mosque with a barrier between men and women. It is bidah and an insult. And it makes me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. So I would imagine non-Muslim women would be uncomfortable in a mosque. I think for men it is is easier (don’t Muslims make sure that is generally the case?).

  9. Worshiping the Great goddess could be constructed as monotheism I suppose. Women have it a lot better in a society which worships a Goddess so I think its a real pity we are living under the misogynist yoke of the male dominated Abrahamic religions at the moment. High time to swing around to a Goddess again I think.

    I agree that this barrier between men and women in the mosque is bidah, it was not practiced in the time of the prophet.

  10. I had an oppurtunity to visit sultan ahmed mosque ( blue mosque) in Istanbul with F and i was impressed, beautiful, clean, awesome.. great domes and just beautiful. I didn’t see any separation of women and men, we didn’t go in at prayer time. but men and women were praying inthe same space, i even saw a husband and wife sitting besides each other — that is a must see in this lifetime .

  11. I love visiting places of worship, especially in quiet times. Just sit, silent, and feel the atmosphere.

  12. I visited a few mosques in Syria and broke some of these rules. Not purposefully, but my Muslims hosts didn’t tell me otherwise. Most everyone seemed welcoming there from what I recall.

  13. I don’t understand the requirement of a non-Muslim to dress as a Muslim just to visit a mosque. Is the hijab a personal choice for modesty or is it a requirement to protect the men from their lust? I just wish they’d get their story straight. Anywho, I would not go to a place where they expected me to act as one of them just to be there. Take me as I am or leave me alone. I went to a gender segregated function once but, of course, I sat on the men’s side with my husband. If they had a problem with it they didn’t say anything but if they had we would have BOTH left.

    Sandy, I am so glad to hear of your boycott (refusing to attend mosque with segregation). I wish all Muslims would boycott mosques where there are practices (or sermons) that they didn’t agree with.

  14. One of the more interesting mosque-related stories I’ve read was of the rabbi who was invited to an American mosque. While the Muslims were praying their way, he performed (silently, I suppose) mincha, the Orthodox Jewish afternoon prayer service.

    Would that be acceptable in KSA as well as in the U.S.?

  15. It’s all the same god anyway, so I don’t see why it shouldn’t be acceptable.

  16. I am personally offended that I can not go into a house of prayer. I have been in the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca and wanted to tour the Al-Fateh Grand Mosque in Bahrain. The mosque has a sign outside saying when non-Muslims can visit and that women will be provided with appropriate cover once inside so my husband and I went at the appropriate time. A guard put his hand on his gun and told me I was not allowed to enter as I was not covered (I did have a scarf on). I pointed to the sign that said I could and would be provided with appropriate cover but he absolutely refused to allow me to enter. It might be just one bad example but it is one I will not forget.
    I have debated this issue a couple of times with Muslim family. I truly don’t understand why my husband can attend a Christian church with me but I can’t attend a mosque. It might be a small thing but in my mind it is one of the major negatives about the religion. A house of worship is, and should be, just that and for all people.

  17. @Lynn,
    Thank you. But I don’t think it makes a difference sadly. Maybe if I were in an American Islamic community I could make more impact- or just march into the main floor or something. But here in KSA they’d just assume I don’t go to the mosque anyway.

    It probably wouldn’t be acceptable in KSA, but of course, it should be.

    I understand your feelings on the situation. All I can see is a deep-seated insecurity in Muslims in general. They are always so afraid their faith will be derailed while at the same time proclaiming how obviously it is the truth. They don’t act like it is the truth. The truth should be less fearful.

  18. “I understand your feelings on the situation. All I can see is a deep-seated insecurity in Muslims in general. They are always so afraid their faith will be derailed while at the same time proclaiming how obviously it is the truth. They don’t act like it is the truth. The truth should be less fearful.”

    Yes Sandy I have often wondered about that myself. If it is the truth or at least the truth for each Muslim why act so afraid? when one believes in ones choice or faith one behaves in a confident manner. I wonder if it is the tribal undertones of the faith that is a throwback to a time when you distrusted anyone outside of your tribe…therefore you acted in a manner that might seem a bit less than confident or forthright.

  19. radha – there is a separation of men and women in sultan ahmet mosque and in all mosques in istanbul. The women’s section is behind the latticed separation in the very back, very small and, i was told, also upstairs. The big prayer space in front is for men, and behind it there is also big space for tourists. That’s where you might have seen a man and a woman praying together. No women are allowed to go up front – it’s for men only.

  20. The proper name for these places is masjid (singular) not ‘mosque’. And the stars and stripes has no business being beside the saudi flag which contains the shahaddah.

  21. Rehan, mosque (singular) IS the proper word for an Islamic place of worship when you are speaking English.

    And, as an Islamophobe, I have to agree with you that the Stars and Stripes has NO business being beside a flag that contains the shahaddah! LOL

  22. Lynn…

    Too funny!

  23. Rahan…

    I think your attitude is sad and indicative of what some Muslims feel. That Islam is better than everything else and deserves a higher place than anyone/anything else. Not everyone shares your opinion.

  24. I must say when I was in Saudi I was always told it was impossible to enter Any mosque in the country if you are a non-Muslim!! We even had to be careful with archaeological ruins…
    Furthermore, as regards the roads to Mecca and Medina, as far as I am aware there are police checkpoints on all the access roads (as there are in and out of most cities in Saudi) and your iqama (which states your religion quite clearly in Arabic) will be checked. I strongly advise against anyone who is not Muslim attempting to gain access to either of these cities…

  25. Rehan,
    Flags are designed to hang with the other flags. At the UN for example all the flags hang together. If Saudi didn’t want the Shahadah near other flags- they shouldn’t put it on their own. Anyway, at least the law in the land of the Stars and Stripes are more in alignment with the Shahadah than the tribal patriarchal laws of Saudi.

  26. It’s unlikely someone’s iqama would be checked in either Makkah or Medina unless they were acting suspiciously. However that being said, I would certainly not attempt to enter the Haram areas if a non-Muslim.

  27. Now Im curious what the punishment would be if caught entering those areas while being a nonMuslim? Would it be an arrest with deportation? Lashes? Or just a…hey, what the hell are you doing here…move along….kind of thing?

  28. People like Rehan make me sick. Again it’s a piece of cloth nothing more. God would not change or be insulted by it not being there or being “sullied”. I think God would be MORE insulted by attitudes like Rehan’s. Disgusting and VERY un muslim. VERY! Muslims are NOT better than anyone else. A Quran is a book that leather and paper pulp. The message is sacred to muslims an object created by man should not be. That is idolatry or shirk. Why don’t you save your immortal soul and stop idolizing object made by man.

  29. […] post: Saudi Arabia: Can a Non-Muslim Enter a Mosque? « American Bedu This entry was posted in Hajj & Ummrah and tagged answer-since, besides-each, even-saw, […]

  30. For the person questionning the necessity of being properly covered,it’s not “being dress as a muslim” but being respectful and modest.
    Not even 50 years ago, in most catholic churches, women had to cover their heads, and no one complained!!

  31. I’m not sure who questioned not being properly covered … that’s a given in most places of worship.

  32. Sameerah, Not even 50 years ago parents could beat their children and husbands could beat and rape their wives and no one complained but today (at least in the US) they can’t. Also, considering the fact that today women in Catholic churches are NOT required to cover their heads, I would have to guess that someone DID complain. Eh?

    Wendy, but who decides what ‘proper cover’ is?

  33. Lynn, If it is considered proper to wear a scarf or hijab or abaya to visit a place of worship then so be it. As a ‘visitor’ I would abide by the rules. In Bahrain the proper attire would have been an abaya and hijab which they would have loaned me once inside. I was stopped by a guard with a gun outside and told I wasn’t dressed properly to go inside even though I did have a scarf on my head and pointed out the sign to him. I have been in a Sikh temple and had to cover my head. No big deal.

  34. Wendy…entering a mosque not properly attired does not offend God, though he is often used as the excuse for a great many things, but it does offend the men, and we have learned that Muslim men are easily offended by the smallest of things.

    So refusing to allow you to enter just meant he was protecting the men inside from your enticing uncovered lady bits…

  35. Yes, I get that CR! 🙂 Basically nothing should offend God and God is absolutely used as an excuse for many things. Having said that we do have to live in a world with humans and some stupid human rules. LOL!

  36. The whole religion thing is just so childish and primitive

  37. Please don’t you people appreciate all this devilish christian try to say about islam. They want to corrupted islam.

  38. Everyone should just be quiet about it! It is their own religion, and they don’t need any of you criticizing it!

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