Clock Tower Makkah
Photograph ©2015 by Elena Nikolova. Used with permission.

I Am Not Allowed to Visit Makkah; and Probably Never Will.

“F ascinating photos of a place I will most probably never see in person.” Ric Garrido of Loyalty Traveler pretty much summed up my thoughts with that statement which he posted in the Comments section of an article written by Elena Nikolova of Muslim Travel Girl, who graciously shared a very personal experience with her readers.

I am very happy for Elena, whom I first met almost two years ago; and I hope that she has been experiencing great success with her book called Umrah under £300

…but I must also admit that I feel a little tinge of sadness.

I Am Not Allowed to Visit Makkah; and Probably Never Will.

I am not a religious person; and I have never been a Muslim. I do not ever plan to be a Muslim — not because there is anything wrong with Islam. It is just simply not for me…

…but I feel a little sad because I will most likely never be allowed to visit Makkah — otherwise known as Mecca — and only Muslims are allowed to visit Makkah.

I apparently am not the only person who feels this way, as Peter of Hungry For Points expressed similar disappointment in this detailed and informative article:

Despite my lack of belief in any particular supreme being, I recognize that some of the most incredible things in human history would not have been accomplished without a religious purpose. Each time I get the opportunity to witness one of these wonders, I gain a sense of appreciation for the power of faith behind it. The experience can be a better lesson about a religion than any textbook in the world. Mecca, at least on paper, seemed to be one of the best travel destinations for understanding a religion. I recently read that for non-Muslims, Mecca can be harder to get into than North Korea and Antarctica. As such, I will have to take it off my travel checklist, for now, and just hope that Saudi Arabia changes its tourism policies within my lifetime.

Reasons I have read include that Makkah is already quite crowded with Muslims; so to allow people of other faiths access to this holiest of cities in Islam could potentially be detrimental in terms of crowd control — not to mention that it could also be potentially distracting to those who wish to have a pure experience performing their Umrah; and significantly more difficult during the period of time when Muslim people annually embark on a pilgrimage to Makkah called the Hajj, which must be performed at least once in their lifetimes…

…and verse 9:28 in Surat at Tawba from the Quran is supposedly to be interpreted as those who are not Muslim are not allowed to enter Haram, which is considered to be a part of Makkah — although there is debate as to the literal meaning and actual understanding of that verse:

O you who have believed, indeed the polytheists are unclean, so let them not approach al-Masjid al-Haram after this, their [final] year. And if you fear privation, Allah will enrich you from His bounty if He wills. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Wise.

“They do check everybody”, according to this article written by Ross of Travelling For Fun who attempted to enter Makkah while in Saudi Arabia. “How do they do it? By putting huge checkpoints across the motorways exactly like tolls. And they also put a huge sign over the road to say if you are non-Muslim then get off. It seems crazy but in Saudi anything is possible. You feel very unloved and rejected. Up the ramp I went and onto the ‘Christian bypass’ which brings you 50km out of your way into the desert to bypass the city. The city is the holiest in Islam and hence Mecca is forbidden for non-Muslims, Medina further north also has this restriction. So how do they know that a white dude from Ireland isn’t a closet Muslim? Well firstly if you convert to Islam you need to take a Muslim name, Mohammed, Hamed, Abdullah etc.”

While Ross was unsuccessful in his quest to visit Makkah, another person went to great lengths to successfully visit the holy city.

“But the Muslim distrust of outsiders often got in my way and so I found it advantageous to claim – falsely – that I had converted to the Islamic faith”, according to this article which is part one of a series of three articles written by “Hajji Mustafa” for WND — also known as WorldNetDaily — which claims to be an independent news company that “has the largest reach of any Christian website” in the world. “The Saudi authorities prohibit non-Muslims from venturing within 15 kilometers of Mecca or the other holy city, Medina. Infidels who are discovered in the sacred precincts can expect severe punishment. Through the centuries, only a handful of Westerners have breached these regulations and attended the pilgrimage ceremonies without genuinely becoming Muslim.”

“No more than fifteen Christian-born Europeans have thus far succeeded in seeing the two holy cities and escaping with their lives.” That did not stop Mustafa — a pseudonym, as revealing his real name could possibly endanger his life — from converting to Islam for the purpose of entering Makkah; and he details his experience in three parts. Here is part two; and here is part three of that report.

Should Those Who are Not Muslim Be Allowed to Visit Makkah?

Although I have never been a religious person — I do believe in God — part of what travel is all about is to experience the culture, items and actions which would not typically be experienced at home. My original home town of Brooklyn could be considered exotic to many people around the world — but unless they experience being in Brooklyn, they will never know what they might be missing.

Paradigms influenced by religious beliefs are some of the most tangible aspects of the culture of a destination which contribute to the overall travel experience — as well as some of the most personal traits which form deep within a person. It is interesting to witness how and why people do what they do and believe what they believe — which to me leads to a better overall understanding of people; and a better understanding of people seems to lead to less chance of conflict.

While the news is rife with malicious acts by Islamic militants — such as members of the Islamic State — every religion has members who are extremist in nature and have little or no tolerance to others who are “different.” Ignorance fuels misunderstanding, which in turn increases the chance for needless conflict.

On a ferry years ago, a piece of jewelry in the shape of the country of Israel but with the colors of the flag of Palestine hung from a necklace worn by a young woman who wanted to hold what she thought was an adorable toddler. Her travel companion — a young woman from the country of Georgia — also wanted to hold the little boy.

I thought I had witnessed a truly wonderful moment between the two women and the parents of the little boy; but I wonder if the Palestinian woman would have behaved differently if she knew that the boy she was holding was Jewish.

I would prefer to think not — especially after I witnessed a very special exchange between two men some years ago at a barbecue joint in South Florida. One man was from Lebanon; the other from Israel. After dinner, I was asked to time a discussion they were about to have, to which I agreed. The prelude of the discussion was a rather bold statement: that they would resolve all of the major issues between Lebanon and Israel in 15 minutes.

The men resolved their difference in fewer than eight minutes.

They remain good friends to this day; but a fence — and a declaration of war, which is still technically in effect — keeps them apart. They had to meet in the United States to break bread with each other as witnessed by a couple of dozen members of FlyerTalk.

I was fortunate to have visited Beirut some years ago; and I hope to visit Israel as soon as possible.

To me, this is one of many examples of proof that a little understanding goes a long way…


…which leads me to my sadness: while I have no desire to experience an Umrah — a term of which I had never heard before I read about it by Elena Nikolova — for myself, I would at least like to witness the joy and the meaning of an Umrah experienced by a Muslim person; to better understand the religion of Islam; to combat the hurtful comments of discrimination espoused by people who typically know no better.

What better place to witness that pure unbridled euphoria of a Muslim person than within Makkah itself?

My thoughts do not apply solely to Islam. If more people better understood Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and other religions around the world, I strongly believe that world peace would actually become a more realistic goal — basic human nature put aside for an idealistic moment.

One shining example of proof is this trip report with photographs posted by FlyerTalk member isaifan, who called his experience of Hajj “a journey of a lifetime.” Comments by FlyerTalk members of other faiths expressed genuine interest in Hajj; as well as gratitude and appreciation to isaifan for sharing such a personal experience.

Although I also appreciate Elena and isaifan to share their experiences, I would at least like to have had the choice to witness it in person. With all of the utmost due respect to them, it is almost like watching a documentary or reading a report about an interesting place instead of actually traveling to it and experiencing it.

I have read some heartless comments in various places around the Internet saying things like “Who would want to go there anyway” or “I would not want to witness it.” Those comments are valid — but they seem to smack more of “sour grapes” rather than express an actual desire.

Delving full-throttle into experiencing all of the nuances of a religion is not necessary for better understanding of people and their beliefs in general; but not being permitted the chance to actually experience something meaningful which a person has never experienced before is a small but better opportunity towards potential world peace wasted.

Experiencing what is currently the third tallest building in the world known as the Abraj Al-Bait Tower or Makkah Royal Clock Tower, sporting the largest clock face in the world — as well as the hotel properties of lodging chains such as Fairmont and Hilton Worldwide — would be an added bonus to visiting Makkah. I suppose that Christopher J. Nassetta — the current chief executive officer of Hilton Worldwide — is not allowed to visit Makkah Hilton Hotel and will never see that hotel property. If that is true, how weird is that?!?

In the meantime, I suppose I have no choice but to be satisfied with viewing the photographs and reading about the experiences of Hajj and Umrah which people of the Islamic faith who have been to Makkah are willing to share…

Photograph ©2015 by Elena Nikolova. Used with permission.

  1. You are not alone, I am Muslim and I don’t intend to visit the place as long as current nejdis are in charge of holy places and who adhere to the same ideology that breeds is and wahbism around the world. I wish we have some tolerant ppl in charge of the Holy place for a billion followers.

    1. It’s a pure spiritual journey which has nothing to do who is in charge of the holy sites. Plus, keep in mind that you can only visit the holy sites when “it’s your time”. It has nothing to do that you didn’t want to visit or not.

  2. There seems to me to be no general requirement that Muslims — converts or otherwise — take up names that are historically more commonly found in Arabic, Indo-Persian, or Turkic cultures. There are huge numbers of people with “Muslim-sounding” names that are not Muslim and there are huge numbers of people with supposedly “non-Muslim”-sounding names that are Muslim.

    There is no reliable way to prevent people from visiting Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia if the person is willing to make an effort to fraudulently represent themselves effectively enough to visit the place, whether or not changing a name.

    I take what gets marketed on WND with a huge grain of salt unless and until I’ve reviewed it for accuracy. That site, while not off always in its reporting, is rather notorious for being a major online home in the business of selling Islamophobic propaganda.

  3. I do think that it’s long overdue for non-Muslims to have a chance to visit Mecca and Medina at various times of the year, but the Saudi government makes its own rules for visas and visa use.

    I’m not sure the Hajj period is a great time for people to visit for routine tourism purposes, when the prices are higher than usual and capacity constraints hit hard.

    I’ve known Muslims who were unable to get hajj visas (in their country of citizenship/residence) to do Hajj because there was too much demand from their fellow citizens/residents; some of these people settle for what some may term to be hajj-lite, in one form or another. If they had a vote to decide who gets priority of access and a relatively more-affordable experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if they voted for preferential access/terms for co-religionists.

    Maybe this could go more like it does with say Catholic schools, where Catholic members of the school get preferential terms of access/enrollment than non-church members? In some ways that means there would be a subsidy from the “outsiders” to the “insiders”. But that too would probably be attacked by the WND crowd if Saudi Arabia were to do that, with the claim that this would be some sort of penalty tax for not being/becoming “Muslim” that does nothing but subsidy the Muslim majority’s religion/community at the expense of religious minorities.

    Sometimes there really is no unequivocal winning solution.

  4. I’m a muslim and as I know that Mecca it’s not just for muslims and any place on earth must be allowed to anybody to visit it .

  5. Before you can even think about trying to sneak into Mecca(or Medinah) you need to find a way into Saudi Arabia. No easy task given their notorious restrictions on “tourists”.
    Not sure ‘Brian Cohen’ would pass:)
    Having lived there(KSA), I’d say pass.

  6. Brian I feel for you. I know how you feel because I feel the same way! I would love for my mother to visit Makkah and to be able to show you the significance of this place. I have contemplated for some time whether I agree or disagree with this rule. Yes I am sad she won’t see it ( She is Christian) but I think I lean towards not having everyone visit the place especially for tourism.

    I think it would take away from the significance of the actions you are doing. There is enough hassle and bustle as it is. I think it’s like inviting to a party or a wedding…not everyone gets to be invited, some people miss out. I am sure there are places around the world where I might not be able to go. Definitely when I was Christian I had that curiosity of seeing Makkah but I think it’s a sacred place. People don’t go to visit but perform a religious act. It is already to commercialised and short spaced and I am scared to think what will happen if they open it to tourists.

    I would also love to visit Jerusalem as it holds significance for both Christians, Jews and Muslims, so I do hope to do this one day.

    As for the fact whether you can visit Makkah – they do have check points, not sure how and when they stopped all the cars but I have been told they do. Also Hilton did send me a polite notice saying I must be Muslim to visit ( since my name is not). Can you enter… I guess you can if you really want to, is it worth it? I am not sure, the whole area is more for spiritual guidance and unless you are there to do that there is not much to actually do other than seeing a lot of people in white cloths. 🙂

    P.s. this turned long- sorry !

    1. I can see your point of view, Elena Nikolova. As much as I would like to visit Makkah, I also have no desire to interrupt the true meaning of the pilgrimages of Muslims who experience Umrah or Hajj…

      …and no need to apologize: your thoughtful comments are not too long.

      Thank you for being the inspiration for the article.

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