Why are Non-Muslims Banned from Makkah & Madina?


بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Despite what many people believe, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, the Prophet (s.a.w.) had nothing to do with non-Muslims being disallowed in the Haramayn, the region of Makkah and Madina.  This is something that the Salaf gradually arrived at.  We know that there were many non-Muslim delegations that came to see the Prophet (s.a.w.) in Makkah, and Madina.  This is established in the sirah.  If they were banned, how could they meet him?  We also know that Madina, as the de facto capital of the caliphate, received ambassadors and delegations from non-Muslims, even polytheists.  This is established in historical accounts.

This verse was revealed in the 9th year, after Hijrah:

سُوۡرَةُ التّوبَة
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ إِنَّمَا ٱلۡمُشۡرِكُونَ نَجَسٌ۬ فَلَا يَقۡرَبُواْ ٱلۡمَسۡجِدَ ٱلۡحَرَامَ بَعۡدَ عَامِهِمۡ هَـٰذَا‌ۚ وَإِنۡ خِفۡتُمۡ عَيۡلَةً۬ فَسَوۡفَ يُغۡنِيكُمُ ٱللَّهُ مِن فَضۡلِهِۦۤ إِن شَآءَ‌ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ حَڪِيمٌ۬ (٢٨)

O ye who believe!  Truly the pagans are unclean; so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque.  And if ye fear poverty, soon will Allah Enrich you, if He Wills, out of His Bounty, for Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (Surah at-Tawbah:28)

That is the meaning of the phrase, “this year of theirs.”  Accordingly, some people claim that this was the year from which non-Muslims were banned from the Haramayn, which is untrue, since historical records contradict that.

The different mufassirun, exegetes, had various opinions on the meaning of the verse.  It was the opinion of the late contemporary scholar, and Shaykh al-Islam, Imam Muhammad Thahir ibn Muhammad ibn Ashur (r.a.), that the year ascribed to them in the verse is to emphasise the fact that the shari’ati ruling is specific to the polytheists.  This opinion is recorded in his Tafsir at-Tahrir wa at-Tanwir.  It does not, however, define, the scope of shirk, and there was some debate as to whether it included the Ahl al-Kitab, the People of Scripture.  The majority then ruled that it did out of wara’, caution.

We have to understand that prior to this, the polytheistic Arabs performed their rituals and rites, circumambulating the Ka’kab, according to their superstitions.  These included performing the thawaf, circumambulation, nude, covered in the blood of animal sacrifices, and chanting the names of their idols.  After Fath al-Makkah, when the Muslims took control of Makkah, this was ended.  This verse could be understood as Divine Affirmation of this.

The vast majority of mufassirun, Qur’anic exegetes, interpreted the first statement to be metaphorical, that is, polytheists are not literally impure, but their creed of associating partners with Allah (s.w.t.) is offensive in the Divine Sight, making them spiritually impure.  Aside from Imam ibn Ashur (r.a.), this was also the opinion of Imam Abu ats-Tsana’ Shihab ad-Din Mahmud ibn ‘Abdullah al-Ḥusayni al-Aluwsi (r.a.), in his Ruh al-Ma’ani fi Tafsir al-Qur’ani al-‘Azhim wa Sab’ al-Matsani; ; Imam Najm ad-Din Abu Ḥafṣw ‘Umar ibn Muhammadan-Nasafi (r.a.), in his Madarik at-Tanzil wa al-Haqa’iq at-Ta’wil; Imam Muhammad Abu Su’ud al-‘Imadi (r.a.), in his Irshad al-‘Aql as-Salim; Imam Abu Hayyan Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Gharnathi (r.a.), in his Tafsir al-Bahr al-Muhith; and finally, the great Imam Abu al-Fadhl ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr ibn Muhammad Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuthi (q.s.), in his Tafsir Jalalayn.

From here, we arrive at the jurisprudential positions of the various fuqaha’, jurists, and there were differences of opinion in this matter.  Imam Abu Hanifah Nu’man ibn Tsabit (r.a.), as the grandson of Persian converts, held the opinion that non-Muslims can enter Makkah, and even the Sacred Mosque, al-Haram, as long as they do not do so for the sake of the haj or ‘umrah, the major and minor pilgrimages, which they are not allowed to perform.  This is the opinion of the Hanafi madzhab, which historically, up to the present, has been the largest juridical school of Islam.  This is the position that I believe to be correct, since the Divine Intent was to stop the parody of the pilgrimage by the Arab polytheists.

Imam Abu ʿAbdullah Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) interpreted the verse to mean that after that year, polytheists were not allowed to enter the Sacred Mosque of Makkah, yet they could enter other mosques, as only the Sacred Mosque was specified in the verse.  This was also the opinion of his student, Imam Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal (r.a.).

Imam Malik ibn Anas (r.a.) held the strictest position; he understood the verse to be general, and maintained that polytheists could not enter the Sacred Mosque of Makkah nor any mosque whatsoever.  This was expanded in the later Maliki position in al-Andalus, barring Christians from the mosques.  There was also a sociopolitical context of the Reconquista that influenced that.

This term, “polytheists” was later expanded to include the Trinitarian Christians.  And from there, to encompass all non-Muslims.  If we think about it, why should the Jews not be exempt then?  It is a matter of politics, and expedience, not religion.

We must also consider that according to Imams ash-Shafi’i (r.a.), Imam Malik (r.a.) and Imam Ahmad (r.a.), the term, “Sacred Mosque,” used in the verse linguistically refers to the entire Haramayn, Sacred Precinct.  This was eventually expanded to all of Makkah, its outlying areas, Madina, and it outlying areas.

Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.), on the other hand, understood the verse to refer only to the actual pilgrimage, not the expanded precinct.  He did not believe that non-Muslims, even polytheists, were barred from the Sacred Mosque, let alone any mosque.  No one should be barred from the Divine Presence, since that is part of da’wah, invitation.  According to Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.), the polytheists were simply barred from performing the pilgrimage, both the haj and the ‘umrah, as was the customary among the polytheists of Makkah before the revelation of the above verse.  This is found in Imam Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn ‘Ali al-Jaswswasw’s (r.a.) Ahkam al-Qur’an; Imam al-Aluwsi’s (r.a.) Ruh al-Ma’ani; Imam Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Qurthubi’s (r.a.), Jami’ li Ahkam al-Qur’an; Imam Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn ‘Ali ash-Shirazi’s (r.a.) Sharh al-Muhadzdzab; Imam Abu Zakariya Yahya ibn Sharaf an-Nawawi’s (r.a.) al-Majmu Sharh al-Muhadzdzab; Imam Muhammad Amin ibn ‘Abidin’s (r.a.) Radd al-Muhtar ‘ala ad-Dur al-Mukhtar; Imam ‘Ala’ ad-Din Abu Bakr ibn Mas’ud al-Kasani’s (r.a.) Bada’i as-Sana’i fi Tartib as-Sara’i; and Imam Manswur ibn Idris al-Buhuti’s (r.a.) Kashshaf al-Qina’a al-Matni al-Iqna’.

As can be seen, non-Muslims were not always banned from the Haramayn.  It was a gradual expansion from polytheists being banned from the pilgrimage, to non-Muslims being banned from the Sacred Mosque, to non-Muslims being banned from the entire region.  If the Saudi Wahhabis had their way, they would ban other religions, including anything that is contrary to their expression of Islam, from all of Saudi Arabia, and claim that is what Allah (s.w.t.) demands.



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