Why were Makkah and the holy areas forbidden for non-Muslims and when?

The Details of the Question

As far as I know, tawaf (circumambulation) has existed since the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham).

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The following is stated in verse 28 of the chapter of at-Tawba in the Quran:

"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."

Thus, in obedience to this command of Allah, none other than Muslims are allowed to approach Masjid al-Haram and its surroundings.

O believers! The polytheists are nothing but filth. In terms of being polytheists, they are indeed just filth. Polytheism (shirk) is the worst form of spiritual filth. In addition, they do not purify themselves; they are not aware of what ghusl and wudu are; they roam in a state of impurity; they do not abstain from material filth. Neither their bodies nor their clothes are free from impurity. Therefore, they are individuals who are dirty and immersed in filth to the extent that they can be called impure though they are not literary dirty.

Thus, the word "filth" is used in a concise and exaggerated manner to express the meaning accurately, which means they are nothing other than impurity. Therefore, Abdullah ibn Abbas says polytheists are "exactly as impure as dogs and pigs," and Hasan Basri says, "One who shakes hands with a polytheist should make wudu," but all madhhabs except for some Shiite groups like today's Ja'faris hold the opposite view.

If they were literally impure, they could never be cleansed in any way. However, they can indeed be pure through belief and taharah. Furthermore, it is clear both religiously and intellectually that this decree is not based on their being human, but rather on an emerging condition due to their polytheistic belief. Since that issue is so clear and evident, it is eloquent to depict them as being impure. That is, polytheists are not impure literally and innately in terms of being human, but in terms of their impurity in creed and deeds as polytheists. They are in a state of abhorrence like filth. Even if their impurities are not visible externally, they are spiritually impure due to their polytheism. Hence:

After this year, let them not approach Masjid al-Haram. It means that after this announcement was made in the ninth year of Hijrah (Migration), they were prohibited from approaching Masjid al-Haram. You Muslims are also responsible for enforcing this prohibition. Therefore, do not let them approach Masjid al-Haram. They must not even come close to it let alone entering Masjid al-Haram and doing any service or duties there. They must not even step into the boundaries of Masjid al-Haram.  According to this absolute decree, they must not be allowed to enter into Haram for any reason, even for travel, diplomacy, or litigation.

They have no right to enter there, nor do they deserve it. Thus, the custom of them entering there until this year has been abolished because they are impure spiritually, though not physically.

Can non-Muslims be allowed to enter Haram and Makkah for purposes other than rituals and worship under the supervision and permission of Muslims?

Imam Malik states that it is forbidden for unbelievers to enter not only Masjid al-Haram but also other mosques. However, since it is understood from some narrations stating that the Prophet accepted the delegations of Thaqif and Najran in Masjid an-Nabawi in Madinah, entry into other mosques except Masjid al-Haram might be allowed in some cases. And it should be taken into account that applying the decree on Masjid al-Haram mentioned in this verse to other mosques would not be appropriate in terms of clarity and analogy. In this respect, the issue can be considered more from the perspective of the following verse:

"It is not for such as join gods with Allah, to visit or maintain the mosques of Allah while they witness against their own souls to infidelity." (at-Tawba, 9/17)

However, there is an absolute right to enter there, which cannot be considered an obstacle for them to enter with the permission of Muslims in some cases. Imam Shafi'i states that unbelievers are specifically prohibited from entering Masjid al-Haram. Therefore, if a head of state were in Makkah and an envoy from polytheists were to come, the head of state would have to meet and accept him in Hil, outside Haram region.

According to Shafi'i madhhab, if an unbeliever enters Makkah secretly, dies there, and is mistakenly buried as a Muslim, and if it is later discovered, his bones must be exhumed and taken out of Haram.

According to the madhhab of Imam Abu Hanifa, those people are forbidden from Hajj and Umrah in Makkah. Not approaching Masjid al-Haram means they must not come for Hajj and Umrah because approaching Masjid al-Haram is evidently related to the acts and rituals specific to it, namely Hajj and Umrah. As mentioned above, during the ninth year of Hijrah (Migration) and on the day of Hajj, when Ali (ra) declared this decree at the beginning of the chapter of at-Tawba, he said, "After this year, polytheists shall not perform Hajj." And all madhhabs unanimously agree on the aspect of this prohibition in the meaning of the verse. That is, they are never allowed to enter Haram for Hajj, including places like Makkah, Arafat, and Muzdalifah, with Muslims to perform Hajj rites. After that year, Hajj is exclusively for Muslims. And it will be performed in accordance with Islamic principles. Therefore, they can be allowed for other mosques and matters unrelated to Hajj, but it is necessary to act with care and precaution.

The following can be asked: Does this prohibition contradict the principles of economics and does it not hinder the trade and income of the people? When the polytheists are prohibited from approaching Masjid al-Haram and are cut off from Hajj, will the profit and benefits they bring to that region not also cease? And will the Hijaz region and even all the people of Arabia not suffer as a result? Is the Kaaba not also a factor that sustains people from this point of view? Will the people of this valley without cultivation (see Ibrahim, 14/37), which is dependent on the blessing of Hajj for its main sources of income, not suffer from economic hardship? Such questions and concerns may understandably arise. All such questions are answered as follows:

And if you fear being poor and needy, Allah will enrich you from His bounty if He wills, inshallah: Indeed, from that year onwards, goodness and blessings began to increase. Many people from regions like Tabala and Jurash became Muslims. They provided more food supplies to Makkah than before. Then, when the era of conquests began, people from all over the world started flocking there.

All of those are divine promises fulfilled in accordance with the execution of Allah's commands. As for the use of "Inshallah" as a condition of this promise: Firstly, it points to the wisdom of directing all hopes to Allah, and secondly, it indicates that this prosperity may not be permanent for every individual, situation, or time. There is no doubt that Allah is All-Knowing of your states, both inward and outward. He acts with wisdom in preventing and granting. Therefore, O believers, adhere to those divine orders and obey those prohibitions!

(Elmalılı Muhammed Hamdi Yazır, Kur'an-ı Kerim Tefsiri)

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