Are non-Muslims allowed inside the Dome of the Rock?
Greetings from Jerusalem. This morning I took my family to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. The Western Wall was an emotional experience for my wife, as she felt the collective sorrow and yet collective hope in the women singing sanguine songs around her.
Up on the Temple Mount, even as we walked by the Dome of the Rock, a man sitting on a folding chair nearby snapped at my wife to stay away from the building. It’s quite cold in Jerusalem and my wife was dressed modestly; it just seemed to be, to put it politely, the culture. The same thing happened at a grocery store near our apartment when a man just cut in front of my wife and sneered at her, saying something in Arabic to the shopkeeper followed by the two of them sharing a laugh.
But that’s not the point of this post.
Rather, the question is are non-Muslims ever allowed in the Temple Mount?
Google seems to think the answer is no, but that is not my experience.
I had a conversation with another two men on the Temple Mount and asked them if a Kafir (كافر – a term for a non-believer) is ever allowed in? They both said no. One said that non-Muslims had not been allowed in since the Second Intifada in 2002, which happened after then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. The visit was seen as an incendiary action to many Muslims in Israel and the Palestinian territories and sparked violence.
But when I was on the Temple Mount in 2009, I was invited into the Dome of the Rock.
That seemed to stump them.
Perhaps because I didn’t have a woman with me…
I’m Not Offended…But I Guess I Am Sad?
Having seen the spectacle of what the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other Christian and Jewish sites overrun with tourists have become, part of me certainly respects Muslims for shutting down their holy places from tourists.
Nothing spoils the sacred mood like selfie sticks and flash photography. Sadly, tourists were even snapping away pictures inside the Aedicula at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
But while I bemoan how there is no longer any respect or decorum in houses of worship from faith traditions around the world, part of me is perplexed that the Muslims do not want to welcome in skeptics and try to convert them.
Islam is more like Christianity than Judaism in that there is a proselytizing, missionary element to it, called Da‘wah (دعوة). Over the years and through my travels around the world, many Muslims have tried to convert me. Not as ubiquitous as the Latter Day Saints on bicycles or JWs who always knock on my door at the wrong time, I have engaged in many interesting discussions…including in Kruger National Park in South Africa (of all places…).
Anyway, I’m just bummed that I cannot visit these historical sites like the Dome of the Rock or more poignantly, Mecca. I don’t want to make a spectacle of myself…heck, I would be happy to leave my camera behind. But I do want to see and experience these sites that have such tremendous historic and religious value to so many people. I don’t think that denigrates a house of worship. In fact, if Muslims are trying to convert others, I would think that welcoming them inside their shrines, grand mosques, and other sacred spaces might be an effective tool.
All that to say, is there a way to get inside the Dome of the Rock? My understanding that some aid agencies can arrange access. I’m probably too late for that on this trip, but would have liked to show my wife the rock upon which Muslims believed the prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven.
I’m not upset or offended that Muslims would choose to keep their holy sites from being a circus of tourism. At the same time, I detest the idea that historical artifacts are off-limits to those of the “wrong” faith, especially from visitors who come with respect and a desire to learn.
For more, here’s an interesting take on the subject from The New Yorker.
Any tips for getting into the Dome of the Rock?
The “kafir” term applies no more to Christians and Jews than it applies to Muslims.
How do the Dome of the Rock “bouncers” confirm whether or not a visiting “Balkan Jew” with his “Balkan Muslim” cousin is Muslim or not?
Interesting question. That very thing happened today…should have mentioned that. An Albanian (or Eastern European) Muslim tried to gain entry and a big fight ensued. His wife and daughter had head coverings on. Perhaps the bouncer made him recite Part of the Quran or a Hadith…not sure. He was finally allowed in.
Funny you mention that…I tried to access the temple mount on non visiting hours (as is allowed for muslims but not non-muslims), which backpacking through Israel. After spending a good 10 min starting at my passport (born in Iran, US citizen), he asked me to recite some prayer. Me being a muslim in name only (and not even that), couldn’t do it. No dice, i visited the temple mount the next day with all the tourists. Didn’t try my luck getting into Dome of the Rock
Recite part of what “Hadith”? It seems like you’re using foreign terms in a way which you don’t understand and without an appreciation that Islam is not a monolith and that Muslims are a very diverse group of people with very diverse beliefs that aren’t all carbon copies even within just the Sunni Muslim communities around the world.. And since being able to recite something doesn’t necessarily make a believer of the person repeating a phrase, if the bouncers are requiring that as a qualification requirement to enter, then they have opened the door to people who could be misleading them and excluding people whom they were possibly even instructed to allow to enter.
Maybe reciting part of the Quran, but let’s just say that some can get even some parrots to repeat phrases from it. And there is no requirement for a Muslim to know their religion in Arabic or any other language understood by the site bouncers. If anything, I would expect that a wannabe agent-provocateur would have a far easier time to pass off as Muslim than it would be for a Jewish Indian with a Parsi or Muslim-sounding name to enter some European synagogues for services without being pre-vetted or even blacklisted as a result of an attempted visit. Welcome to how racism “works” when dealing with gate-keepers and “security” types.
@GUWonder, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt rather than take your comment as an insult. More than most non-Muslims, I very much appreciate the diversity of the Muslim faith. Not only am I familiar with the Sunni and Shia theological differences (and the divisions even within those two main branches), but also quite familiar with smaller sects like Alawites and the Ahmadiyya faith. One of my dear friends is an Ahmadiyya Muslim and I saw first-hand how many do not consider him a “real” Muslim. The discrimination was far worse than anything I have experienced.
I certainly agree with you that reciting something proves nothing. I will say that *not* being able to recite something does suggest a lack of faith.
According to Islamic theology, the Qur’an is a revelation very specifically in Arabic, and so it should only be recited in Quranic Arabic. Therefore it is a requirement for muslins to know their religion in Arabic.
I had replied to this comment earlier, but that response of mine seems to have disappeared. Weird too.
Non muslims are not allowed inside the Dome of the Rock. It’s strictly enforced now and the Palestinians sitting at the entrance will make sure of it.
In the end these are just buildings. Something historical may or may not have happened therein or at that site. Regardless, my faith is not shaken if I’m not allowed inside. And I belong to a faith that has some sacred places that only observant members of our faith are allowed in, not to keep things secret but to show reverence to sacred things. While visiting holy sites it is refreshing to see that dedication and reverence it, rather than wonder why I’m not allowed in. For these reasons I have little reason for a pilgrimage, of sorts. Also, there are many other ways to learn a culture without visiting holy sites.
Thanks for your post, it’s really thought provoking!
They are just buildings, but I think places of worship open to a segment of the public that numbers in the millions should be open to all the public too. While they should be able to ask that they not be used for distracting or religious attendee-displacing , non-religious tourism purposes when they are having religious services, I think it’s weird — especially for a proselytizing faith or one trying to “bring back” descendants of the faithful — to have public places of worship that are unwelcoming in any form.
Palestinians are very nice and warm. Strike up a genuine conversation and mention your curiosity. I think any of them will be happy to give you a tour.
Will try Ismael!
I’ve been to the west bank and the dome of the rock and have found Palestinians in general to be hostile.
I was able to visit way back in 1998. But it is true that since around 2000 to 2002 non Muslims have been banned. That is a shame since it is really beautiful inside.
Since you mentioned Mecca, let me just tell you that it’s not impossible for a non-Muslim to get there. It’s been done before, you just have to know how to play that specific game. Can’t comment on the Temple Mount though.
Dear Matthew, may Allah guide you to the correct way! I felt happy reading your words and thank you for your understanding, if you visited Istanbul historical mosques you will find women covering at the gates so you and your wife will be able to enter (avoiding the 5 prayer times). Now to learn Islam, it is not the 3 holy mosques (what Muslims call Haram) where you can start with. You can find local Muslim centers near you every where in the world and I personally offer you a visit if you cannot find one.
You want to see Mecca. Not because you are Muslim but because you are are a tourist. Just as other tourists have overrun Notre Dame, Venice, on and on. They may also have respect for those sites but there are just too many people. Even Mecca during the hajj is overrun.
You seem incredibly naive and ignorant. Do you even realize that the place is a mosque built on the site of Solomon’s Temple? That’s why they don’t want people to visit they’re afraid their claim to the site will be imperiled. The black rock inside is the stone that Jacob presumably slept on when he had the dream of the ladder. Bottom line just like the Hagia Sofia in Turkey this is a site way more important to other religions than to Muslims and that’s why they don’t welcome foreigners.
It is true that other faiths have claims on the Temple Mount…I don’t think I ever suggested otherwise.
Sigh. I don’t think you meant it this way but there are just so many ignorant statements in here.
Access to the site has very little to do with you being a non believer.
1. It is correct that non Muslims are not allowed inside the building. That has been the policy for almost 2 decades put in place by the Islamic Waqf.
2. The Islamic Waqf is a foundation run by the Jordanian royal family. Unlike many nearby governments, Jordan is largely secular.
3. The guards outside of the Dome do request recitation of verses from the Quran to enforce the policy. Your earlier experience to the contrary isn’t a change in policy. it’s actually quite dangerous. You could literally start armed conflict by doing so.
4. Access is restricted for security reasons. On certain days, at certain times, Israelis and other Jews are also allowed on to Temple Mount. Often fights and riots ensue because simple rules that are put in place for safety are broken. For example, non Muslims are not allowed in during prayer times, no PDA, modest dress for both men and women. Last time I was there, a few non Muslims started protesting on the grounds, and a fight literally broke out in seconds. As a non Muslim who has visited, I appreciate those rules. Are they 100% fair rules? No, but they are there to keep peace on the most contested plot of land in the world. This isn’t Disneyland, it’s literally a war zone.
5. Why would anyone expect that just because a religion is proselytizing that you should have open access to their sites? The world doesn’t have access to the archives or crypts of the Vatican…
Thanks for your comment, though I’m not sure what is “ignorant” versus merely your own opinion…
Almost nobody has access to the crypts or archives of the Vatican, including almost all the Christians in the world. Churches however as well as the holy places of all other major religions are open to everyone, including Muslims. The only religion whose people have such unwelcoming policies about entering their holy sites is Islam. The Temple Mount and Mecca aren’t the only places where they do this, they do it in many places.
Everyone hates a velvet rope of any sort…
I have to say that your experience of Islam as a ‘proselytising’ religion is vastly different from my own. I’ve lived, studied and worked in the largest Muslim majority country, visited virtually every other country with significant populations, interacted with tens of thousands…but it has NEVER been an issue, NOT ONCE ( …for which I’m eternally grateful, as a non-believer, interest in religious history, practices and architecture notwithstanding)
In the early 90 ties i entered without the problem.
I guess world has changed (mostly to worsr) since then.
Anyway nothing soecial there (for me as nonbeliever) just rock floor in middle of the room.
They permit Muslim tourists. It’s not about tourism. It’s about rejecting all other religions. It’s religious intolerance. When Jordan seized the old city of Jerusalem in 1948, the entire Jewish quarter was burnt down. Jews were not permitted to visit their holy sites. So, perhaps best to stow the false cultural sensitivity and speak the truth: infidels are banned in the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa, but Muslims are permitted in every Christian or Jewish site in Israel.
I am not well versed in the reasons why the temple mount is restricted to non Muslims, but as for the other 2 holy sites in mecca , it is is simply a logistics issue.( Not a religious one as some people believe) The amount of Muslims they have visiting the sites throughout the year is so great a number that they have no choice but to limit access to the sites. The country has to pull resources from other parts during Hajj season and the rest of the days it is filled up. They even restrict local people how many times they can go( once Ina few years I Believe).
I do agree with you that it will a wonderful way to showcase the religion by allowing access to the holy sites, but I’d doubt it going to happen. Though.
No it’s actually a law in Islam and of the KSA that non-Muslims are not permitted in Medina or Mecca under severe punishment. There are even highway signs informing non Muslims go one direction and Muslims you can enter.
I don’t think non muslims have been allowed in either city since Jews were forced out of both in the 600s.
Take this for what it’s worth as a Jewish guy who visited Israel last century…….in 1996 I was allowed to go into both the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. The same was the case in 2000 before the Intifada, even spent an hour in the Dome of the Rock sitting watching and thinking.
Since then the Palestinian authority refuses to allow any non-Muslims in and Israeli police do their very best to keep Jews off of the mount because their presence alone is considered ‘an incitement’.
In 2012 I was with a group from my church in Rochester Michigan that visited the Temple Mount. For some reason on my own separate from my group I walked right into the Dome of the Rock. The only other people in there were some Muslim ladies. They ignored me even as I walked down the stairs into the cave underneath the foundation stone. To me is was kind of eerie so I spent only about a minute down there and I left. Recently I saw a video that said only Muslims are allowed in there now. I started to research the significance of the site. And realize how privileged I was for that visit. Not many non Muslims have ever been able to visit it. And now the Jews are trying to get the right to just be able to pray on the Temple Mount let alone visit inside the Dome where their most holy site is located. The Bible says that there will be another Temple built. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Shalom.
Thanks for sharing your story, Ronald.