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With Saudi Arabia opening its doors to tourism in late 2019, there’s no wonder that there is confusion on where tourists can and can’t visit. Mainly when it comes to Mecca and Medina (Makkah and Madinah), the 2 most important places in Islam.
Now non-muslims have free travel within Saudi Arabia, can non-muslims go to Madinah and can non-Muslims go to Mecca??
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had intrigued me for years, as well as the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, so it isn’t surprising that I first visited Saudi Arabia in January 2020, just a few months after the tourism e-visa was launched.
Later in the year, I actually became Muslim! Did visiting Madinah as a non-Muslim help me with this? Keep reading to find out!
Can Non-Muslims visit Medina/Madinah?
Related Post: Are you visiting Jeddah before Madinah? If so, read my post on how to get from Jeddah to Madinah via bus, train & flight!
Before visiting Medina I had watched a few a youtube videos (here’s my YouTube video!) from tourists and non-muslims who had visited Medina and this really sparked my interest because I had seen the huge Mosque in photos, and an incredible replica in the National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, and I really wanted to see it for myself!
Plus, after spending a month in Saudi Arabia meeting a lot of Muslims I was feeling more interested in Islam and wanted to learn more.
Related Post: Places To Visit in Madinah!
Can non-Muslims visit Mecca?
I knew that Mecca was off bounds for tourists and non-muslims. ‘Can Non-Muslims visit Mecca?’ Is a popular question and the answer is very clearly – No!
Mecca is the holiest site and it is where Muslims visit to do Umrah and Hajj, and in my opinion, this is a good thing, I think Mecca and the holy Kaaba should be kept for Muslims only.
I knew I wanted to visit Jeddah on my second visit to Saudi Arabia and I knew how close Medina and Jeddah are. I did a bit of research and although some websites stated that non-muslims cannot go to Medina, these websites seemed pretty old and many more said that non-muslims CAN visit. I’d also seen the youtube videos of non-Muslims in Medina who didn’t face any issues.
So, I decided to travel 6 hours from Jeddah to Medina by bus and see for myself what it was like.
Madinah as a Non-Muslim.
Firstly, a few blog posts and websites I read said that documentation would be required to enter Madinah and this is needed to show you are a Muslim.
Firstly, there is no way you can really prove you are a Muslim apart from proving it in words by reciting the prayer.
And there is no ‘Muslim identity card’ (although I did have to reconfirm that with a friend of mine in Saudi when I had a sudden state of panic), and I can confirm that at no point was I asked to show documentation like my passport apart from when I checked into my Madinah Hotel which is standard procedure.
By the way, I stayed at Mawaddah Altaqwa Hotel which I really recommend as it’s in a great location and a good price!
I shared the below screenshots from my Google search on my Instagram as I was getting a lot of questions as to how and why I could visit Medina. I had a few replies back from people, mainly who lived in Medina who confirmed that no, documentation is not checked!
This google snippet came up first on my Google Search result from Wikipedia without me even clicking on a link!
Twice I was asked by people I met if I was Muslim, once in a shop and once out sightseeing, they were obviously curious and this was a fair enough question, to them I said no, but I am very interested in Islam and want to learn more.
They did seem a little baffled as it is understandably strange for a British Woman to be in one of the holiest sites in Islam on her own and not even be a Muslim, but they didn’t question me further and there was no need to.
Where can Non-Muslims Visit in Madinah?
This is the main thing that non-muslims need to keep in mind, from what I read and understood, is that non-muslims cannot enter the main mosque of Al-Masjid a Nabawi, also known as Al-Haram, and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
Although this also comes down to the fact that unless you get questioned, no one will know you are not Muslim if you go inside.
However, for me, I did not feel confident in going inside Al-Masjid a Nabawi even though I was in Medina with a huge amount of interest and respect for Islam. And in all honesty, I didn’t know what to do inside so I felt like it was best for me to stay around the outer edge of the Mosque complex outside, which is stunning and such a serene and interesting place, and not go inside.
I was pleased and content with this decision.
As for the rest of the city, I felt much more relaxed away from the Mosque and there are plenty of places to visit in Medina in one day there. I did the Madinah Hop-On, Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus booked through Get Your Guide which I really enjoyed and really recommend to you, no matter if you are Non-Muslim or Muslim.
What To Wear in Madinah?
As a Female
This is very important, even if you are not a Muslim, you need to respect the dress code that all other women in Madinah follow.
I wore a black Abaya which I wear all the time in Saudi Arabia anyway. I also wore a black headscarf. Usually, I do not cover my hair and wear a hijab elsewhere in Saudi, but in Madinah, there was no way I wasn’t going to cover my hair.
I do not own a Niqab to and I didn’t feel like I needed to cover my face in Medina as the majority of women that I saw in Madinah had their faces showing. This is because women from all around the world are in Madinah, not just Saudi women and Muslim women dress differently around the world.
As a Male
I did hear from a male traveller on my Instagram who is not a Muslim and visited Madinah. He said he felt out of place in his normal clothes because the men in Madinah were all wearing their traditional clothes like thobes etc and in jeans and a t-shirt, he definitely looked like a tourist and a non-muslim, in fact, the guards around the mosque went up to him and asked a few questions as to why he was there.
Whereas for me, in an Abaya and Headscarf, I would have looked more like a Muslim than him so that’s the positive to dressing like a local and like a Muslim in Madinah!
Where Can Non-Muslims Stay in Medina?
As I mentioned, I didn’t have any issues with being asked for documentation at any time and I was welcomed into my Madinah Hotel without any questions which was in a great location right next to Al-Masjid a Nabawi.
I stayed at Mawaddah Altaqwa Hotel which I really recommend. I had an amazing view of Al-Masjid a Nabawi from my room, the room was clean and comfy with welcoming staff. It definitely gets used as a hotel for big groups visiting Medina on their Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina but that was not a problem for me!
For more Medina Hotels for your trip, have a look at Booking.com here as there is a huge selection!
Did I Enjoy Visiting Medina as a Non-Muslim??
Yes, I did!
From the practical side, I really loved Medina because it was so easy to get around on the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus and it was easy to walk around too. There were so many places to eat and a range of good accommodation. Whereas the rest of Saudi Arabia is still building up to this level of tourism infrastructure, even in Riyadh and Jeddah.
Related Post: My Detailed Guide to Riyadh as a Tourist!
I also loved seeing so many people from different countries. I recognised people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Eygpt, African Countries and many more. I kept thinking about how special this visit is for them, a once in a lifetime visit for most, and that made me appreciate that I was there even more. I also loved seeing what people were wearing and the clothes they wore traditionally to their own countries and culture and there was a lot more colour than in other places in Saudi Arabia.
Even as a Non-Muslim I could feel and appreciate the peacefulness of the streets and the Al-Haram. I went to Medina in the hope of learning more about Islam and I definitely did. I researched a lot more whilst I was there and felt I understood more too because it really is an inspiring and special place.
Overall, I don’t think that Madinah should be visited by every person who decides to travel through Saudi Arabia. I think if you are a Non-Muslim and you feel pulled to visit, you have respect for Islam and want to learn more then yes, like me, you should visit and based on my experience you will be ok and enjoy it as I did.
Despite the huge number of people who visit Medina it really is such a peaceful place. Many people told me this on my Instagram when I said I was going and I could see exactly what they meant when I was there.
If you are practising another religion then perhaps it is not a good idea to go, because this is the second holiest place in Islam after all!
Update: I actually became Muslim 5 months after visiting Madinah. Visiting Saudi Arabia but Madinah specially really sparked by interest in Islam and with Covid happening afterwards I was able to spend time learning more about Islam before becoming Muslim in August!
To SEE what it was like in Madinah as a Non-Muslim, have a watch of my YouTube video here!