Mecca is recognized across the world as an important site in the Islam religion. Muslims face Mecca when they pray, and they are required to visit the site at least once. Many Christians, out of curiosity or for the sake of better understanding our Muslim friends, express a desire to visit Mecca for themselves.
But can Christians go to Mecca? Or does either Christianity or Islam forbid them from making the trip—even as tourists and not pilgrims?
Christians are not permitted under Saudi law to enter the city of Mecca. Even if Christians were permitted under local law to visit Mecca, we would not advise imitating the Muslim pilgrimage.
Why Muslims Go to Mecca
Before we consider the question and implications of Christians going to Mecca, we must first understand why Muslims go to Mecca.
The pilgrimage to Mecca (called the Hajj in Islam) is one of the five pillars of Islam. All adults who are both physically and financially able to make the pilgrimage are required by Islamic law to complete the Hajj at least once in their lifetime.
The Significance of Mecca
Mecca is home to the Mosque al-Haram, which is the world’s largest mosque and the most sacred site in Islam. The Mosque al-Haram is built around a smaller structure called the Kaaba (cube), which gives the city its prominence in Islamic tradition. Key Islamic beliefs about the Kaaba and Mecca include:
- Kaaba represents the first house of worship ever constructed (some Muslims believe Adam was the first to build an altar on this site).
- Mecca is where God spared Ishmael from sacrifice (Islam teaches that Ishmael, not Isaac, was the son that Abraham was commanded to sacrifice).
- Kaaba was rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael
- Mecca is the birthplace of Mohammed
Pilgrims on Hajj may walk physically demanding routes such as the path followed by Mohammed or the path followed by Hagar and Ishmael in search of water.
The Problem for Christians
In Saudi Arabia, the country where Mecca is located, the practice and promotion of Christianity (or any non-Muslim religion) are forbidden. So it might not surprise readers to learn that local law does not permit non-Muslims to enter Mecca. Any non-Muslim found within the city’s limits may be subject to a fine and/or deportation.
Yet even if it were lawful or simple for Christians to enter Mecca, as a matter of conscience, Christians ought to refrain from doing so.
Even though Christians understand that the ceremonial law has been fulfilled in Jesus, thus freeing us from the Old Testament rituals, we still must be careful to observe proper boundaries in our worship and practice.
For example, Christians are permitted to eat pork and are not required to perform circumcision, because the ceremonial law has been fulfilled in Jesus.
However, Christians are still instructed to refrain from adopting the practices of other religions. Just as Christians out to avoid practicing yoga or various forms of divination, Christians must refrain from visiting Mecca.
Drawing the Line
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.Acts 15:19-20
The early church, as it spread beyond its Jewish roots, had to wrestle with two related but distinct questions. As pagans came to salvation in Christ, the question arose as to whether it was sufficient for Gentile converts to turn from their old practices, or if they also had to become Jews (by undergoing circumcision).
The Council at Jerusalem determined that all believers, Jew and Gentile alike, receive the same Holy Spirit, and therefore it would not be proper to burden the Gentiles with a law that even the Jews could not keep perfectly (Acts 15:6-11).
The above proclamation shows that while circumcision would not be required, the expectation is still that new Christians refrain from their previous religious practice and honor the moral law of God (which is distinct from the ceremonial law).
It is for this reason that Paul tells even Jewish Christians to avoid meat sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). As Christians, we must not use our freedom in Christ to do things that could cause others to stumble in their faith.
There is no quicker way to compromise our faith and lead other Christians astray than to engage in the practices of false religions.
The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess… be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates…Deuteronomy 12:29-31
When God led Israel into the Promised Land, He instructed them not to engage in any of the worship practices of the surrounding nations. Adopting the practices of other religions leads to compromise. Once a person starts down the road toward a different religion, it is easy to continue down that path.
A trip to Mecca might seem like a harmless educational experience, but it is fraught with spiritual danger. Mecca is built on an unbiblical foundation and its pilgrimage rites celebrate events that could not have happened because they contradict the truth of scripture.
So it is impossible for a Christian to honor God by replicating the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
In his letters to the seven churches, Jesus warns several of them about the dangers of allowing false teachings and practices to infiltrate the church:
- Ephesus: But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. -Revelation 2:6
- Pergamum: Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. -Revelation 2:14-15
- Thyatira: Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. – Revelation 2:20
As Christians, we are called to set our minds on heavenly things, and to worship God in Spirit and in truth.
It is good that we befriend Muslims, show them kindness, and provide for their physical needs. We honor God when we share His love with others—even Muslims. It is even okay that we seek to understand—intellectually—the basis and teachings of their religion. However, we must refrain from adopting their practices, including a pilgrimage to Mecca, as our own.