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As per the BBC

Becoming a Muslim requires a very simple act, but the meaning behind it is very deep.

You have to believe that there is only one God, Allah, who created the entire universe, and that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is his final messenger on earth.

If you recite this, with total sincerity, in front of two witnesses, you have become a Muslim. It really is as simple as that.

So if I travel to Saudi Arabia (with a normal tourist visa) and see such a sign .

Can I simply say that I am a Muslim?

Or is there some documentation required that would have to be examined?

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    Islamic law treats those who never adopted Islam somewhat differently from those who adopted but then rejected. So claiming to be Muslim is not something to do lightly. There are countries for which national law is religious law. I'm saying this VERY gently. Jan 4, 2023 at 8:01
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    Saudi Arabia is not the sort of country where you want to relying on a technicality or lying to officials, especially not on matters of religion (assuming you don't actually believe Allah is the one and only god, which is how I read the question, but correct me if I'm wrong).
    – NotThatGuy
    Jan 4, 2023 at 12:52
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Willeke
    Jan 5, 2023 at 12:56

5 Answers 5

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Muslims do not get some kind of documentation when they become muslim, though some countries' passports might state religion.

So, in general, when encountering a 'Muslims only' sign, stating you are a muslim should be sufficient. If you're not, and don't know basic tenets, you might be frowned upon, or angrily removed from the premises.

I was born in Iran (to a technically muslim father) and this meant I am muslim by default, even if I don't practice. I have visited several places that were 'Muslims only' (outside of Iran) and, as I don't speak, act and dress like someone who grew up in Iran, have sometimes been questioned. I simply would state I'm muslim and that was that, every time.

However, the photo you share specifically relates to Mecca. Saudi Arabia used to be very restrictive in allowing foreigners, muslim or not. In the past, I believe this mostly meant that a pilgrimage to Mecca (for non-Saudis) would only be possible when organised through officially recognised organisations, which typically would operate via your local mosque. So, your chances of being able to try and get into a 'Muslims only' area in Saudi Arabia, as a non-muslim would be so slim as to be practically irrelevant.

More recently, Saudi Arabia has started opening up access to the country to tourists, muslim or not. If you are a tourist and a muslim, and encounter a 'Muslim only' sign, I believe it very likely that, if questioned, your stating you're a muslim would be sufficient. That said, notwithstanding the language barrier, you might face some scrutiny. Though if you know what you're doing (show a particular respect, wash before entering a mosque, dress conservatively, etc.), I would suspect this questioning will be limited. If you're very western-looking, I would expect you'd primarily experience a lot of curiosity.

Not quite a full answer, perhaps, but it's also impossible to predict what would happen on every single occasion.

Addendum: Converting to islam does not require an external institution to 'prove' your conversion. However, as per this page, obtaining a Hajj visa requires a notarised certificate from an Islamic Center, for converts. Yet, with Saudi Arabia recently opening up the country to more regular tourists, I have no idea what that means in the context of visiting Mecca. Has the sign in the image of the OP been changed to 'Hajj visa holders only'?

Anecdotal addendum: I visited Al Aqsa (in Jerusalem) two days ago (April 2023), which currently is off-limits for 'tourists and non-muslims'. My clothes apparently gave me away as a tourist and, to enter, I was required to say the shahada in Arabic to enter.

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    Correct me if I'm wrong but SA has religious police. If you're a Western tourist that is (by their view) not Muslim, they probably leave you alone for most things. If you go to a Muslim only area, you've now subjected yourself to the strict scrutiny of the religious police. It's possible that you could commit a severe transgression, without even knowing it, that could face a very severe penalty. Jan 5, 2023 at 12:59
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    Mecca is not a destination for tourists, less so for non-muslim tourists. A lot of the discussions connected to this question deal with the traveler in question not being muslim, but visiting a 'Muslims only' area, specifically Mecca. If you break the law in any country, you might face the consequences. If you break the law in Mecca in a way that is considered un-islamic, particularly when you're not muslim, yeah, I can imagine consequences to be more severe. The solution is not to figure out how to appear muslim when you're not, but to respect the rules and to not visit when you're not.
    – MastaBaba
    Jan 5, 2023 at 16:06
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    If I could downvote this I would, because it manages to be wrong on the first, most basic count - converts to Islam absolutely do get documentation proving this and this is well-known in the Muslim community, the documentation is printed by the mosque/organisation that the conversion is taken with and exists almost entirely for the very purpose of proving you're a Muslim to SA in order to perform the Hajj. There's even a question on this very site about it. Jan 6, 2023 at 14:57
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    The fact that one does not need a mosque to be muslim, converted or not, means that a conversion does not automatically come with a certificate. However, as @HashimAziz points out, a Hajj visa requires a notarised certificate for converts. I will include this in my answer.
    – MastaBaba
    Jan 6, 2023 at 16:08
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    While a Hajj visa is indeed needed for a pilgrimage to Mecca, I believe a standard tourist visa is sufficient for muslim tourists in order to visit Mecca outside of the major pilgrimage season. Mar 31, 2023 at 8:29
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The sign is not about what you believe but what you do.

Islam is not just about saying you're a Muslim. There are various rules that govern your behavior, as well as a body of Islamic culture that is common knowledge to Muslims. The sign is a way of saying that if you enter the area, you are expected behave as a Muslim would and be familiar with things that are common knowledge for a Muslim. If you are behaving the way that they expect a Muslim to behave, no one will kick you out or question you about your religion. If you do things that a Muslim obviously wouldn't (according to them) you may experience repercussions of varying severity - in fact, even if you were a genuine Muslim, you would surely experience repercussions for behaving in a way contrary to Islam in these Muslim-only areas.

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    Islam has more sects that you can possibly imagine, they do not pray the same way nor do they behave the same. No one would expect every Muslim to be exactly the same. The only thing that all muslims agree on is the "Shahadah", which is a belief and not an action that can be shown to others. A muslim from the middle east has no shared culture with a muslim in Indonesia or a muslimg from central asia... Hollywood did a bad job when they showed all muslims the same.. Jan 4, 2023 at 14:39
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    "If you are behaving the way that they expect a Muslim to behave, no one will kick you out or question you about your religion" I've been to other religious places where there was a sign to dress modestly, remove your hat, not shout, and similar, but never to actually be a member of a religion. If I understand you correctly, that is what is meant by the sign, but do to cultural translation issues, I and many others, read it as a requirement to believe in something. Extrapolating upon that, if I dress and behave like others, and am questioned if I am Muslim, if I say no, they will be ok.
    – HanMah
    Jan 5, 2023 at 8:12
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    hi @HanMah - you are constantly, endlessly, trying to find a "legal" or "mathematical" "fixed course of actions and results". you are doing this over and over and over (and over!) no matter how many times folks tell you that, what will happen will be completely arbitrary. regarding whether or not you lie that you are a muslim, regarding whether or not you actually are a muslim, regarding whether or not you state "But I did exactly what it said on the BBC!", regardless of ANYTHING, you will be treated in an arbitrary manner. ... again,
    – Fattie
    Jan 5, 2023 at 12:38
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    The simple answer to your useful question is NO, using the technique mentioned by the BBC will not certainly "get you in". It could very well be that you CAN get in, easily and with no problems whatsoever, by doing NOTHING, just wandering in. However it could be that you can NOT get in, no matter what. In all cases using the BBC trick will achieve absolutely, totally, nothing in either direction. I do hope this makes sense. Again the literal answer to your question aboutg the BBC Trick is "the BBC Trick is irrelevant and will achieve nothing either way".
    – Fattie
    Jan 5, 2023 at 12:41
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    It's not a "trick". It's just a description of the ceremony of converting to Islam.
    – OrangeDog
    Jan 5, 2023 at 17:51
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"recite this, with total sincerity, in front of two witnesses"

Emphasis mine. That's the core of the issue here. And the idea of sincerity is not the modern one of "in this, and only this moment", but the pre-modern one of "in this moment and henceforth".

And to then proceed and answer your question:

Technically, yes, from that point onward you'd be allowed to use the three lanes on the left.

In practical terms, however, your car could be stopped for inspection a few hundred meters down the road and you might be asked to recite well-known verse from the Quran. You could get lucky and your two buddies might be up in tears of joy about how you just spoke the Shahada and became Muslim and then the police officers might be up in tears of joy and offering to take you into Mecca the Holy (that's what's written on that street sign in Arabic) to your very first prayer in the Holy Mosque and probably invite you to a proper feast at their house later that day. And I'd almost guarantee you'd have an amazing time in that case.

Unfortunately it's just as likely you'll find them in a bad mood because it's just been too much traffic that day, or whatever, and they smell something fishy and you're asked to recite not some verse but this specific one, or whatever, and you'd find yourself staring down the working end of the Saudi Arabian security apparatus.

Have adventurous westerners (both with or without intimate knowledge of Quran, Sunnah and islamic jurisprudence) visited Mecca and Madina, both in older as well as more recent times, sure. But it's absolutely not to be recommended.

One interesting biography that might be noted in this context is the one of an Austrian Jew who became Muslim and went to, among other places, Mecca. See e.g. https://en.qantara.de/content/muhammad-asad-a-jewish-lawrence-of-arabia for a nice intro about the guy.

Edit: Seeing @AussieJoe's answer with the recommendation to be speaking Arabic when you try this: I used to be more or less fluent in Modern Standard Arabic (but NOT in Saudi, or any other dialect) and I wouldn't try doing this. It's happened to me personally that BECAUSE as a white bread who speaks MSA (which is akin to speaking like Shakespeare around a bunch of native speakers of English) I was insinuated by police to be a terrorist from a neighbouring country. Only after having been taken to the nearby city's police headquarters and an hour trying to defend myself to the head of said headquarters did someone have the idea to try and communicate with me in a different language. A colleague was found who had studied criminology in the US and spoke English perfectly and who convinced them that there are no terrorists in the neighbouring (and very poor) country who knew how to speak English as well as I did. A funny anecdote perhaps, and one that thankfully ended without harm. But in general, don't fuck with the authorities in authoritarian states.

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    recite well-known verse from the Quran => can every Muslim person actually recite those? I was raised Jewish but I'd be hard pressed to recite verses from the Torah from memory, though I can otherwise explain many parts in my own words.
    – JonathanReez
    Jan 6, 2023 at 18:56
  • I don't know enough Hebrew and only have a single Jewish friend (who's mother tongue isn't Hebrew either) so I don't know how it is there. But using Arabic on a day-to-day basis is full of little phrases about God or Muhammad or even little verses from the Quran. Even Atheists use a lot of these, often without even thinking about their religious origins. But also, yes, I'd say all Muslims who're not recent converts will know some. At least the 1st Surah (al-Fatiha), which alone is 7 verses. And then usually some oldies-but-goldies like "God is with the patient" (inn-Allaha ma3a as-saabeereen).
    – Sixtyfive
    Jan 6, 2023 at 21:46
  • Oh okay so we’re talking about short sentences then? Then it sounds not too hard.
    – JonathanReez
    Jan 6, 2023 at 22:07
  • Do you think I should re-phrase the distinction "well-known verse" and "some verse"? Also, these were intended as examples. Another thing a religious police office might ask is to perform prayer. In that case knowledge of the proper movements and order of doing things would be required. I'm trying to make the point that you'd be pretty much at the whim of some potentially very unpleasant and violent people with a lot of power, who don't much care about scholarly interpretations of Sharia or whatever - they're just looking for ways to be right in that instant. Hi from one Jonathan to another!
    – Sixtyfive
    Jan 6, 2023 at 22:40
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I have actually been there at that very sign on the way to Taif from Jeddah, which is also the way to Mecca. My father was driving and he actually missed the exit for Taif and went on towards Mecca, with the intention of doing a U-Turn. This was a mistake.

As soon as we approached the toll booth checkpoint, the guard advised us that we could not continue forward and to turn around immediately. He recognized that we are Western and spoke very little Arabic. We literally had to go in reverse, in our car, half a mile, on a toll road just to get to the Taif exit. It was insanity. Cars flying past us. There was no U-Turn. It was literally go backwards.

My advice is speak Arabic if you try this. They may question you thoroughly.

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Muslims, in their own country, governed by their own law, respectfully ask non-Muslims to stay away. It's offensive to pretend to be a Muslim as a way around that. It's like trying to get into someone's window after being asked to stay away from the door.

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    If you feel a question is insulting the right action is to flag it. Not to answer it and question the moderators of a site in your answer. We let questions like these up as it gives a good option to answer 'No, this is not how it works.'
    – Willeke
    Mar 30, 2023 at 4:52
  • I can't see a button to flag it or react to it in any other way.
    – user6732
    Mar 30, 2023 at 13:45
  • That might be because you have no earlier activity, people who are not active on the site are restricted in what they can do. In that case, there is a contact and a feedback link at the bottom of the page.
    – Willeke
    Mar 30, 2023 at 13:59
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    Thank you, I'll use that. I still think questions about "how do I break a law" are off-topic. If nothing else, they picture us Westerners in a bad light.
    – user6732
    Mar 30, 2023 at 14:08
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    This is not a 'how do I break the law' question. But an 'Is this really how that law works' question.
    – Willeke
    Mar 30, 2023 at 14:10

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