Are Jews Allowed in Saudi Arabia?

I have had queries from some readers wanting to know that since there are not cordial diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, whether those who practice the Jewish faith are in fact allowed into the Kingdom. I will share based on what I personally know. To begin with, when one completes a visa application to come to the Kingdom, one must designate (among other things) nationality, place of birth and religion. You may ask, why does one have to identify their religion on a visa application? This is due to the fact that only muslims are allowed into the holy cities of Makkah and Medina so as a result, ones visa (and subsequent iqama if applicable) will indicate whether one is a muslim or non-muslim.

In general, if one cites Jewish as their religion but not born in Israel or from Israel, then it is likely the visa will be granted. However the odds of a visa being denied increase if one was born in Israel. I am personally not aware of anyone who is a Jew and from Israel being granted a visa to enter the Kingdom.

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41 Responses

  1. “When one completes a visa application…one must designate religion. You may ask, why does one have to identify their religion on a visa application?”

    The reason you gave (namely that the holy cities are off limits of non-Muslims) is probably correct, but this practice of asking for one’s religion for official purposes exists in other parts of the Islamic world also.

    I was visiting Pakistan this past summer, and upon arrival, was asked my name, my father’s name, my place of birth and my religion, in order to enter the country. Surely there are no “Medina/Mecca” in Pakistan, are there?

  2. Carol, thanks for this post.

    One thing you might spell out even more clearly is that when the ‘religion’ question comes up, the only answers that matter are “Muslim” and “Non-Muslim”. As far as how the individual defines ‘Non-Muslim’ goes, the Saudis don’t particularly care.

    If one wishes to make a statement about their religious affiliation, one can do that, of course. To do so runs some risks, though. The risks aren’t with the government per se, but with whomever is manning the immigration desk. If that person believes the government should have a higher standard on the matter than is actually the case, then one can certainly run into problems. As the immigration official is a Saudi government employee, it’s not false to state that the government is playing a role here, but it is not government policy.

    One place where it can be a problem is if a couple are entering the country when the man answers ‘Non-Muslim’ and the woman answers “Muslim”. Under most interpretations of Islam, this is not a permissible marriage: the couple will be treated as though they were unmarried. Unmarried couples in Saudi Arabia… we know how that song goes.

    Let me take a shot at answering Abid’s query, too.

    In both Pakistan and India, there are ‘reservations’ in jobs, schooling, and various government-provided benefits that are allocated on the basis of religious identification. That may be what’s going on here.

    Too, there’s the matter of entry, not into Mecca or Medina, but into mosques. In some places, non-Muslims are not permitted inside mosques. That wasn’t the case when I was last in Pakistan, in the 1960s, but that may have changed. The ‘rule’ has certainly changed in several Arab states.

  3. I think as a whole Asian countries ask for more information that would be considered “personal” in Western nations.

    In Pakistan they have a vendetta against Ahmadis so ask for that reason.

  4. Abid – I’ve lived in Pakistan and the visa application does not ask religion and on entering the country many times I was also never asked about my religion. I’m just speculating like Haleem but perhaps it was just a question within the security/screening process. I do not know your nationality but due to Al Qaeda and other extremist activities there are special procedures for Saudi nationals now to even travel to Pakistan. Stay tuned…I have a future post coming up with mentions this as well as more.

  5. John, I think we were both commenting at the same time so I am only now seeing your comment. Thanks so much for the additional information. You are right – the key words on the visa app are indeed muslim or non-muslim. I have had the opportunity to see many of the applications of some individuals wanting to come to the Kingdom for symposiums and it is interesting seeing how that field will be completed. It was not unusual for me to see someone cite “none” in the religious field.

  6. i’m kinda curious even if you can’t really answer the question.

    why is it a jew born anywhere but israel has a higher possibility of obtaining a saudi visa? who knows? an american jew might hold an israeli passport only to use his/her american passport to apply for a saudi visa!

    but i admit that this post helps to shed some light on the very question that many would persistently ask and hopefully, some news agency would pick it up and help to spread the message around.

  7. It all depends on how good “wasta” one has in reference to the Jews. The gov authorities keep this subject hushed up.

    Abid & Carol, the issue in some other “Islamic’ states that ask these questions (of being Muslim) is due not only to the new terror laws (of the us) but also mainly due to cults that have arisen from these regions.

  8. Firdaus, this is only my own personal speculation but I believe that Jews who were born in Israel have a higher degree of scrutiny or suspicion if applying for a Saudi visa than a second or third generation national whose faith is Jewish.

    You’re right regarding one could have more than one passport for Jews who have been born in Israel yet have immigrated and taken the citizenship of another country are still viewed as Jewish nationals in the eyes of Israel. Back in the States I had neighbors who were Jewish and both American citizens yet one still had an Israeli passport too even though both had been in the US 30 years plus. They told me that if they were to give up their Israeli citizenship they would actually have to pay a hefty fee to do so.

    S H – thanks for your added clarification.

  9. Hey American Bedu :)
    This is probably the wrong place, but if you could post your answer or email me, I’d really really appreciate the help :) I was wondering how does it work out for an American citizen living in Saudi Arabia, with the iqama (linked to my father’s name), who wants to marry another Muslim of a different (Arab) country? He would like to come to Saudi Arabia at least until I finish my studies…so we would rather prefer to get married here. I lived in America most of my life but recently moved to SA with my family and I’m studying college in Jeddah, so we were wondering how that would work out, marriage between 2 foreigners in S.A? Is it even done? Would it be easier do you think if he lived in SA on some sort of iqama first? I know being a woman and being the one here probably doesn’t help as much had the situation been reversed, but I was (somewhat) hoping that maybe being an Am. citizen would alter the situation (more positively perhaps)?

    Thanks,
    Ms. Z :)

  10. I think when attempting to enter many Muslim countries the point of contention is ‘Israel’ rather than ‘Jew’ since these countries do not recognise the state of Israel but rather consider the country to be Occupied Palestine. For that reason I assume having ‘Jewish’ stated as ones religion would be less of a problem than having Israel or Israeli mentioned anywhere on ones papers.

  11. Sarah – the short answer to your query is if you plan to marry do it outside of KSA. To begin with your fiance would need a valid visa to even enter the Kingdom and sounds like you are here under your father’s sponsorship. I have heard some stories of individuals getting married here in KSA (with an islamic marriage ceremony) but in all cases they were already legally here in the Kingdom with valid iqamas and not on a family sponsorship. Also in the few cases I am aware of they had a Saudi friend help them through the process too. The Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are the ones which would answer and approve the request.

  12. so tolerant those saudi’s…

    one only need refer to the Muslim texts for a good reference on how Muslims feel about Jews and non-Muslims…

    “The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time [of judgment] will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them; until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!” (Sahih Muslim book 41, no. 6985)

    Book 041, Number 6981:

    Ibn ‘Umar reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: You will fight against the Jews and you will kill them until even a stone would say: Come here, Muslim, there is a Jew (hiding himself behind me) ; kill him.

    Book 041, Number 6982:

    Ubaidullah has reported this hadith with this chain of transmitters (and the Words are):” There is a Jew behind me.”

    Book 041, Number 6983:

    Abdullah b. ‘Umar reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: You and the Jews would fight against one another until a stone would say: Muslim, here is a Jew behind me; come and kill him.

    Book 041, Number 6984:

    Abdullah b. ‘Umar reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: The Jews will fight against you and you will gain victory over them until the stone would say: Muslim, here is a Jew behind me; kill him.

    Book 041, Number 6985:

    Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.

    …just a few examples

  13. @creeping

    All those are the same examples, describing the same thing.

  14. The UAE has been asking the same question on security clearance applications for years, and there are no holy sites aside from mosques. I’ve always thought the question about religion was part of the background check done before permitting one a work visa.

  15. I continue to enjoy reading these insights into this fascinating culture.

  16. Abu Dhabi – I don’t know what would be the genesis behind asking such questions for the UAE. The only other thought to is if there were quotas for jobs to be held by Emaratis, jobs to be held by muslims, jobs to be held by others? That’s just a pure guess.

    Oneidia – Thanks for your comment and glad you are enjoying.

  17. As Salaamu Alaikum Carol:

    Yes, so tolerant are the Saudis: considering the fact that there were Jews living in what is now “Saudia Arabia” forever (as well as all over the Middle East, including “Palestine”). The Prophet (saw) had numerous dealings with the Jews of Arabia. He even had two Jewish wives.

    Secondly, there is a HUGE difference between a Jew and an Israeli. They are not necessarily the same thing. Not all Jews are Zionists.

    And there are Muslim Israelis, Christian Israelis, and no-religion Israelis.

    Well, perhaps the King will now be more tolerant since his interfaith conference.

  18. Walaikum salam and Thanks for commenting, Safiyyah.

  19. @creeping
    those hadeeth are related to a fight between the muslims and jews in the last days. it is prophetic…not a command. in other words the prophet is relating one of the minor signs of the final hour.

  20. Umm Ibrahim has the correct answer to Firdaus’ question: The Saudis do not recognize Israel as a state and therefore are not about to accept an Israeli passport as a legitimate travel document valid for entry into the Kingdom.

    This may all be legalistic, but it’s a fact. It’s also a fact, however, that when it wants to do so, the Saudi government may accept an Israeli passport. I just wouldn’t count on it.

    I don’t know if it’s still the case, but even having an Israeli visa or entry stamp in one’s passport would disqualify one from entry into the Kingdom and many other Arab states. I spent many, many hours in Bahrain–usually at 0130, when the international flights arrived–processing passports for Americans who showed up with such stamps.

    Instead of turning them away, as they might have done, the Bahrainis gave these travelers a chance to ask the US Embassy to issue them new passports.

  21. As I understand John, it is not unusual for one to receive a “removable” page when being issued an Israeli visa particularly if one also travels to the Arab world where it can cause the heartburn that you referred to.

  22. When I travelled to Israel way back in 1992 that’s exactly what I did Carol – I asked for the entry stamp to be made on a seperate piece of paper and not to be made in my passport. The reason being, my passport was new and I had no idea where I might be wanting to travel to in the future.

  23. Smart planning Umm Ibrahim.

  24. [...] that will be interesting.  I wonder which religious traditions are going to be allowed to drink the waters of scholarship in the deserts of Arabia at Jeddah? I [...]

  25. My family were one of the few jews still living in Kuwait in 1948, however we left hurriedly soon after the Arab-Israel war took place. We managed to get a visa for Peru, where some family members were living.
    In 2007 I wanted to visit some of my clients in Saudi-arabia and applied for a Visa, on the grounds that I am Jewish my visa application was outrightly denied.
    Do you know that in the 1940s there was almost one million jewish citizens of the arab speaking world, today there’s barely 7,000 jews left and mainly in Morocco & Tunisia. don’t you recognize that as ethnic cleansing.

  26. Thanks for your comment Samir.

  27. Hi all,
    “there is a HUGE difference between a Jew and an Israeli. Not all Jews are Zionists.”
    How, in your opinion, do you define a Zionist?

  28. Samir–I think it is important to note that Jews left Arab countries at different times and under different circumstances. eg. the history of Libyan Jews (expelled and without recompense by Gaddafi) is different than that of Moroccans (left voluntarily for better work elsewhere at various times, or as a general reaction to the war of 1967, rather than specific problems in Morocco).

    Davenport
    Defining Zionism is not so much a matter of opinion, as a matter of language. Zionism is a nationalist movement that began in the 19th century, as part of a general movement toward nationalisms, and as a specific response to pogroms in Europe.
    A Zionist believes in Israel as a homeland/nation for the Jews and works toward its protection, expansion, and continued immigration there.
    Some Jews, and even Israelis, are anti-Zionists (eg. Jews and Israelis who don’t want to keep expanding Israel at the expense of Palestine).

  29. I was asked my religion upon registering in Switzerland….and I’ve stated my religion as Jewish in Malaysia. No one cared.

    Poitically its israeli citizenship that matters.

  30. American Beduian, have you actually seen a resident’s or visitor’s Saudi visa that states Jewish as the religion? I know a few people of secular Jewish background in the Kingdom and each and everyone of them have Christian on their visa.

    The reason Muslim countries ask religion on visa applications is because as a culture Muslim culture is obsessed with religious identity.

  31. Disbelief – in fact I have seen some (not a lot) of passports with Jewish as a religion. And these are typical on passport of individuals who do not reside in Israel but elsewhere.

    Stating the religion is necessary to distinguish who is and who is not permitted into/inside the bounderies of Makkah and Medina.

  32. American hospitals also ask religion when being registered. This is typically done before treatment. I have never heard of anyone being denied care based on their religion. None the less, it’s a question that could make some feel uncomfortable given last century’s history.

  33. You’re right Keith. Since I’m undergoing cancer treatment I do get asked each time I’m at the hospital even though it seems like whatever one says would become a matter of a patient’s record!

  34. This is one of the most primitive cultures
    yes it is highly respected.

    did you know that they chop off hands there?
    did you know that women are treated like second grade humans?

    go figure.

  35. I am personally not aware of anyone who is a Green and from Mars being granted a visa to enter the Kingdom

  36. What if you state that you’re agnostic? Or is this worse than being Jewish? Do they behead atheists?

  37. Its ridiculous, when you westerners scrutinize other governments when yours is the worst of all particularly US and UK. UK and US do not ask about religion because 1. they do not care about religion, I mean look at the demographics where homosexuality is allowed, being transvestite is considered super. Yes even though I am a Muslim and do not like Arab countries myself but I with team up with someone who is less the threat then the other. Do you honestly believe US has more freedom? The only freedom US and western countries give you is to explore your sexuality in ways unimaginable. Most depressed part of the world is the West with the exception of the few Zionists who suck on their citizens. Most work related stress are in the western part of the world. After living 10 years in western world, I despise it and wish I had never lived here.

  38. That last guy said it. It is better for a women to be completely covered up. If she is not that then those nice princess who marry their cousins might fell it necessary to rape her. If her father feels he is embarrassed then he kills her. Those nice saudi’s who flew planes into our buildings. And any Jew who says he isn’t a Zionist is liberal who who probably would vote for hitler.

  39. I was considering doing business in saudai arabia. I am from Ireland and my religion is jewish. Will allow me into the country or would I descriminated against. I believe jews were in saudi arabia before the muslims arrived.

  40. Huh! Just lie about it.

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