Saudi religious authorities have recently been probing the issue of whether a Muslim is permitted to visit the Egyptian pyramids – a tourist site favored by the Saudis – or any other tombs of infidels. Fatwas have been issued permitting visiting the pyramids only for the sake of learning a moral lesson (pertaining to death and the world to come) based on the Prophet's words in the hadith: "Visit tombs, for they remind you of the world to come." Other religious authorities, however, have prohibited visiting the pyramids because they are tombs of infidels.
The following are opinions of some well-known religious scholars:
Saudi University Lecturers: Visiting The Pyramids is Permissible – Under Certain Conditions
In July 2007, Dr. Muhammad Al-Khudhairi, lecturer at Al-Qassim University in Saudi Arabia, posted on www.Islamlight.net a fatwa permitting visiting the Egyptian pyramids for the sake of learning a moral lesson. Following is the translation of the fatwa:
"To the best of my knowledge, the pyramids are graves of polytheists, and a Muslim is permitted to visit them for the sake of a moral lesson. Visiting these tombs [has several purposes]:
"1. Learning a moral lesson and being warned, as it is stated in the hadith, based on the [reliable] collection by Muslim, transmitted by word of mouth by Abu Huraira, who said: 'The Prophet visited his mother's grave and cried, making everyone around him cry with him, and he said: 'I have asked permission from Allah to beg forgiveness for my mother, but [my request] was not granted. So I asked Him for permission to visit her grave, and He granted it. Therefore, visit graves, since they remind you of death.'
"2. Pleading on behalf of the dead, provided they are Muslims, as is ruled in several hadiths...
Based on the above, it does not seem to me that there is an interdiction against going to see the pyramids, but it is incumbent upon the [visitor] to adhere to the following principles:
"a) One must not make a special trip to the pyramids, or a trip that requires special preparations. A reliable hadith by the Prophet states: 'Do not prepare for the journey, except to [the following] three mosques: My mosque [i.e. the Prophet's Mosque in Al-Medina], the Al-Haram mosque in Mecca, and the Al-Aqsa mosque.'
"b) The place must not be full of abominable objects, for it is not proper for a Muslim to be exposed to places containing temptations and abominable objects, for the sake of entertainment or for the sake of contemplating Allah's wonders.
"c) Women are forbidden to visit these places, and they are actually forbidden to visit graves, according to religious sages.
"d) [The visit must not be] with the intention of aggrandizing these tombs or the dead that they contain, of circling them, or of touching them in order to be blessed, as is the custom of some visitors.
"Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya stated in his book Visitation of Tombs and Seeking Help from the Dead: 'There is no inanimate object in the world that one is permitted to kiss except for the black stone [in the Ka'ba]. It is proven in two reliable hadiths that 'Omar said: 'I swear that I know that thou art a stone that neither harms nor helps, and had I not seen the Prophet kiss thee, I would not have kissed thee [either].' Therefore, the imams do not agree among themselves whether a man [is permitted] to kiss or bless the two corners of the Ka'ba [on both sides of the black] stone, or its fences, or the place of Abraham's prayer adjacent to the Ka'ba, or the rock inside the Dome of the Rock, or the grave of any of the prophets or righteous people.
"e) It is forbidden to take a vow when one stands next to these graves, or to offer supplications in these places, since these are ritual acts that must be dedicated to Allah.'"
Dr. 'Ali Al-Zahrani, lecturer at Um Al-Qura University in Saudi Arabia, had previously issued a similar fatwa permitting the visiting of the pyramids. In that fatwa, posted at www.islamtoday.net, Al-Zahrani wrote that visiting the graves of polytheists and infidels "is generally permitted so as to remind oneself of death; however, it is forbidden to offer supplications or ask for forgiveness on behalf of the dead." He said that "a visit with the intention of offering supplications on behalf of the dead is permissible, based on [Islamic] law, only in respect to [the graves] of Muslims. In general, it is permissible to visit the pyramids, but it is forbidden if, as is usually the case, there are men and women mixing [at the site], with the latter half-naked. The same is true if there is fear that the visit would strengthen one's propensity for the pharaonic jahili tendencies, or would increase the number of proponents thereof."
Saudi Sheikh: "Pyramids Enclose Graves of Infidel Tyrants"
Along with religious authorities who permit visits to the pyramids under certain conditions, there are those who forbid them. In May 2004, Sheikh Maher Al-Qahtani, webmaster at www.alsonan.net (which specializes in the traditions of the Prophet), posted a fatwa that forbids visiting Egyptian pyramids on the grounds that they enclose the graves of infidels. Following is the translation of his fatwa:
"It is forbidden to enter the homes [of infidels] or the ruins of the homes in which they used to dwell, and it is forbidden to visit them if it is known that infidel tyrants [dwelt there]. If a [Muslim] visitor must pass by [such places], he must do so in haste – according to what has been transmitted to us by Bukhari and Muslim through Ibn 'Omar – for when the Prophet passed by the stones [ruins of structures], he said: 'Do not enter the homes of [the infidels] who inflicted iniquity upon themselves [i.e. harmed themselves by failing to embrace Islam], unless you are weeping [from fear] that you will be harmed by that which harmed them.' He then faced forward [without looking right or left] and walked at a quick pace until he left the wadi behind.
"It is forbidden to linger in their homes or among the ruins [of their homes], or to enjoy viewing them. For Allah said in the Koran [concerning Pharaoh and his people]: 'In front of the Fire will they be brought, morning and evening: And (the sentence will be) on the Day that Judgment will be established: "Cast ye the People of Pharaoh into the severest Penalty!"' [Koran 40:46].
"Archeological sites contain graven images, and it is forbidden to enter a place containing pictures or graven images, unless with the purpose of defacing them, as Abraham did to statues – he entered the place where they stood, and smashed them.
"In the beginning, while the Prophet still dwelt in Mecca, he did not smash the statues around the Ka'ba, since the [danger] was certain [i.e. it was highly probable that the people of Mecca would kill Muhammad if he destroyed their statues]. In spite of the statues, he prayed and circled the Ka'ba. When the [danger, i.e. to his life] ended, he did not leave [the statues] but smashed them. Therefore, the decisive ruling is, as stated by the Sheikh Al-Islam [Ibn Taymiyya], that it is permissible to pray in a church if it does not contain any images, but it is forbidden to do so if it does.
"Several of the Prophet's friends followed this ruling, since the Prophet did not enter the Ka'ba while it contained images, until they were removed. Sheikh Al-Islam ruled that if one finds oneself in a place containing an abominable object, and cannot change [the circumstances], one is not permitted to remain there.
"Moreover, visiting archaeological sites can cause the [visitors] to be attracted to them. Graven images are forbidden... because they lead to polytheism."