So on my odyssey to Saudi Arabia, I tried to learn about the religion that smashed into the American consciousness on 9/11 in a less sneaky way. And that’s when the paradox sunk in: It was nearly impossible for me to experience Islam in the cradle of Islam.
You don’t have to be a Catholic to go to the Vatican. You don’t have to be Jewish to go to the Western Wall (although if you’re a woman, you’re squeezed into a slice of it at the side). You don’t have to be Buddhist to hear the Dalai Lama speak — and have your picture snapped with him afterward.
A friend who often travels to Saudi Arabia for business said he thought that Medina, the site of Muhammad’s tomb, was beginning to “loosen up” for non-Muslims. (As the second holiest city in Islam, maybe they needed to try harder.) But the Saudis nixed a trip there…
Couldn’t Mecca, I asked the royals, be opened to non-Muslims during the off-season? The phrase off-season, as it turns out, is not conducive to an interfaith dialogue.