Entering a Mosque
Parshas Lech Lecha
“וקראת שמו ישמעאל” (בראשית טז:יא)
It was only one day after Rabbi Weinstein had become the Rav of Evansville and he was already faced with his first serious question. Mr. Powers, the president of the Shul, briefed him on the matter. “You see, Rabbi, ever since 9/11 the Imam of the local mosque, Hakeem Ibn Achmed, has openly supported America, and has declared that Bin Laden is an infidel. He has showed up at the Shul many times to express his solidarity with Israel-quite a novel position even among American imams. We really don’t want to lose his support. I know it would mean a lot to him if one of us-it doesn’t have to be you, Rabbi-would visit him in his mosque. Of course, it doesn’t have to be during their prayers. It is what they call nowadays ‘a solidarity visit’-you know, politicians flying to Israel, presidents visiting flooded areas, etc. I just wanted to get your permission before telling Hakeem that one of us is planning to show up at his mosque this week.” “Mr. Powers,” Rabbi Weinstein said, “you are asking a good question. I will have to check this out.” Mr. Powers persevered, “Rabbi, I can assure you that there is nothing to worry about as far as security goes. There are metal detectors at the entrance to the mosque, so there’s no way any suicide bombers will get by.” “Mr. Powers, I’m not referring to the security situation on earth, but rather the security situation in Heaven.” Realizing from Mr. Powers’ stare that one more line like that might make him the former Rabbi of Evansville, Rabbi Weinstein explained that this was a Halachic question concerning whether or not it is permitted to enter a mosque.
The Mishnah in Avodah Zarah (47b) states that it is forbidden for a person to enter a house when an Avodah Zarah is inside. There is some discussion among the Poskim regarding whether or not this applies equally to all sects of Christianity. However, the bottom line is that the Poskim rule that it is strictly forbidden for a Jew to enter a church for any reason at all. This ruling might not apply to a mosque. As Moslems pray only to Hashem, it would seem that mosques are not considered a house of Avodah Zarah, and one could therefore enter a mosque. Is this correct?
Opinion 1: Chidushei HaRan, Tzitz Eliezer, and others
The Tzitz Eliezer (14:91) rules that it is forbidden to enter a mosque. He proves this from the words of the Chidushei HaRan in Sanhedrin (61b), who states that since Moslems bow to their prophet Mohammed during their prayers, they are considered at that time as serving Avodah Zarah. The Chidushei HaRan explains that although they are not confusing Mohammed with Hashem, because they serve him in a manner reserved for Hashem, their worship takes on the Halachic status of Avodah Zarah. The Tzitz Eliezer therefore states that since a mosque is a house designated for the equivalent of idol worship, one may not enter it.
Opinion 2: Rambam, Rav Ovadya Yosef, and others
The Yabia Omer disagrees with the Tzitz Eliezer. He quotes a responsum of the Rambam as stating that the worship of Moslems is not Avodah Zarah at all. The Rambam explains that although originally the Moslems were somewhat involved in idol worship, they eventually rejected it and realized that there is only one God. Moreover, Rav Ovadya quotes many Poskim who even maintain, as does he, that it is permitted to Daven and learn Torah in a mosque. (He quotes others who argue that this is inappropriate. They maintain that the powers of impurity that are there from the different form of worship, which is mainly based on the teachings of someone who denied the authenticity of our Torah, make this inappropriate.)
Although one should ask his Rav such a question, it appears that one can rely on these lenient opinions in order to enter a mosque, if need be. However, to tour mosques is clearly not advisable, just as being overly interested in other religions is also not advisable. After all, as we mentioned above, Islam clearly has much in it that is against the Torah. Displaying interest in Islam is therefore not a healthy way to preserve one’s portion in the World to Come.