Visitors are welcome in most mosques throughout the year. Many mosques are not only places of worship, but are used as community and education centers as well. Non-Muslim visitors may wish to observe or learn about the Muslim way of worship, meet Muslim community members, attend an official function, or simply admire the Islamic architecture of the building.
Mosques are usually open during the times of the five daily prayers and may be open for additional hours between. On the other hand, some mosques have special visiting hours set aside for non Muslims. Here are some common-sense guidelines that you may need to consider before your visit to the mosque as a non Muslim:
1. It is important to communicate your intention for visiting as a non Muslim
After you decide which mosque to visit, it may be best to communicate your intention for visiting with the leadership. It is recommended that you phone or email ahead of time. This is for security reasons, and to be sure that someone is there to greet you.
2. You are required to remove your shoes before entering the prayer area
Before entering a prayer area, you will be requested to remove your shoes. There are shelves provided outside the door to place them on, or you may bring a plastic bag to hold them with you until you leave. One may also leave them outside the door as you enter the prayer area.
3. Know where you belong
Men and women usually pray in separate areas, either in separate rooms or divided by a curtain or screen. In other cases, there may be a common gathering room where all community members mingle.
Female visitors may be guided to the women’s area, while male visitors may be guided to the men’s area. It is important to take note of this especially if you visit during Friday prayers when you are likely to meet all of them.
4. There are no chairs or pews in the mosque
A mosque prayer hall is usually a bare room covered with carpets or rugs. People sit on the floor. For elderly or disabled community members however, there may be a few chairs available.
5. The mode of greeting
While entering the mosque, you may hear people greeting each other in Arabic: “Assalamu alaikum” (peace be upon you). If you choose to reply, the return greeting is, “Wa alaikum assalaam” (and upon you be peace).
When meeting Muslims for the first time, it is customary to offer a handshake only to those of the same gender. Many Muslims will nod their heads or place their hand over their heart when greeting someone of the opposite gender.
6. No ablution for the visitor
Before entering the room, you may see worshipers doing ablutions if they did not do so at home before coming. Visitors who are not participating in the prayer are not expected to make ablution.
7. Mode of dressing
Most mosques request both male and female visitors to observe a simple, modest dress code such as long sleeves, and either long skirts or trousers. Neither men nor women should wear shorts or sleeveless tops. In most mosques, visiting women are not requested to cover their hair, although the gesture is welcome.
In some Muslim countries (such as Turkey), head coverings are required and are provided for those who come unprepared.
8. Etiquette and mode of conduct
During prayer, visitors should not talk or laugh loudly. Mobile phones should be switched to silent or turned off. It is also disrespectful to walk in front of someone who is praying, whether they are participating in the congregational prayer or praying individually. Visitors are required to sit quietly in the back of the room to observe the prayers.
Visitors should also refrain from smoking, eating, taking pictures without permission, argumentative behavior, and intimate touching. All these are frowned upon inside a mosque.
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