I’m presently in the middle of my two week trip to Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic population. I knew at the onset I’d probably be visiting at least one mosque in my travels. While I’ve encountered mosques while traveling (particularly in Turkey), I’m always worried that I am not doing things correctly and thus inadvertently disrespecting someone else’s worship experience.
Luckily my good friend Elena who writes Muslim Travel Girl came to my rescue with advice about mosque etiquette. Her advice is so wonderful that I asked her to guest blog so that I could share what she taught me! I hope you find this useful for your future travels!
I was very happy when my friend Jen asked me to write a piece on etiquettes of entering a mosque. I think it was a brilliant idea and actually I never thought of writing such a piece which I believe will be helpful to many travellers in Muslim countries.
I remember actually recently when we were in Bulgaria and my sister asked me to enter the mosque with me. She had never been in a mosque before and didn’t know what to do or how to behave, but was very curious of entering and observing. It took me years back when I first became Muslim, I hadn’t been in a mosque for the first year and I personally didn’t have any experience on what I should be doing. It is all part of the learning process.
Any place of worship in my opinion can be intimidating for a visitor who is not familiar with the customs and traditions. Many of the etiquettes of entering a mosque can be applied to any place of worship as they are more about respect and understanding the acts that people do, rather than making any mistake.
Below are the top 5 etiquettes that you should adhere to when entering a mosque:
Respect & Keep the volume down: I think it is very important to respect the place you are entering and understanding that the people who are there to worship, connect with God and let their guards down. The last thing you would want is someone entering and having loud conversations with fellow travellers and in general distracting people who are praying at the time.
Leave your shoes outside: When you enter a mosque you are required to take off your shoes and place them on the shoe rack. Don’t worry your shoes are safe out there! Muslims pray on the carpets in the mosques which are required to be kept clean, so we really don’t want to bring any dirty soil where people place their heads to pray.
Dress modestly: I know there is always this misunderstanding about how women especially should be dressed. I remember in a summer holiday when I was a teen I was visiting a monastery and I had to cover with exactly the same long skirt and top as in a mosque. Women should cover with a long sleeve and a long skirt or trousers. A headscarf for women is recommended even if it is loosely wrapped around your head. Some places will let you enter without a headscarf and with a hat but that depends on the country and place you are visiting. For example in Saudi Arabia you are required to wear a headscarf and a black cloth when in the UK you can enter a mosque with a hat or even without a scarf. Men should also be dressed modestly with trousers below the knee and T shirts or shirts. Tank tops and shorts above the knees are not permissible.
Avoid walking in front of people who are praying: This is very important if you are in a mosque where there are people praying. It is advisable to leave a bit of space and not walk directly in front of them whilst they are praying. People do not like this as it is hard to keep your concentration and not get distracted. I would advise if you are in a mosque and there is plenty of space just go behind them or about a meter away from them if you have to pass in front of them.
Smile: The most important thing for me will be to smile to those in the Mosque. Islam encourages people to smile and it is part of the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that he would smile and say Salam (which means Peace) to fellow Muslims and non Muslims. Today not many will smile in the mosques and I find it sad, so I would encourage you to smile while you are there and revive and remind them of a simple yet very important tradition.
Last but not least I would recommend you relax and enjoy the time you are in the mosque. If you happen to hear the call for the prayer while you are there, don’t panic but rather enjoy this melodious voice. My sister really liked this part and she thought it was very calming.