I visited my first mosque nine years ago in Egypt. I had no idea what to expect and I was a little worried about not knowing the proper etiquette for non-Muslim visitors. Luckily, I was in a group with a local guide who gave us some helpful info beforehand.
It ended up being exactly the type of experience that makes me love traveling — it was interesting, authentic, and provided a little insight into a culture other than my own.
Since then I have visited many other mosques in various parts of the world, including most recently in Turkey this winter. I always follow these eight tips to make my experience more smooth and enjoyable.
1. Cover your head if you’re a woman. This has been mandatory in every mosque I’ve visited. Some mosques have had reusable headscarves for free, but I always bring my own. Regardless of where I’m traveling, scarves are one of my packing list essentials. Even when it’s warm, I bring light weight silk scarves — they take up almost no space, can really change an outfit, and when needed can be used to cover one’s head.
2. Stay covered up. This applies to both men and women regardless of how hot outside temperatures may be. In my experience signs have indicated that tops must be sleeved and cover the shoulders while bottoms must be long and cover the knees. This wasn’t a problem for us when we visited Turkey in January; it was only 40 degrees F outside. But it was summertime when I travelled in Egypt, so I made sure to bring light weight pants and ankle length skirts.
3. Take off your shoes (and wear/bring socks that day so you don’t have to walk around barefoot). In Istanbul, there were benches just outside the mosque entrance to sit and remove shoes before entering. They also had little plastic baggies to put your shoes in so you could carry them around with you. Just inside the entrance, there are wooden cubbies you can place shoes. Upon exiting, there were bins to throw away the plastic baggies.
4. Look for the visitors entrance. Often times there are separate entrances for visitors and worshipers — especially for the more famous mosques that get a lot of tourists. For example at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, signs surrounding the building pointed us in the right direction. At the visitor’s entrance, someone made sure women have covered heads, and that everyone took their shoes off.
5. Stay quiet. Think library quiet — put phones on silent and talk in hushed tones. Worshipers come any time of day to pray, so it’s polite to respect their peace by staying quiet.
6.Follow signs and directions. Outside the visitors entrance, many mosques in Turkey had pictorial signs indicating what was and was not allowed in that particular mosque. Pay special attention in terms of photography. Some mosques allow it, some don’t.
7. Mosques are generally open during daylight hours. Mosque hours vary slightly depending on the time of year and the length of the day, but generally can be visited whenever the sun is up except five times a day during the call to prayer. You can often find prayer schedules of major mosques online.
— Laura Rowley