Visiting a Mosque

Etiquette of Visiting a Mosque as a Non-Muslim

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 attend an official function, meet Muslim community members, observe or learn about our way of worship, or simply admire the Islamic architecture of the building. Below are some common-sense guidelines that may help make your visit both respectful and pleasant.

Visiting a Mosque
Tour inside Jumeira Mosque, Dubai. John Elk / Getty Images

Mosques are found in a variety of neighborhoods, and there are many different sizes and styles. Some may be purpose-built, elaborate examples of Islamic architecture that can hold thousands of worshippers, while others may be located in a simple rented room. Some mosques are open and welcoming to all Muslims, while others may cater to certain ethnic or sectarian groups.

In order to locate a mosque, you may ask Muslims in your area, consult a worship directory in your city, or visit an online directory. You may find the following words used in a listing: Mosque, Masjid, or Islamic Center. More »

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A Muslim man walks through a mosque in London. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

After you decide which mosque to visit, it may be best to reach out and learn more about the site. Many mosques have websites or Facebook pages which list prayer times, opening hours, and contact information. Walk-ins are welcome in some more-visited places, especially in Muslim countries. In other places, 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.

Mosques are usually open during the times of the five daily prayers, and may be open for additional hours between. Some mosques have special visiting hours set aside for non-Muslims who wish to learn more about the faith. More »

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Where to enter

Mother Mosque of America - Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Exchange students from Nigeria standing in front of the Mother Mosque of America, February 2005. U.S. State Department

Some mosques have common areas that are used as gathering rooms, separate from the prayer areas. Most have separate entrances for men and women. It is best to ask about parking and doors when you contact the mosque ahead of time, or go with a Muslim community member who can guide you.

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.

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Who you might meet

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Muslim men pray in rows at a mosque in London in 2014. Rob Stothard/Getty Images

It is not required for all Muslims to attend all prayers in the mosque, so you may or may not find a group of people gathered at a given time. If you contact the mosque ahead of time, you may be greeted and hosted by the Imam, or another senior community member.

If you visit during a time of prayer, especially Friday prayer, you may see various community members including children. Men and women usually pray in separate areas, either in separate rooms or divided by a curtain or screen. Female visitors may be guided to the women’s area, while male visitors may be guided to the men’s area. In other cases, there may be a common gathering room where all community members mingle.

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What you may see/hear

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An Indonesian Muslim man calls the adhan before prayer. Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images

A mosque prayer hall (musalla) is a bare room covered with carpets or rugs. People sit on the floor; there are no pews. For elderly or disabled community members, there may be a few chairs available. There are no sacred objects in the prayer room, other than copies of the Quran which may be along the walls on bookshelves.

As people enter the mosque, you may hear them 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).

At the times of the daily prayers, you will hear the call of the adhan. During prayer, the room will be quiet except for phrases in Arabic that the Imam and/or worshipers recite. Learn more about Islamic prayer here.

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.

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What people will be doing

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Led by an Imam, Muslims pray at Al-Azhar Mosque in Egypt. David Silverman/Getty Images

During prayer, you will see people standing in rows, bowing, and prostrating/sitting on the floor in unison, following the leadership of an Imam. You may also see people making these movements in individual prayer, before or after the congregational prayer.

Outside of the prayer hall, you will see people greeting each other and gathering to talk. In a community hall, people may be eating together or watching the children play.

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What you should wear

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), headcoverings are required and are provided for those who come unprepared.

You will remove your shoes before entering the prayer hall, it is recommended to wear slip-off shoes and clean socks or stockings.

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How you should behave

During prayer, visitors should not talk or laugh loudly. Mobile phones should be switched to silent or turned off. The congregational part of the daily prayer lasts between 5-10 minutes, while the Friday noon prayer is longer as it includes a sermon.

It is disrespectful to walk in front of someone who is praying, whether they are participating in the congregational prayer or praying individually. Visitors will be guided to sit quietly in the back of the room to observe the prayers.

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. It is advisable to wait and see how the person initiates the greeting.

Visitors should refrain from smoking, eating, taking pictures without permission, argumentative behavior, and intimate touching – all of which are frowned upon inside a mosque.

Enjoying your visit

When visiting a mosque, it is not essential to be overly concerned with the details of etiquette. Muslims are usually very welcoming and hospitable people. As long as you attempt to show respect for the people and the faith, small missteps or indiscretions will certainly be excused. We hope that you enjoy your visit, meet new friends, and learn more about Islam and your Muslim neighbors.