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There are mosques all over the world. I often visit mosques on my travels, to revel in their beauty and perhaps learn something new. One thing that I have c one to learn, however, it that you should take the dress code very seriously. So, in order to ensure you respect the Muslim faith (and to avoid embarrassment!), here’s a guide to what to wear when visiting a mosque.
What is a mosque?
A mosque is a place of worship for people of the Muslim faith. The literal translation from Arabic is place of ritual prostration. Mosque buildings are typically very ornate. They are common location for prayer, Ramadan vigils, marriages, funeral services, Sufi ceremonies, business agreements, and alms collection/distribution. Mosques often serve as homeless shelters, too.
Many mosques were built over the burial places of Sufi saints. This means they are also popular pilgrimage destinations!
Most mosques have an imam – a prayer leader – though this isn’t compulsory. They must be a free and honest individual who is authoritative in religious matters. Before prayer, Muslims are required to cleanse themselves. This ablution process is know as wudu. As well as this, there are various rules about what Muslims (and non-Muslim visitors) can and cannot wear when visiting a Mosque.
What do Muslims wear to the mosque?
It is required that Muslims take their shoes off before entering the carpeted prayer halls of the mosque. This rule is sometimes extended to other areas of the mosque. Shoe storage is provided.
In line with the Islamic religion, Muslims must wear clothes that portray modesty. Men are required to attend the mosques wearing loose and clean clothes that do not reveal the shape of the body. Women must also wear loose clothing, and it must reach to their wrists and ankles. Women must also cove their heads with a Hijab or similar covering.
What to wear when visiting a mosque as a non-Muslim
Due to the community aspect of a mosque, visitors are welcomed. The dress code is similar to that expected of Muslims attending prayer. I have been caught out many times when I have been wearing the wrong clothes.
Sometimes they will provide you with appropriate garments to wear, but sometimes they will simply not allow you into the mosque. This is why it is important to know what to wear when visiting a mosque!
What should non-Muslim men wear when visiting a mosque?
Men should wear loose fitting clothing. Depending on which county you’re in, and what the weather’s like, you may wear different clothing. A lot of tourists tend to visit mosques in countries hotter than their own, however. In this case, cooler clothing is a must. Some examples are:
- Slightly baggy t-shirt
- Lightweight button up shirt (short sleeved is fine)
- Full length ‘cargo’ pants (block colour, rather than patterned)
- Chino trousers
- Flip flops
- Boat shoes
- Slip-on trainers
Linen is a thin and loose fabric which might be a good choice to wear when visiting a mosque.
What should non-Muslim women wear when visiting a mosque?
For women, ensure you are fairly covered up when visiting a mosque. Headscarves are not required for non-Muslim women, though they are encouraged. Loose clothing is suggested. Again, dependant on the weather you may choose thicker fabrics like a knitted jumper – or you may want to keep as cool as possible. Some ideas are:
- Long sleeved maxi dress
- Long sleeved t shirt
- Lightweight button down shirt
- Flowy trousers such as ‘harem pants’
- Full length culottes
- Cheesecloth maxi skirt
- Patterned silk/satin/cotton scarf for extra coverage
- Thin cardigan
- Flip flops
- Boat shoes
- Slip-on trainers
Do non-Muslim women have to cover their head when visiting a mosque?
There are mixed reports when it comes to this. Muslim women do have to cover their heads when visiting the mosque and when praying, but with visitors and tourists the rules are more relaxed it seems.
Many mosques require that visiting women simply cover their shoulders. If you are wearing a t-shirt or button up shirt then it’s likely that your shoulders will already be covered. If it’s too hot and you have chosen to wear a sleeveless top on the day you are planning to visit a mosque, pack a lightweight scarf with you. As mentioned above, cotton, silk and satin scarves work wonders for this. Not only are they fashionable and work to cover you up as necessary, they are small and light enough to be folded into a pocket, bum-bag or handbag.
If you get to the mosque you have chosen to visit and realise that your shoulders are on show and you haven’t packed a scarf, don’t panic. A lot of mosques, especially those often frequented by tourists, provide pieces of fabric. These can be bought or borrowed. The fabric can be used to cover your shoulders, and also to cover men and women’s legs if need be.
Other things to know when visiting a mosque
It’s frowned upon to come to a mosque soon after eating food that smells. If you’re a garlic bread lover, or you fancy some tuna perhaps, maybe leave it until after your visit.
Smoking, eating, arguing and intimate touching are frowned upon. So is taking photographs without permission. In mosques where tourists visit often, this rule may be relaxed slightly. There will be signs that let you know whether photography is allowed or not.
As worshippers enter the mosque, they tend to greet each other in Arabic. The greeting is Assalamau alaikum. This means ‘peace be upon you’. The return greeting is Wa alaikum assalaam which means ‘and upon you be peace’.
When meeting Muslims for the first time, offer a handshake to those of the same gender. To those of the opposite gender, most Muslims will nod their head or place their hand over their heart.
Muslims are generally hospitable and welcoming. Although there seems to be a lot of rules when it comes to what to wear when visiting a mosque, a lot of it is common sense. For the most part, it is about respecting the faith of Islam, and the worship place of Muslims around the world.