I was recently asked to produce an article for the masjid to post with some answers to commonly-asked questions people have about visiting the mosque. I feel like I'm walking a thin line--I don't want to answer questions about Islam in general, or specific question that would be better answered in person. But I do want to give people a general idea about what to expect when visiting, and perhaps how to prepare themselves. This is what I have so far:
What should I wear?
It is most appropriate to wear modest, loose-fitting clothes. For men, it is better to wear long pants, and for women to wear pants or full-length skirts or dresses, with long sleeves. Muslim women typically wear a headscarf as well.
Why do we take our shoes off?
It is appropriate to remove one's shoes before entering the prayer area at a mosque, so that the floors and carpets aren't covered with dirt--after all, that is where people pray.
Where are the women praying?
During the prayer, men and women do not mix. It is typical for women to either pray behind the men in the same room, or in a different room which affords them more privacy. At the Islamic Center of Raleigh, women pray upstairs in the ladies' prayer hall for special events, or downstairs in a special enclosed area behind the main prayer hall.
What are the footsinks in the bathroom for?
Muslims are supposed to be in a state of physical purification before making the prayer, which includes washing the feet.
What happens when people join the prayer late?
They will join the prayer already in progress, and after the imam (leader of the prayer) has finished, they will complete what they missed.
How do Friday prayers work?
Friday is the day of congregational prayers for Muslims--so a short sermon followed by a short prayer at the mosque in congregation is substituted for the regular noon-time prayer. The service begins with the call to prayer, followed by a lecture (rather, two short lectures with a brief pause in the middle). After the lecture (called a khutbah), another call to prayer is made and the congregation stands to follow the imam in the prayer.
A few more guidelines...
A ringing cell phone is a distraction to any service at the mosque--please silence or power-off phones when entering the building.
Talking during prayer
If you need to talk to someone during the prayer (while you are not praying, of course,) please take the conversation outside the prayer hall into the lobby or hallways so as to not distract those who are praying.
Not standing/walking in front of someone praying
If you are walking through the prayer area and come across someone who is praying, please walk behind, instead of in front of him.
Shaking hands with opposite gender
Please be aware that many Muslims do not shake hands with anyone of the opposite gender. That is, men do not shake hands with women, and women do not shake hands with men. Unless he/she extends his/her hand first, it is better to not extend yours.
Can you think of anything I've left off, which probably ought to be included? Jazakumallahu khairan!