Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Visiting a Mosque: FAQs

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...

Cell phones
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!


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

If the person praying lacks a valid barrier, then it is not forbidden to walk in front of him, though it is better not to walk in his place of prostration (Anwar al-Masalik Sharh `Umdat al-Salik, 83-84 (Dar al-Tabbaa); Bushra al-Karim, 1:227-229 (Dar al-Fikr)). If someone is praying behind a valid barrier, then it is forbidden to walk between them. One of the conditions for a valid barrier is that it is within 1.5meters of the person praying.

is the one passing in front always to blame?

The possible scenarios that may occur are four,

1. The one passing has an alternative to passing in front and the one praying did not pray in a place where he is in people's way.
-In this case the sin is only on the one passing.
2. The one passing has no alternative to passing and the one praying was in a place where he would be in people's way.
-The sin in this case is solely on the one praying.
3. The one passing has an alternative to passing in front and the one praying was in a place where he would get in people's way.
-The sin is on both of them.
4. Neither does the one passing have an alternative nor is the one praying in people's way.
-The sin is on neither of them.

This is from the major ulema. It is most advisable to request them to put a barrier a short distance in front of them so that in all cases they are absolved from sin. It is also advisable for those praying extra prayers to pray in a location away from traffic.

Anonymous said...


Not sure if this counts as something 'left off', but it's something I wondered.

Should the visting woman, assuming she's not a Muslim and already covering, bring a scarf or something, just in case?

I know there are some cloistered monasteries where the women are expected to cover, when they visit, and if they're dressed inappropriately, the monks have these robes and scarves so that they can be covered. And when the photographer from our paper went to cover something at the local mosque, they gave her a scarf to cover, but in that case, I think it was just because she needed to go into the men's prayer area to take the photo, and there were men in there praying.


rahma said...

Assalamu Alaikum,

Looks good. There's only a few things I'd add:

*Something about long sleeve shirts. I brought classmates to the masjid in college and told everyone to wear pants, which they did. Unfortunately, one still wore a belly baring shirt. I figure if I say long sleeves, that would preclude the tummy outage.

*I'd say re: a scarf, bring one along and recommend draping it over their heads. It doesn't have to be pinned tight, nor cover all the hair, but it helps them to blend in.

*When it's time to pray, move to the sides/back to the room. I'll often see guests look around very confused when everyone stands up for prayer, and people will have to navigate around them to pray.

Amy said...

Anonymous 1:

That's really a good remark! I should add something about it--though really it is very mosque specific. And since my little article is really only intended for my particular mosque, I think I will add a note.

Anonymous 2:

Thank you for the information about passing in front of a praying person--that is very useful and informative. Since my little article is geared towards non-Muslims, I don't think it would be appropriate to introduce some matters of fiqh like this. In most cases, it is quite simple enough to know that it's not appropriate to walk in front of someone who is praying. And since this is mostly for non-Muslims, they probably wouldn't have to worry about it anyway, but it's a matter of "just-in-case" information.

Amy said...

Amber, thanks for your question.

I actually deliberately omitted the section about covering because I have mixed feelings about what to write.

I think it would be nice if women would cover when inside the mosque. It would be nice if teenage Muslim girls didn't loiter about in skinny jeens and blouses a size too small while all their parts hang out, screaming for attention. (Which they do, mind you, while wearing a headscarf.)

And I think sending the message that the headscarf is a be-all end-all of modesty wouldn't be correct. I also know that some people might for one reason or another feel adamantly opposed to covering their head--that's how I felt at one time, after all.

Also, as regards the matter of a scarf, it really depends greatly on why they might be visiting the mosque in the first place. Coming to observe a service, like Friday/Jummu'ah prayers? Should definitely cover. Coming as part of a school group? Not necessary. And most of our visitors (by number at least) fall into that category, of coming with school groups. We set them in a special room behind the musallah which opens up to allow them to observe the prayer.

I'm also afraid if I mention it, that it might deter people from coming in when they might already have several other barriers to cross.

That's kind of a long answer, and I might devote a special post to that particular topic since I'm sure many women have that same question. I'm just not sure I want to include it in this particular article. :-)

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the answer. As I said, I wasn't sure I would count it as something 'left out', but merely a bit of curiosity on my part. It seems to be more complicated than I originally thought, though. :)


Amy said...

You're welcome.

I wish it weren't so complicated... :-)

Citizen of the world said...

The article about visiting a mosque is now posted on the Islamic Center of Raleigh web site.