Our Muslim Mamas community is all about creating safe spaces for us to come together, to share, learn, and grow with like-minded people. Through our work in the wider community, with larger agencies, organisations, and charities, we hope to extend that invitation to others outside of the Muslim faith. We truly believe that there is much richness in widening our perspectives when making an effort to understand others who are different from us; fostering connection and meaningful interactions by developing understanding between communities.
Entering a mosque as a non-Muslim may seem unfamiliar, perhaps even a little daunting, but rest assured, you will be most welcome.
A mosque is a place of worship, reflection, education, and community for Muslims, but it’s also a space open to people of all faiths and backgrounds.
In this blog post, we’ll guide you through the etiquettes of being in a mosque and provide tips for making your visit a positive and respectful experience.
When and why do Muslims go to the Mosque?
There’s so much diversity within Mosques throughout the UK; some are purpose-built buildings that look as you might expect to see in a Muslim country. Some are converted churches or community centers, and some are even houses that may look less ‘mosque-like’ with fewer facilities. The majority of mosques will be open for the five daily prayers as a minimum; other smaller mosques may be open for only the morning or evening prayers depending on the resources available to them. The Arabic word for mosque is ‘masjid’, and you may often hear them referred to as this.
Muslims pray five times a day facing Mecca. The mosque is available for any and all of these prayer times, but communal praying at the mosque is always encouraged, particularly for the midday prayer, and especially for midday prayers on Friday. The prayer spaces are segregated by gender; however, some smaller mosques don’t always have a space available for women. Spaces for men are often prioritised, as is a requirement of faith for men to pray in congregation where possible, whereas for women, though it is welcomed, they have the option to pray anywhere.
Muslims often attend the mosque on Friday for midday prayer and sermon; this is called Jum’ah Prayer. Mosques can also be used as community spaces, often offering Islamic and Qur’an classes for children and adults and for people new to Islam as well as holding social events or providing a service such as weddings, funerals, Ramadan/Eid festivals, and prayer services.
Who is the head of the Mosque?
The head of the mosque is the Imam, but not all mosques have one. Some mosques might use a visiting Imam, or members of the mosque community might serve as the prayer leader or teach from the Muslim Holy Book, the Qur’an. Often mosques will have a board of trustees, maintenance staff, or other members who help with the running of the building and services.
What to wear at the mosque?
Men and women should both dress modestly, in loose-fitting clothing that covers the arms and legs, no shorts or sleeveless shirts for either gender. Women should also bring a scarf. Not all mosques will ask female visitors to cover their heads, especially if you aren’t in the designated prayer spaces, but it’s a sign of respect to have one ready. (But if you forget a scarf, don’t worry. Most mosques have extra.) Makeup is acceptable, and children can wear whatever they want. You’ll also want to wear clean socks or tights because you’ll be asked to remove your shoes before you enter the prayer area. (Many mosques have a room/shoe rack just off the entrance where you can safely store your shoes and other personal belongings.)
How to greet people at the mosque?
Most mosques are very welcoming communities; there’s no need to be shy! People will welcome questions and be happy to help share their knowledge and guidance.
To greet someone, you can use the traditional Islamic greeting “Assalamu ‘alaykum,” which means “peace be upon you.”
Don’t worry about mispronouncing it. Most people will be delighted you made the effort. However, a simple hello and “how are you?” will never be frowned upon!
Feel free to shake hands with people of the same gender. However, when greeting someone of another gender, follow the other person’s lead. Some will be perfectly comfortable shaking hands; others will prefer not to. In such cases, a suitable alternative is to put your hand over your heart with a slight nod. It’s a universal sign of respect and makes people smile! Remember, don’t worry about not getting things 100% right; as long as you’re being respectful and observant, that would more than suffice.
What to expect in the prayer space?
When you arrive, someone will probably show you where to remove and store your shoes. Be sure to silence or turn off your phone. Try not to hold conversations or talk once you’re inside the prayer hall, and definitely not during the prayer itself.
You will notice that Muslims perform ablution (ritual washing) before entering the prayer hall. Some mosques have specially equipped bathrooms for men and women to wash their faces, arms, and feet. As a visitor, you won’t be expected to do ablution to enter.
The prayer hall will not have pews or seats; people sit on carpets or rugs. There might be a few chairs available for people with disabilities or the elderly. There are different entrances for men and women, who sit on different sides of the prayer hall, or in some cases, different levels. Depending on the mosque, there might be a partial or total barrier dividing the women’s and men’s sections of the hall.
If you’re visiting with young children, they’ll generally be able to stay with you, regardless of gender. People will stand, bow, prostrate, and sit in unison at different points during the prayer. You don’t have to join in; you can just observe quietly. When a Muslim is praying, they will not talk or respond to you until they have completed the prayer. You can ask questions before or after.
As it’s considered disrespectful to walk in front of someone who is praying, you might be asked to sit in the back, so you can observe the service from there.
In closing, a visit to a mosque can be a rich and enlightening experience, a chance to explore a different culture and religion. Don’t be so worried about doing the “right” or “wrong” thing that you miss the chance to connect with someone different from you. You may actually find that you have more things in common than not.
By following these etiquettes and tips, you can ensure that your visit is respectful and enjoyable. Mosques are open to all, promoting the values of hospitality, inclusivity, and understanding. Come with an open heart and a curious mind, and you’ll be warmly welcomed.
Sarah is a freelance writer, social media manager and homeschooling mama to three girls. On her personal blog she loves to reflect on the raw, unspoken sides of motherhood. She is passionate about alternative education, creative arts and the transformative and healing power of spoken and written words.