Etiquette for Visiting a Mosque (Masjid)
Visiting a mosque (masjid) is a wonderful way to learn about Islam and Muslims firsthand. As with any house of worship, there are common sense rules that one should observe, in addition, there are others that are specific to the Islamic faith and its sacred space. This guide is designed to address in brief some of the general questions first time visitors to a mosque might have about what to expect. This guide is intended to provide general guidelines only, if you have more specific questions, are or unsure of anything, please consult someone at the mosque you wish to visit.
The name for a house of worship in Islam is masjid (pl. masajid). This Arabic word literally means “place of prostration”. In English it is usually called a mosque. It is a place where Muslims gather to perform the five daily prayers that are one of the pillars of Islam, for the congregational Friday prayer (Ar. Jumu’ah), the special devotional prayers performed every night in Ramadan (Ar. Tarawih), and for other social and religious functions. In the United States, you will also find many mosques listed in telephone directories and such as Islamic Centers.
The size and shape of a masjid can vary greatly. Some masajid are little more than a single room, while others are large enough to hold thousands of people. The style of architecture varies a great deal depending on which part of the world one is in. While many people may associate the classic dome and minaret with the masjid, there are many other building types seen throughout the Muslim world. In addition, in the United States and other western countries, where Muslims are minorities and have only in recent decades begun to establish houses of worship, one will find that many types of buildings are now serving as masajid for the Muslim communities which have sprung up in their midst. Many mosques in these places are converted storefronts, former schools, office buildings, churches, and the like. Muslim communities in these places which have been established for some time are transitioning into buildings constructed from the ground up, which tend to have more of the type of architecture and design associated with mosques in the rest of the world.
Even with the amount of diversity in the building design found in mosques, there are usually some features most have in common.
A place to perform ablution. Ritual ablutions are necessary in order to perform the prayers, so every masjid will have some place where this is done. Modern facilities tend to house these with the restrooms or adjacent to them, but in many older mosques it may be in a separate area entirely.
Prayer hall (Ar. musalla). The size of this prayer area varies greatly depending on the size of the mosque. Many have separate prayers areas for men and women. Others may have a single, large room where men and women both pray, but men sit/pray in one area of the room and women in another. With this in mind, many mosques also have separate entrances for men and women. It is good to be aware of this when visiting a mosque for the first time.
Prayer niche (Ar. mihrab). This is the place where the imam (prayer leader) stands when he is leading the congregation in prayer. In structures originally built as mosques, this is usually a niche carved into the wall facing Mecca. In buildings converted from other uses, there is no physical mihrab, and the imam usually stands out in front of the first prayer rows.
Some of the larger mosques may also have:
What should I do if I want to visit a mosque?
If you are in the United States or another western country, it is a generally a good idea if you call the mosque you wish to visit in order to make arrangements. Many are not always open: if it is not a time of day near one of the congregational prayer times, the building may not be open. In addition, if you are not familiar with the setup and expectations, it might be helpful to arrange ahead of time someone to be there to assist you and to answer any questions you may have. In Islamic countries, many times there are paid government employees who are responsible for keeping the mosques open and so forth, so in those cases it may be easier to visit without having made arrangements first. Even then, it is best to find out from the locals or a travel agent if there are restrictions.
In general, a masjid is a place of worship like any other, so rules and behavior common to any sacred place should be observed. These include being mindful of your noise level, no running or horseplay, no talking during sermons, no littering, etc. In addition to these common sense conventions, the following are specific things to keep in mind when visiting a mosque:
This list should help with some of the most common questions associated with visiting a mosque for the first time. If you still are unsure of anything, or need further clarification, it is good to speak directly with someone at the mosque you wish to visit for further assistance.