Written by Theresa Corbin
Going to the mosque can be a scary endeavor when you are a new Muslim, a non-Muslim, or even when the mosque is new to you. Going anywhere new is a scary thing (says the introvert).
But going to a place of worship that you are not quite sure what is taboo and what is deemed appropriate behavior is so much more scary. Believe me. I know. But have no fear! Theresa is here
to make all the mistakes for you and then report back to give you the down low to make your visit go smoothly.
Mosque- (n.) /mawsk/ also known as a masjid /MASS-jid/ among Muslims. An Islamic place of worship.
Take off your shoes either before you enter or as soon as you have entered the mosque. You will know when to take off your shoes because there is usually a shoe shelf, a big sign telling to TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES, and/or a huge pile of shoes.
Shoes are not allowed on the floor of the mosque since we walk over all kinds of nasty things on the ground on a day to day basis, and the floor of the mosque needs to remain as clean as possible. When Muslims pray, we need a clean place on which to do it. Think about putting your face on the ground where someone has tracked in dog doo. NOT a fun experience.
I am ashamed to admit that one time (before I was a Muslim) I refused to take my shoes off because the shoes I was wearing made me feet smelly. I know it is gross, but they were such cute shoes. So I thought it would be kinder to keep my shoes on than to subject everyone to the heinous odor of me feet. It was not. Everyone mean mugged me the whole time. If your feet are smelly, take your shoes off, and ask to be directed to the restroom where you can wash off the funk.
Don’t take someone else’s shoes
Sure, many Muslims have great taste in shoes, but try to restrain yourself from snatching a pair. Just joking. Sometimes shoes look similar or you just don’t recall what shoes you were wearing and end up taking the wrong shoes (this is probably more likely if you are a man. Women know what shoes they were wearing). Don’t do this. When you leave the mosque make sure you have the right shoes.
This happens a lot, even among regular mosque attendants. Someone will leave their shoes at a designated area and return to find their shoes have vanished into thin air. They search and search and then finally have to take someone else’s shoes, starting a shoe taking chain reaction. And the last man standing has to take some mismatched pair of shoes that were left in the bathroom. I’m not joking. It happens all the time.
I’m not saying you would consciously take someone else’s shoes (because that is just asking for a foot fungus) but just make sure that the shoes that look like the ones you think you wore (brothers) are really yours.
Once upon a time, when I was young and less aware of Islamic mores, I would attend prayer in tight shirts. No one said anything, but all that staring makes sense now that I get the concept of modesty. In case you are wondering, long sleeves don’t make something modest if it is skin tight.
Both men and women should consider dressing modestly when visiting the local mosque. Modesty is a highly valued virtue in Islam both in character and dress.
Wear long, loose, opaque clothing. And if you are a lady and happen to own a scarf, it can’t hurt to cover your hair. But if you are new, it is not required in most mosques.
Wearing symbols from other faiths
A long, long time ago in a galaxy far away, my husband was a teenager. It is hard to believe, but I’ve seen the pictures. Now there is nothing wrong with being a teenager per se. But there is something wrong with being a teenager in the 90s and having a piercing in which you insist on wearing a cross earring, aAAaaaand going to the mosque.
He didn’t know any better (he converted a short while after this incident), but it was pretty funny when he got told by a 10 year old.
Just a little cross or a star of David won’t cause a Muslim to go up in flames. But it is slightly awkward to wear a big sign of another faith tradition when you are going into a mosque. It’s kinda like wearing a Dodgers’ jersey and going to a Giants’ game (had to Google that rivalry, not a sports fan). It’s just kinda disrespectful.
Going in the wrong entrance
This one is always tricky. Most mosques have separate prayer areas for men and women. This was not the practice of the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) of Islam, but people seem to think it was. And it’s a whole thing because women’s areas are usually not as spacious or nice as men’s areas. But I digress.
Walking into the wrong area at the mosque is like walking into the wrong rest-room in a public place. People get really sensitive about it.
Keep your eyes peeled for signs or someone who can tell you which entrance is which. But if you do end up walking into a room (once you have taken your shoes off) full of people of the opposite sex, just casually tell them you need to find the women’s/men’s entrance because you are new there. They will understand.
Touching the opposite sex
When you meet someone of the opposite sex at the mosque (or anywhere) don’t offer to shake their hand or try to give them a big ole hug. Muslim men and women only touch people of the opposite sex to whom they are married or those who are members of their immediate family.
Not getting touchy feely with the opposite sex is a way of cutting off more inappropriate touching from happening at the root. Some Muslims are a little more lax and will shake hands, but it is especially considered weird to do at a place of worship. Feel free to shake hands or even hug people of the same sex as you. European-style cheek kissing is very popular at the mosque, so be prepared for that.
Being loud or cursing
This is just common courtesy. Yelling and cursing is usually looked down on in general unless you are at a sporting event, in a fist fight, or at a bar. Ya know, the American pastimes. Feel free to talk (except when people are actually praying or giving a lecture), but keep it polite. In today’s world, cursing is so ubiquitous that it might be hard to check yourself if you have a predilection for profanity. But just give it your best attempt.
Now that you have the down low, find a mosque near you here. Learn more about Islam, see how Muslims worship, and/or become a part of a new community. Tell them I sent you. 😉
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