Guide to visiting a mosque for the first time

by Danni B
Ceilings of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey

If you’ve never visited a Mosque (or Masjid as it’s called in Arabic) before, it might be scary visiting a mosque for the first time or knowing what the mosque etiquette is!

What do I do when I enter the mosque? What clothes should I wear? Is it okay for me as a none Muslim to go? Not to worry!

I’ll answer all your Mosque etiquette questions below! So you can visit a Mosque without worrying!

As a convert to Islam, I know just how it feels to enter a mosque for the first time! It’s something I had to learn from scratch too.

What to wear when visiting a Mosque

Here is the type of outfit I wore when I first visited a mosque or Islamic centre in Dubai

It depends on the mosque! Most mosques, even when touring the mosque, require women to wear hijabs or to cover their hair but some don’t. It’s best to take a scarf with you so you can wrap it to cover your hair just in case.

You must dress modestly, that means wearing long sleeves and a long skirt or trousers. The mosques which are used to having none Muslim guests, will usually have spare clothes if needed.

If it’s a mosque that doesn’t offer tours and you wish to visit, then you’ll need to fully cover yourself including hijab.

For men, modesty is also required and you should wear trousers and a t-shirt with sleeves that cover the shoulders.

It’s also a good idea to have a shower before you leave for the mosque and not to wear heavy perfumes if you’re a woman. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) took great pride in his clothes and smell but the smell should not distract worshipers from their prayers.

It’s not a must but if you want some extra brownie points!

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
– The Mosque in Abu Dhabi provide abayas if needed. An Abaya is an Arabic garment made from fabric that clips over your outfit. The Abu Dhabi Mosque Abayas also have a hood. The hood must be kept up and covering your hair the entire time you are in the mosque.

If you’d like to buy some affordable abayas, Modanisa delivers worldwide and have some nice affordable designs, I’ve ordered both prayer dresses and outfits from them. I like that they’re made in Turkey rather than China.

visiting a mosque for the first time outfits for women

Want to know more about Muslims, Dubai or UAE? Check out my other guides:
Where is Dubai? All your questions answered!
48 hours in Abu Dhabi; The best itinerary to see all the sights of Abu Dhabi

Why do Muslim women wear hijab? We asked Muslim women their personal reasons
24 hours in Dubai; how to spend your layover and see all the main tourist spots
Visiting Dubai during Ramadan: what to expect and what rules you should know

Pay attention to the entrances

Often the main entrance is only for men and goes into the main prayer hall.

During a tour, they may allow you in this area but if it’s during prayer times men will typically stop women from entering. If it’s a local mosque that doesn’t offer tours, either look for signs for women or if it’s during prayer time; look at where the women are heading.

Usually, the women’s sections in mosques aren’t as beautiful as the main prayer halls. So it’s better to visit a mosque that has a tour if you’re a woman so you can not only learn about the history and architecture of the mosque but get to see the splendour of the main prayer hall!

For the mosque in Abu Dhabi, the security entrances are clearly labelled with men and women. Once you pass security it becomes mixed again. However, the main prayer hall is for men only but women are able to see inside it as part of the tour in between prayer times.

Entering the mosque

When entering the Mosque you will need to take off your shoes.

You will find a shoe rack by the doors and during prayer time it’s common for worshipers to line their shoes along the halls or even outside the mosque.

If you’d like to be like the Muslims and show off your knowledge, you should enter with your right foot. This is based on the practices of Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him.

In the Abu Dhabi Mosque, there used to be shoe racks at the entrances after security but most of these have been removed now and only in the areas just outside the prayer halls. You’ll find people wearing shoes in the areas outside of the prayer halls and others will walk barefoot. It’s worth taking a bag for you to pop your shoes in.

What is the Muslim greeting?

It’s common for other Muslims to greet you when you enter the mosque, they will normally say “Salam alaikum” which means “Peace be with you” in Arabic. The reply back is “Wa alaikum salum” which translates to “And peace be upon you.” If you’re a little worried to say it all, you can also just say “Salam” which means “Peace” but is used in the same way we say “Hello.”

Prayer Times

If you’re wanting to wander around, the best time is to go outside of the prayer times (use this website to check the times). Especially if it’s a smaller mosque that doesn’t have amenities set up for tourists.

There are five daily prayers. You will hear the Azan (call for prayer) to let you know when it’s prayer time. These are just before sunrise, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and typically half an hour after sunset. You will hear two of these, the first is to let worshippers know it’s the time for prayer and the second is right before the prayer starts.

The prayers are led by an Imam. It is a time when people are quiet and focused on their prayer. Even after the prayer has finished you may find people staying to do extra prayers or sitting on the floor. So make sure to be extra careful at these times and respectful of those coming to pray.

On Friday, Khutbahs are held and these days are pretty busy! Often with whole families in attendance. It’s not ideal to visit on these days and typically those involved or volunteering for the mosque will be very busy. So I wouldn’t recommend visiting on a Friday.

If you’re curious about the prayer, quietly sit at the back. You’ll usually find chairs stacked at the back, so just take one to sit on or sit on the floor if you prefer.

Rules & General Etiquette

You will notice either an arrow or a section of the wall where there is a cutout section with a domed roof. This is the direction of Mecca. You will notice everyone stands to face that way or sits and faces that way. Typically the carpets will have lines so that people know which direction to stand.

  1. Do not walk in front of people praying
  2. Do not take photos of women without their permission
  3. Be quiet in the prayer halls and rooms
  4. Keep yourself dressed modestly in all areas of the mosque
  5. Keep your phone on silent
  6. Don’t offer to shake hands with the opposite gender
  7. When sat, it’s best practice to sit cross-legged so that the bottoms of your feet aren’t in the direction of Mecca
  8. Do not eat unless it’s an area specified for eating
  9. Keep the prayer rooms clean
  10. Do not eat or drink close to or inside the Mosque during Ramadan during the day when Muslims are fasting

Leaving the mosque

There are no specific customs for leaving the mosque except to leave with your left foot. Place your shoes back on and enjoy the rest of your day!

Can I go as a none Muslim to a Mosque?

Yes! There are lots of Mosques in global destinations such as the Abu Dhabi Mosque and Blue Mosque in Turkey that offer tours for none Muslims. Even if it’s a mosque that doesn’t have a tour. It’s still okay for you to enter. You just need to be respectful of the rules (which I’ll go further into below) and keep in mind that it’s a place of worship.

Most central mosques in different cities will also have an office or Islamic centre as part of the mosque. Some even have areas to sit or where you can eat food.

If knock on the door of the office or call ahead of time, often they’re happy to have a chat about the mosque and help you find your way around. Check their website in case there are instructions for those who are not Muslim but would like to come to see the Mosque.

Visiting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

The mosque in Abu Dhabi called Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is now one of the most famous mosques in the world but you may be wondering what’s appropriate. Or perhaps you’re going to the blue mosque in Istanbul or a mosque in Turkey? Whichever mosque you’ll be visiting and where ever it is in the world. This guide is for you! If you’re planning to visit Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, make sure to check out our full Abu Dhabi itinerary below!

Make sure to check out this super easy tour from Dubai that will take you straight to Sheikh Zayed Mosque without the hassle of taxis or buses as Sheikh Zayed Mosque is far from the centre of Abu Dhabi.

Or! If you’re planning to stay in Dubai, check out this hop on and hop off tour bus where you can visit sights such as Jumeirah Mosque and the bus will drop you right by it!

Before you go, check out some of my other helpful guides:

What is visiting Dubai during Ramadan really like and what to know
Where can I find a Friday Khutbah in English in Dubai?
What paperwork is needed and how to convert to a Muslim in Dubai
Visiting Abu Dhabi and what places to see in 48 hours

Now that you’re all clued up on Mosque etiquette! I really hope you enjoy your time in the Masjid. Whether you’re visiting the mosque in Abu Dhabi or the Blue Mosque in Turkey. Or one of the many beautiful mosques around the world! For most of us, it’s a truly unforgettable experience.

Read more Visit Dubai Guides

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