What to Expect on Your First Time Going to a Mosque

Visitors to mosques remain silent and shoeless during prayer.

Many Muslims welcome visitors into their mosques as a way of promoting intercultural understanding and forging bonds within their communities. The worldwide population of Muslims has reached 1.2 billion, with an estimated 7 million believers living in the United States, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Entering an Islamic house of worship requires reverence and respect, as well as some preparations on what to expect on your first visit.

1 Terminology

It is helpful to acquaint yourself with some basic terminology before venturing into a mosque, according to the Education Islam website maintained by Aksaa diversity training consultants. Muslims are followers of Islam, and they refer to mosques as their “Masjid.” Expect to hear the Arabic greeting of “Assalamu Alaikum,” which means “Peace be upon you.” Muslim worshipers would be thrilled to hear a visitor respond by saying, “A ‘alaikum-as-salam,” which means “Peace be upon you, too.”

2 Entering

Enter a mosque in silence. Remove your shoes, and seat yourself on the floor. Avoid pointing your feet toward the wall with an alcove, which is known as the Qibla. The only exception would be a medical condition that prevents you from assuming this position, says the Education Islam site. Request a chair if you are elderly or disabled. Groups should sit quietly in the rear of the hall. Muslims practice five daily prayers, and non-Muslims are expected to watch but not participate.

3 Gender

Muslims expect female observers to wear modest attire. Headscarves are required. Female guests should wear skirts or pants to their ankles, along with conservative blouses that cover their arms and necks. Muslims refrain from shaking hands with members of the opposite gender in a mosque, and visitors should respect this custom. Men and women often are seated separately. Many women stay home for prayers, so expect a male-dominated congregation at the mosque.

4 Welcomes

Some Muslim communities host programs that are open to the public as a way of building positive images around this fast-growing religion, according to Muslim Voices website hosted by Indiana University. These open houses typically fall during holiday seasons, such as Ramadan, and allow non-Muslims to ask questions about rituals and the surroundings. Many sites across the globe encourage tourists to stop in during their travels. As a courtesy, visitors should avoid expressing any negative comparisons between Islam and other religions, according to the Education Islam website.