Most Ya’lla Tours itineraries include visits to one or more mosques. These are some of the most exquisite buildings anywhere, must-see sites for their artistry as well as their cultural importance. Like all sacred places, mosques have certain expectations around attire and behavior. Here are some things to know:
Modest clothing is required for men and women. Some mosques are less conservative than others in terms of how covered they want visitors to be but at the very least, women must cover their hair and both men and women must cover their knees and shoulders.
In many cases, women must wear long sleeves and long pants or skirts so that arms and legs are fully covered and men must wear long pants. Men do not need to cover their heads, but rather they should remove hats. Clothing should not be form-fitting or sheer. Some mosques have scarves and robes to lend visitors who are not properly covered.
Before entering mosques, you will leave your shoes outside. Often there are shoe racks or cubbies. Sometimes rows and rows of shoes are just lined up by the door. I’ve never known anyone to lose their shoes. Some mosques will give tourists a plastic bag in which to carry their shoes inside or plastic booties to wear over their shoes.
Mosques are closed to non-Muslims during prayer times (for 30-90 minutes), which happen five times every day. Prayer times are based on the movement of the sun, so vary from day to day. In general, they are at sunrise, midday, late afternoon, sunset and at night, when the last bit of light leaves the sky.
Muslims wash themselves at basins or fountains outside mosques before entering. These ablutions are part of worship and should not be photographed.
Gentle voices are appreciated inside and ringing cell phones are not. photography is usually okay but avoid flash. If there are worshippers inside, respect their space and do not stare or take pictures of them.
Inside, mosques are wide open. Worshippers kneel on the carpeted floor facing Mecca and the first mosque, the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest place. Surfaces are decorated in calligraphy and Arabesque (stylized botanical lines and shapes).
In some mosques tourists are free to sit down on the carpet and absorb the serenity. Prayer areas will be blocked off by ropes or low fences.