Be it by floating along the banks of the Bosphorus or by trekking along the craggy cliffs of the Emerald Isle, religious buildings are a must-see when travelling. Yet making sure your visit is respectful can be rather tricky. This is especially true when entering the stunning temples of Istanbul. Therefore, we’ve compiled a list of things you need to know when visiting a mosque in this mesmerising city, a highlight of any trip to Turkey.
When can you visit a mosque?
Firstly, be aware that not all mosques are open to the public. Secondly, the majority close to visitors during hours of worship. Although Turkish Muslims perform the prayer ritual – known as namaz – five times a day, it’s not vital that muslims pray in mosques. However, many strive to do so. The exact time of the ezan (call to prayer) changes from day to day and from place to place, according to longitude and latitude, hours of daylight and the geographical relationship to Mecca. So how will you know it’s prayer time in Istanbul? To be honest, it’s hard not to know as this enchanting call is belted out from the minarets dotted throughout out the city centre.
If you are non-Muslim, avoid entering mosques within half an hour after the ezan and also avoid visiting on Fridays from the later hours of the morning to early afternoon, as this is a popular prayer time. A good rule of thumb is that if the mosque is busy with worshippers, go back later.
What to wear when visiting a mosque for the first time
As a rule everyone must wear modest, loose-fitting clothes that show very little skin. For men, it is better to wear long pants and long sleeved tops; for women, trousers, full-length skirts or dresses with sleeves that cover the arms. Along with these rules, many suggest that women wear a headscarf in the prayer hall. We also advise that you refrain from wearing loud colours and to remember to take off your shoes before entering.
What not to do when entering a mosque
Upon entering a mosque, refrain from rolling up your sleeves as this is interpreted as a serious lack of respect. Other lesser-known signs of disrespect are easy to commit. One, for instance, is that you should always enter a mosque with the right foot first and leave with the left foot. Secondly, you shouldn’t point your feet in the direction of Mecca when sitting. Thirdly, keep in mind that members of the opposite mustn’t shake hands with members of the opposite sex.
When entering mosques you will usually hear “Assalam Alaikum” which means “peace be upon you.” The correct reply is “Wa alaikum-as-salam” which means “peace be upon you too.” Non-muslim visitors are not expected to return the greeting, but doing so will go do down extremely well.
Depending on the mosque you visit it may have two entrances: one for men and one for women. This is normally clearly marked above the entrance. These lead to separate prayer rooms. Usually men and women are allowed to enter and visit the mosque together. Again, as with all the advice here, pay attention to the rules of visiting displayed at the entrance.