I didn’t know what to expect visiting a mosque. Despite hitting countless temples throughout Asia, suffering from temple fatigue at times, the thought of visiting a mosque intimidated me slightly. I didn’t know what to expect or rules for tourists.
What do I wear?
Am I even allowed to visit?
What if I don’t have a headscarf?
Let’s be real, I don’t even know how to wrap a headscarf.
Turns out I was worried for no reason. The mosques in Malaysia made for a fantastic first visiting experience.
I started with the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur. After a few quick searches, I discovered that the mosque would have robes to lend as well as visiting hours for tourists.
Feeling a bit silly about my initial intimidation, I headed to explore the mosque with my husband. It took a little while to find the right entrance. After walking around we finally encountered the desk handing out bright purple robes to other visitors and accompanying shoe rack.
As I mentioned, I’ve visited probably a bazillion temples or shrines throughout my trip (only slight exaggeration there). The National Mosque was the first time I met a dedicated employee or volunteer to answer questions about Islam. As someone who is genuinely curious about the different cultures and religions of my host countries, this made for an excellent experience. More on that at the end of this post.
During our trip, we visited several spectacular mosques! Between the jaw-dropping architecture, the stunning design, immense beauty of the buildings, friendly people and the opportunity to learn more about a very misunderstood religion, I highly recommend taking the chance to visit a mosque when you can.
To help you on your visit, here are several things to know before visiting a mosque for the first time.
What to Wear
Like many religious houses, mosques have strict dress requirements. Men need to be clothed in long sleeve shirts and long sleeve pants. Women also need to be covered to the wrists and ankles, as well as to cover their heads.
Visiting Asia in the summer months, I didn’t even have a long sleeve shirt to wear.
Luckily many mosques have robes with hoods to lend out. Don’t expect anything flattering. In fact, I actually struggled to keep mine latched as I walked around. Guessing it’s one size fit everyone plus one. You’ll have company though, as the majority of other guests will be dressed similarly during visiting hours.
The first time I borrowed a head covering. Afterward, I took the opportunity to purchase my own scarf. After all, we were planning on hitting at least three more mosques.
My headscarf game got much better during the Malaysia trip. It still wasn’t spectacular, but at least I didn’t have to adjust it every three minutes.
Also, note that shoes are not allowed in the main prayer hall. Most the mosques we visited didn’t allow shoes in the area directly around the main prayer hall, with one requesting we take our shoes off outside. Posted signs, tour guides or shoe racks will help you determine areas where you need to remove your shoes.
Muslims pray five times a day. The first is pre-dawn, the following one at noon, an afternoon one and one in the evening before retiring. While the mosques always welcome their congregations to pray there, every Friday Muslims gather to pray and hear the Imam’s sermon.
The National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur sees 15,000 people on Fridays. The Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque in Putrajaya, also known as the Iron Mosque, hosts 20,000. That’s capacity at both locations.
All this to say that visiting hours can be a bit tricky.
Visiting hours can vary slightly by each mosque, but a general guideline based the National Mosque:
9am-Noon; 3-4pm; 5:30-6:30pm
Learning More about Islam
It might come as a surprise, but visiting a temple, church or mosque doesn’t always mean that you learn more about the religion. Despite hitting dozens of Buddhist temples, it wasn’t until a temple stay that I started to learn a little more about the religion. I still need to research more about Hinduism, which will probably make a nice post.
That wasn’t the case here.
First, at the National Mosque, we encountered a dedicated guide there to answer guest’s questions.
“Ask me anything.”
If you’re visiting a mosque, I suggest you prepare a few questions beforehand. To be honest, I believed our guide was slightly disappointed at our lack of questions. To account for it, he started answering the most asked questions.
As did the tour guide we met at the Iron Mosque.
We didn’t learn our lesson the first time around and found ourselves without questions for round two.
Luckily the frequently asked questions gave both tour guides ample opportunity to jump into an incredible narrative around Islam.
I’m not sure if it’s common practice to have staff and volunteers there to greet guests. Perhaps the basis hinges around efforts to educate more people about Islam, fighting the current narratives playing out the media.
Regardless the reasoning, it made for the most educational visit next to a religious house. This includes a temple stay in Korea. Imagine the possibilities if every religious house that attracts countless tourists every year took the opportunity to educate visitors about their religion.
While it couldn’t completely eradicate conflicts around different religions, it could help to ease so much of the misunderstanding we have. I studied Islam in high school, yet even with that basis, there were still so many misconceptions I had about the religion.
Not everyone has the opportunity to study multiple religions in school, yet religion plays such an important role in so many cultures. Taking the opportunity to learn more about each country’s prominent religion creates a more authentic and deeper traveling experience.