Visiting Mosques Istanbul Turkey

Last Updated on February 18, 2024

Turkey is a beautiful country with many grand historical sites such as Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı) and Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya). Turkey's beautiful mosques (an Islamic center and camii in Turkish) are open to all, Muslims and non-Muslims, Turks and foreigners, young and old.

The great imperial mosques of IstanbulBursa, and Edirne are usually open continuously every day for long hours for free (although donations for mosque upkeep are gratefully accepted). In the most-visited mosques, a separate area may be set off by railings for non-Muslim visitors so that the distraction of worshippers is minimized. Smaller mosques in other cities may close outside of prayer times. Often, a caretaker is on hand (or can be notified) to let you in if the door is locked.

In return, when visiting mosques, a visitor is only expected to follow a basic set of rules. It's important to follow proper etiquette to show respect for community members, believers, and Turkish culture. Let's look at the well-known mosque etiquette to follow when visiting a mosque.

Mosque Etiquette

When visiting mosques, it is crucial to be aware of basic etiquette to show respect. While larger mosques that are frequented by tourists, such as the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii) and Süleymaniye Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii), may allow more flexibility and provide necessary garments, not all mosques are the same and may not offer such accommodations. Therefore, it is important to learn and follow the rules if you want to visit mosques in Turkey without any issues. Let's look at all the details.

When to Visit

Unless you are a Muslim coming to pray, avoid visiting most mosques at prayer time, that is, at or within a half hour after the azan, or ezan in Turkish (call to prayer). You can easily understand when it is prayer time as an ezan will be chanted from the minarets, and during prayer times, mosques may close the prayer hall to visitors as Muslims pray.

Also, avoid visiting on Friday from late morning through early afternoon, which is when the weekly group prayers and sermons take place. In short, if the mosque is busy with worshippers, it's polite to return later to visit.

What to Wear

When visiting a mosque, following the dress code is important. Dress modestly in conservative clothing that exposes a minimum of skin. No shorts or sleeveless shirts for either men or women. At the most popular mosques in Istanbul (such as the Blue Mosque), attendants may provide robes to wear during your visit if your normal sightseeing clothing is too informal. (No charge for use of the robe.)

Men should wear long trousers and a sleeved shirt (although T-shirts are also fine).

Female visitors should wear slacks or a dress or blouse and skirt (at least below the knees), preferably with elbow-length or longer sleeves (no bare shoulders or upper arms), and a headscarf to cover their heads.

If you really can't wear a headscarf, a handy garment for women is a lightweight, long-sleeved jacket-shirt or jacket with a built-in hood (hoodie"). Wearing slacks, just raise the hood when you enter the mosque, and you will not need a headscarf. However, please bear in mind that this might be interpreted as impolite by certain individuals.

Footwear is not important, as you'll be removing it before entering the mosque in any case. There will be a few chairs for people to sit on when taking off their shoes at the entrance of the mosque, as well as shelves to put shoes on. Here, you can safely store your shoes and other small personal belongings, or you can put them in plastic bags. It is also important to wear clean socks.

All visitors to mosques—Muslim and non-Muslim—remove their shoes before stepping onto the mosque's carpets, especially the prayer area. This is a practical, not a religious, requirement: Muslim worshippers sit and touch their foreheads to the carpets as they pray, so they'd like to keep the carpets clean.

Essential Etiquette

When visiting a mosque, it is important to stay respectful. Speak quietly, move slowly, and if you take photos, turn off the flash on your camera. (Look for the button with the little lightning bolt on it.) It's most polite to ask permission before taking photos of people. It is not polite to take photos of people at prayer.

Avoid walking in front of worshippers performing their ritual prayers, as this is considered impolite. Walk around or behind them. (Worshippers who miss the designated prayer time may come to complete their prayers later and so may be in the mosque when you visit.)

Prophet Muhammad had invited women many times to pray in mosques, which means that women are allowed to pray in mosques. However, if you wish to offer prayers with others, note that Muslims tend to pray and shake hands with those of the same gender as themselves. This is not a discriminatory trait but rather stems from their strong adherence to Islamic principles.

Tom Brosnahan, updated by Can Turan

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