Please help me act respectfully at the Mosque

Awhile back, I bought a copy of the Quran because I wanted to learn more about Islam. I’ve been reading it, and now I have some questions. Fortunately, there is a beautiful new Mosque just up the street from where I work, and my Arab friends tell me that’s the place to go to discuss the finer points.

So: I know that I should lay the punk gear aside, and cover my head. But also–

  1. What time of day is best to catch them between prayers, or what time is most appropriate?

  2. Peering inside one day, I saw a row of cubbyholes along the entry hall with shoes in them. I gather this means that I should wear socks, and take my shoes off inside?

  3. I know from reading “Budayeen Nights” that there is a word for the learned guy down at the Mosque that you consult for the Moslem perspective on things; but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it is.

Anything else I should know will also be gratefully accepted.


Could Imam be the title you’re looking for?

I think so. Can a regular person just walk in, and ask to speak to the Imam?

You can start my divorcing the notion that Arab = Muslim.

I hope this is helpful.

It seems that humility is part of the culture. :slight_smile:

I don’t know if the OP is a man or woman; they mentioned covering their head, so at least they’ve given some thought to this. Wearing socks isn’t mandatory; many don’t. Depending on the setup of the masjid, you may not need to remove your shoes at all, as this is normally only done in the prayer areas (hallways, kitchen, even offices might be “shoe-on”).

Generally speaking, they would cut a Westerner a lot of slack, and (again, generally) would be quite pleased that you showed an honest interest.

The biggest gap between prayers during the day would be from just after dawn to about 1pm, so that would be the best time to visit during non-prayer times.

Why don’t you call and ask. You will likely meet a nice person who will want to meet with you and take you on a tour while explaining things.

I did this with my local atheist group a while back. We attended a Hindu temple. The group called and made an appointment. About 10 folks came on the tour. The tour guide and the information he provided were remarkable, and he bought us all lunch at the cafeteria when we were done. He was not in the least bit freaked out about hosting and educating some atheists.

I had a weird experience of feeling disoriented at one point during the tour. We had entered the main temple after being outside in the bright sunlight touring through some of the smaller, outlying shrines. (This place was really big! It has a book store and a vegetable market!)

Once inside the main building, it took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust and while that was happening, I was a little overwhelmed by the smell of incense (and flowers and fruits), the bright Indian colors of the various shrines and clothing, and also some chanting sounds in the very large room. When I got a look around, everyone there was seriously Indian looking- dark skin, long hair, the unique clothing. A priest from one of the shrines gave us some water and raisins that he had just had blessed for us.

I thought it was very much like being somewhere in India, a place I have never visited, and made me a bit dizzy at first.

Overall, it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. Everyone we met that day was happy to speak to us and were excited that we were interested enough in them to come out and meet them and learn about their (very complicated) religion.

So call and take a friend or two!

You could probably call them up and schedule an appointment. Tell them you’ve been reading about Islam and that, while you’re not thinking of becoming an initiate, you would love to get a learned perspective on some points. You might want to subtly note you wouldn’t be going there to be disputatious.

I imagine they’d be happy to engage in a conversation with you.

One thing to keep in mind: there is no central authoritiy in Islam like the Pope is for Roman Catholics. Rather, similar to Evangelic Christians, everybody can declare themselves Imam and needs to get followers. In the major Muslim countries and mainstream congregations, of course an Imam would need to have studied at a Medressa (islamic university), but just as not every pastor studied theology, you can’t assume, you need to ask.

Another aspect at least in my country (don’t know for the US) that you could ask about before is: where is the Imam from? We have a lot of problems that the Imams are educated in the country of origin (Turkey), meaning they don’t speak the local language (German) of a large part of their congregation (the 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants), and have trouble integrating with the community. Additionally, they belong to a different culture than the modern young people who have grown up here, and are often rotated in for a “tour of duty” of only a few years, so they don’t feel the need to build lasting relationships and connections or adapt. Thus the communities themselves are now pushing for young people to study Islam here (in Germany) and stay to better fit their role as pastors and bridge-builders.
I don’t know how the situation in the US is.

You ask about time of day - that’s really difficult to say for the individual congregation, and why making an appointment beforehand makes more sense. (A christian pastor has other duties besides holding service, too, and you can’t simply barge in and expect him to have time for you, either).
But remember that the “Sunday”, that is, the holy day of the week, for Muslims is Friday. So pick another day for talk, and Friday if you want to participate in prayers.

When you call up for the appointment, you could also ask about other activities - like a Church, a mosque is also a community center offering meetings of groups. Whether it’s koran study or the women’s group meeting for the bake sale, or the class teaching the local language to the new immigrants, some might offer you the chance to get to know Muslim people.

That is true of Islam only to the same extent as Christianity. Sunnis don’t believe in a central authority figure, but Shi’ites do. The largest Shia branch believes its last prophet has yet to reveal himself, but the Nizari believe the Aga Khans are God’s appointed representatives. The Ismalis are further subdivided into those who follow the Dāʻī al-Mutlaq and those who don’t.

Maybe you should start by divorcing yourself from the notion that the OP doesn’t know his own friends. Way to put someone down for showing an honest interest. If I was talking about this topic, I could totally accurately and interchangeably say “my Muslim neighbours” or “my Somali neighbours”, since all those who currently fit under one classification fit also into the other. I know that, because I know them. You don’t know that, because you don’t know them. So answer the question instead, huh?

There’ve been a lot of good suggestions so far. I’m wondering though, do none of your friends attend that mosque? Would it be possible for you to come along with them and just do as they do? I think I’d be too shy to go alone in a completely unfamiliar place, as such.

Doing what they do is fine if only talking about the ritual washing, but not good when the prayer itself starts up. Following the motion could be understood by some people to actually pray the prayer, so they will assume the OP to be a Muslim or wish to become one. Others will assume he isn’t one and assume disrepect for doing the motions without belief.

Imagine if you have somebody from China who’s interested in Christian Churches. If you take them to a Service, they won’t get as much as from a seperate meeting with the pastor, who can competently answer questions better than the average person (a lot of detailed questions the answer is often “Dunno, I learned as kid to do it this way”. Not what the pastors want, but too often reality. This can be used as interesting opportunity to discover your own religion better- but again, not during a live service).

If those friends accompany the OP to the arranged meeting with the Imam, however, a real open discussion can develop.

I’d start by removing my yarmulke.

Muslim here. Head-covering would only be necessary if you’re female, and even then only out of politeness (given that you aren’t Muslim and are only going there for info.)

Best time would be between prayers. Check your mosques local website for timings. Even if you make it at prayer times, normal prayers (as opposed to the friday prayers) dont take too long so that would be fine as well. Just walk right in. Most mosques I’ve been to in the US are open minded and friendly

Take off shoes. Socks are ok as long as they dont stink cuz no one likes stinky socks!

Ask for the imam. The imam is not a clergyman per se (there are none for sunni islam at least) but is simply a person in charge of the mosque and is expected to be well-read and knowledgeable about religious matters.

Actually yarmulkes would be fine. they look almost like our prayer caps!

I got the impression that the OPs Arab friends may or may not be Muslim. But, having roots in a culture with much closer ties to Islam, they had some information on the subject. I imagine if they Muslim themselves they could have answered his questions.

Possibly. The OP said “my Arab friends tell me that’s the place to go to discuss the finer points.” I saw it more like if someone asked me a whole lot of stuff about Catholicism. I could probably run at quite a lot of the questions, but for those “finer points” I’d have to call in the man in the dress. That doesn’t mean I’m not a Catholic, it just means I’m not a theologian/scholar/whatever. Seemed to me that was what had happened with the OP - the friends had reached the edge of their knowledge, rather than not having any. Either way, to just *assume *that a person who’s showing an interest in Islam which extends to wanting to visit the mosque and talk to the imam doesn’t actually know the difference between Arabs and Muslims (and hasn’t ever bothered to ask their Arab friends whether they’re Muslim or not before bombarding them with queries!) is fairly unhelpful and the sort of thing usually snarled. It assumed a level of ignorance and specific worldview which I’ve not noticed the OP to have. No-one likes being called stupid, especially not in such a “what more could I expect from a dumb Yank” kind of way.

Hi, sorry it took me so long to answer you all – my PC went down a few hours later. (heh, if you want to help w/ that, see my thread in GQ.)

First, I am a woman. I want to be as respectful as possible because it’s my nature, and also because, well, I am kind of moderately punk-looking. I’m sure the heiroglyphs tattooed on my hands won’t freak them out; but you know, when in Rome…

Anyway, FWIW, I asked two people: one owns a corner store I have been going to for at least fifteen years. Our kids went to school together. He is just a hell of a nice guy, and although he’s very hip and gets along great with the slightly rough Oakland neighborhood the store is in, I know he’s a devout Muslim.

So I actually asked him one of the main things I was wondering about. He was able to clarify the question for me; but he didn’t know the answer. He said, “You should ask those guys down at the Mosque.”

The other person I asked was a young lady who works behind the counter at the awesome Middle Eastern market which is right next door to the Mosque. Apparently the two places are connected. She was at the register the day I bought the Quran; we chatted about it briefly. Then I went back and told her there was some stuff I was wondering about, and she said, “I’m actually a Christian, but those guys next door will answer your questions.”

That’s why I said, “my Arab friends.” They are by no means my only Arab friends; but they’re the two I happened to ask, one Moslem, one Christian.
Ca3799,** I enjoyed your story very much! Alas, the only major Hindu temple I know of around here is pretty far away, for someone who doesn’t drive. I did visit the local Krishna temple when I was pregnant with my son years ago, and drank the tulsi-leaf water. He ended up being born on the Jagganatha!


Not a Muslim myself but lived with them a long time in Saudi. Those are Sunni so if the corner mosque is Shia then this stuff may not apply.

A) Cover up pretty well. No shorts or short skirts and nothing sleeveless. Maybe a long dress of some sort. You don’t have to cover your head or wear a veil or any of that unless you wind up under sharia law somewhere.

b) Tattoos, unless they are something really raunchy, don’t seem to be a big deal. I knew quite a few women married to Saudis and many of them had tattoos. The women were mostly from Africa and the tattoos would be considered “jail house” in the US, crudely done using improvised tools and inks. Strangely, I never met a Saudi male that had a tattoo.

c) Whoever you meet will tend to be more comfortable if you aren’t alone with him in an enclosed space.

d) The mosque may have a separate area for women or if not, women will probably pray in the back of the mosque so the men don’t stare at your butt when they’re supposed to be praying.

Most of the Moslems I know are pretty mellow people and will be glad to see you and explain anything you want. Having said that, being mellow is hardly a universal trait. If I were interested in Islam at all I would be careful of guys that had a “highwater” thobe and an OBL beard. The ones wearing that gear tend to be more hard line and a lot harder to get along with.
Depending on where the Imam is from and how long he’s been in the US, (I’m assuming that’s where you are) the interview could be a lot of fun or very strange due to his assumptions about how you live. In Saudi I had the damnedest time convincing the less cosmopolitan locals that Westerners did not drink until they were ready to fall down and then crawl to an orgy. At least not every day. Well, not all of us anyway. :smiley: Seriously though, if the guy is fresh off the boat he may have a few assumptions to get over.
Regards and hope you have a good time.