In a time of increased Islamophobia, Muslims in our community are extending their hospitality and outreach to non-Muslims. Should you accept an invitation, here are some tips to make yourself and your hosts comfortable and foster a positive, healthy relationship!
Visiting a Mosque or Masjid (Muslim House of Worship)
- The mosque is the house of worship for the Muslim community. You may also hear it called a masjid – the Arabic word for mosque.
- Muslims pray five times a day, at specific times determined by the position of the sun. People may perform these prayers at home or at work, but many people go to the mosque to perform their prayers, read Quran, or speak with the imam. There may be people coming in and out of the mosque throughout the day and night.
- Prayers consist of physical movements such as bending, kneeling, and placing one’s forehead onto the floor. They are preceded by a ritual cleansing, called wudu (WOO-doo). In many mosques there are specific locations for wudu to be performed. Because of the nature of these prayers, prayer spaces are always carpeted or covered in rugs, which are kept as free from foot traffic as possible.
- When you enter the mosque, you will see racks or shelves. These are for people to remove and store their shoes. You may keep your socks or stockings on or walk barefoot into the prayer space.
- While it is not required, it is respectful to dress modestly when you enter a mosque, just as you would in any house of worship. Women who are guests are not required to cover their hair, but you may choose to do so as a sign of respect.
- Avoid walking in front of people who are at prayer, speaking to them while they are engaged in prayer, and generally engaging in any disruptive behavior while in the prayer hall.
- If you are attending a Friday prayer service, or Jumaah (JOO-mah), you may be offered a seat in the back or side of the prayer hall so you may observe the sermon and the prayers that follow. Jumaah is led by the imam (ee-MAAM), or religious leader. Be respectful and speak in low tones if you need to communicate, and do not interrupt the sermon.
- Women and men pray in separate areas in most mosques. Some mosques have separate entrances for men and women. As a visitor, the most polite thing to do is observe the prayer or visit the prayer space that corresponds to your own gender.
- You may see young children moving around their parents. Children are encouraged to attend prayers with their families, but they often cannot sit still. People are generally very tolerant of children during prayer times and will simply respond to them when they are finished praying.
Visiting a Muslim Home
The Muslim community is incredibly diverse, with members and families from all over the world that have their own cultural and ethnic traditions. However, hospitality is one of the highest social values among Muslims worldwide.
- If you are invited for a meal at a Muslim home, you will likely experience not only the life of the family but also how their faith shapes their lives.
- In some homes, you will see shoes just outside or inside the front door. This indicates that the family follows the tradition of removing their shoes when they enter a house. To be polite, you should follow the lead of your host. Socks, stockings, or bare feet are fine.
- Some Muslim women choose to wear hijab (hee-JAHB), or a headscarf, in their homes. Others choose to wear the hijab only in public, or only in groups of mixed gender. The choice of when and how to cover is a matter of personal preference and should be respected.
- While you are at the home, one of the daily prayers may take place. You may hear the adhan (add-HAN), or call to prayer, from a computer or cell phone, which signals to your hosts that the time for prayer has arrived. These prayers take only a few minutes, during which they cannot respond to questions and should not be interrupted. Your hosts may leave the room to pray, or they may pray in your presence.
Because the Muslim community is so diverse, there is a wide variety in how religious beliefs are expressed and performed. There are some generalities that can be made, but it’s important to remember that Muslims understand and reflect their faith differently.
- While strict gender segregation is not required by Islam, in some communities, men and women rarely socialize outside the home. At community events, you may notice that men and women simply gravitate towards their own gender. While you are not required to comply with this practice, it is good to be aware of how and when this occurs.
- Some Muslim men and women avoid physical contact with members of different genders. This is not a personal rebuff; it is a sign of modesty and respect. The best practice is to wait until the person extends their hand for a handshake or offers a hug, and to follow their lead. Additionally, you may find occasionally that a Muslim friend who normally shakes your hand does not do so because he or she has just washed and is about to pray. You may simply acknowledge politely without shaking hands.
- Most Muslims address one another as “Sister” or “Brother,” even sometimes including total strangers. You may hear someone referred to as “Sister Aisha” or “Brother Hassan.” This practice is meant to emphasize equality across the community.
- Many Muslims come from cultures where strict punctuality is not of high importance. If you are invited to an event, you may notice that things don’t run exactly according to a posted or expected schedule. Try not to become impatient and simply enjoy the time spent with your hosts, friends, and community.
Vocabulary and Greetings
Adhan (ad-HAN): Call to prayer
Allah (al-AH): Arabic word for God
Eid (EED): A major religious holiday
Hijab (Hee-JAAB): Clothing Muslim women wear in public; generally loose fitting and includes a head covering
Imam (ee-MAAM): Religious leader of a Muslim community
Jum’ah (JOO-mah): Friday prayer
Qur’an (Qur-AAN): Islam’s revealed scripture, sometimes spelled Koran
Wudu (WOO-doo): ritual ablution or washing before daily prayer
Muslims greet each other: “Salaam alaikum!” (sol-AHM all-LAY-koom) or “Peace be with you!”
Response: “Walaikum Salaam!” (wah-lay-KOOM sol-AHM) or “And, unto you, Peace!”