Visiting a mosque should be on your Istanbul sightseeing list. Muslims must follow certain rules inside the mosques. But even as a non-Muslim, you are expected to respect some rules during your visit. Here is an overview of the mosque etiquette.
Closed During Prayer Time
During the prayer hours/periods you are not allowed to be inside the mosque. But in between two sessions you are more than welcome. Some people might be praying outside the obligatory prayer times during your visit. Do not stare at, stand close to or walk in front of them.
Prayer times are based on the position of the sun in the sky. There are five prayer times a day: Sabah (dawn), Öğle (midday), İkindi (afternoon), Akşam (sunset) and Yatsı (night). The imam’s call for prayer is an invitation for the believers to come and pray, and a notification for you that the prayer is about to start.
In order to plan your trip, here is a rough idea about the prayer times:
Sabah – 06.30-07.30
Öğle – 11.50-12.50
İkindi – 14.30-16.30
Akşam – 16.30-19.30
Yatsı – 18.30-21.00
Sabah – 05.50-06.40
Öğle – 13.00
İkindi – 16.15-17.00
Akşam – 19.00-20.40
Yatsı – 20.30-22.30
Take Off Your Shoes
Locals take off their shoes and leave them in the rack at the entrances. Mosques on typical tourist routes such as the Blue Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque provide plastic bags free of charge to prevent shoe mix-ups. You put your shoes in the bag, carry them along and wear them again as you leave. Not all the mosques have this service, so you might want to take some bags with you if you feel uncomfortable leaving your shoes outside the mosque.
Cover Bare Body Parts
Believers have to be covered, almost completely. For tourist the rules are less strict, but when you plan a trip to a mosque try to dress modestly. The hair of the women as well as the shoulders and knees of both genders should be covered. If this is not the case, some mosques provide scarves and attires free of charge. But not all mosques have such a service, so you may want to carry yours along to be on the safe side.
Do not run, make jokes or laugh out loud. Talk as quiet and little as possible, and only when really needed. Also don’t forget to mute or switch off your mobile phone.
Photos and Videos
You can take photos or shoot videos inside the mosque. However, do not point your camera at believers during their ablution process outside the mosque, nor while they are praying inside the mosque. This is unfortunately the least respected of all rules.
Free of Charge
The entrance to mosques is free, but donations are highly appreciated.
One must be clean. This doesn’t mean you should be wearing new clothes, old ones are just fine. But dirt or smells like garlic or strong perfumes are frowned upon. One of the core elements of Muslim belief is cleanness. For a place of community prayer it is even more important, not to disturb or distract the prayers.