A mosque is not just another tourist attraction to click off your itinerary. Although many people visit one to see the extraordinary architecture, the beautiful works of art, touch and feel a part of history, it’s important to remember they are above all else a place of worship. Unfortunately, too many tourists forget the importance of being respectful when visiting these holy places in far off places like Istanbul and act in ways that could be unintentionally offensive to worshippers.
To combat ignorant behavior that could be considered rude, Istanbul authorities have started to tighten up the dress code for one of its most popular attractions, the stunning Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. For example, if you were to show up at the Blue Mosque wearing a sleeveless top, shorts or a short skirt, you would be handed a blue cotton robe with an attached cloth meant to be worn over a woman’s hair. The mosque also provides headscarves and skirts for visitors who are dressed more moderately, but need to cover up just a little bit more. The skirt and the robe are distributed to both men and women wearing what is considered inappropriate attire.
In general, you should always remove your shoes before entering a mosque or stepping on the clean area in front of its door. Remember, worshippers kneel and touch their foreheads to the carpets, so the mosques try to keep them as clean as possible.
Out of respect, women should wear some type of head covering while in a mosque and their legs and upper arms should also be covered. Depending on the mosque, tight leggings may also be considered inappropriate. Men should not wear shorts or pants that bare the legs in any fashion, but they can wear short-sleeved shirts.
While some of the more popular mosques — like the Blue Mosque — may have head coverings or robes to lend to you, not all will, so there is a chance you may not be allowed to enter a building if you are dressed inappropriately.
While inside a mosque, it’s important to talk softly and be respectful of those who are worshipping. If you have your phone with you, be polite and turn it off. Do not take pictures of worshippers and avoid using a flash.
In addition, try to plan your visit so that you will not be arriving during one of the prayer times, which occurs five times a day. The first call occurs at sunrise and the last at nightfall. Listen for the distinctive sound of the ezan — call to prayer — and avoid visiting a mosque for at least a half an hour after you hear it being chanted.