Rules and etiquette in Mosque
Mosques, in accordance with Islamic practices, institute a number of rules intended to keep Muslims focused on worshiping God. While there are several rules, such as those regarding not allowing shoes in the prayer hall, that are universal, there are many other rules that are dealt with and enforced in a variety of ways from mosque to mosque.
- Prayer leader Appointment of a prayer leader is considered desirable, but not always obligatory. The permanent prayer leader (imam) must be a free honest individual and is authoritative in religious matters. In mosques constructed and maintained by the government, the prayer leader is appointed by the ruler; in private mosques, however, appointment is made by members of the congregation through majority voting. According to the Hanafischool of Islamic jurisprudence, the individual who built the mosque has a stronger claim to the title of imam, but this view is not shared by the other schools. Leadership at prayer falls into three categories, depending on the type of prayer: five daily prayers, Friday prayer, or optional prayers. According to the Hanafi and Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, appointment of a prayer leader for Friday service is mandatory because otherwise the prayer is invalid. The Shafi’i and Hanbali schools, however, argue that the appointment is not necessary and the prayer is valid as long as it is performed in a congregation. A slave may lead a Friday prayer, but Muslim authorities disagree over whether the job can be done by a minor. An imam appointed to lead Friday prayers may also lead at the five daily prayers; Muslim scholars agree to the leader appointed for five daily services may lead the Friday service as well. All Muslim authorities hold the consensus opinion that only men may lead prayer for men. Nevertheless, women prayer leaders are allowed to lead prayer in front of all-female congregations.
- Cleanliness. All mosques have rules regarding cleanliness, as it is an essential part of the worshippers’ experience. Muslims before prayer are required to cleanse themselves in an ablution process known as wudu. However, even to those who enter the prayer hall of a mosque without the intention of praying, there are still rules that apply. Shoes must not be worn inside the carpeted prayer hall. Some mosques will also extend that rule to include other parts of the facility even if those other locations are not devoted to prayer. Congregants and visitors to mosques are supposed to be clean themselves. It is also undesirable to come to the mosque after eating something that smells, such as garlic.
- Dress Islam requires that its adherents wear clothes that portray modesty. Men are supposed to come to the mosque wearing loose and clean clothes that do not reveal the shape of the body. Likewise, it is recommended that women at a mosque wear loose clothing that covers to the wrists and ankles, and cover their heads with a hijab or other covering. Many Muslims, regardless of their ethnic background, wear Middle Eastern clothing associated with Arabic Islam to special occasions and prayers at mosques.
- Concentration As mosques are places of worship, those within the mosque are required to remain respectful to those in prayer. Loud talking within the mosque, as well as discussion of topics deemed disrespectful, is forbidden in areas where people are praying. In addition, it is disrespectful to walk in front of or otherwise disturb Muslims in prayer. The walls within the mosque have few items, except for possibly Islamic calligraphy, so Muslims in prayer are not distracted. Muslims are also discouraged from wearing clothing with distracting images and symbols so as not to divert the attention of those standing behind them during prayer. In many mosques, even the carpeted prayer area has no designs, its plainness helping worshippers to focus.
- Gender separation. There is nothing written in the Qurʼan about the issue of space in mosques and gender separation. However, traditional rules have segregated women and men. By traditional rules, women are most often told to occupy the rows behind the men. In part, this was a practical matter as the traditional posture for prayer – kneeling on the floor, head to the ground – made mixed-gender prayer uncomfortably revealing for many women and distracting for some men. Traditionalists try to argue that Muhammad preferred women to pray at home rather than at a mosque, and they cite a hadith in which Muhammad supposedly said: “The best mosques for women are the inner parts of their houses,” although women were active participants in the mosque started by Muhammad. Muhammad told Muslims not to forbid women from entering mosques. They are allowed to go in. The second Sunni caliph ʻUmar at one time prohibited women from attending mosques especially at night because he feared they may be sexually harassed or assaulted by men, so he required them to pray at home. Sometimes a special part of the mosque was railed off for women; for example, the governor of Mecca in 870 had ropes tied between the columns to make a separate place for women. Many mosques today will put the women behind a barrier or partition or in another room. Mosques in South and Southeast Asia put men and women in separate rooms, as the divisions were built into them centuries ago. In nearly two-thirds of American mosques, women pray behind partitions or in separate areas, not in the main prayer hall; some mosques do not admit women at all due to the lack of space and the fact that some prayers, such as the Friday Jumuʻah, are mandatory for men but optional for women. Although there are sections exclusively for women and children, the Grand Mosque in Mecca is desegregated