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4 Women Share Their Stories of Visiting Mosques as Non-Muslims

by Jennifer Malia Feb 8, 2017

Nicola Beach, Turkey, Expatorama

Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque is widely known as The Blue Mosque because of the abundant blue Iznik tiles decorating its interior. With its prominent 6-minaret silhouette and beautiful interior, it was high on our must-see list whilst living in Turkey. Shoes must be removed before entering, and ladies are provided with wraps to cover any exposed flesh or hair. Forewarned, I took my own pashmina. Once inside, we marveled at the tiled walls, stained glass windows, and intricately patterned ceilings. The vast carpeted floor is also impressive and presumably warm underfoot in the chilly months, but combined with shoeless masses the result was, unsurprisingly, an overwhelming odor of FEET. Blindly following my family further inwards through the crush of visitors, I suddenly found my way blocked by a mumbling guard. I hesitated, unsure whether his mumbling was directed at me, as he didn’t make eye contact. I got caught up in a confusing dance as I tried to get by the guard. Looking around for clues, the Lira finally informed me that I had unwittingly been trying to enter the men-only prayer area, so I waited patiently by the barrier and watched with great amusement as other female tourists went through the same awkward dance with the guard. Meanwhile, my young daughter was allowed to spin in carefree circles in this forbidden central space.

Suzanne Bhagan, Malaysia/India, Hot Foot Trini

The first mosque I ever visited was the Blue Mosque in Malaysia. The staff members were very hospitable. I wore the clean blue robe they provided, and they allowed me to use my own scarf to cover my head. My husband wore jeans so he didn’t need to wear a robe. Our guide was very patient, and we learned a lot about the mosque’s history and the pillars of Islam. The second mosque I visited was Jama Masjid in India. Before we could enter, a staff member gave me a dusty gown to wear over my long-sleeve top, long pants, and scarf combo. He also gave my husband a sarong to wear over his shorts that stopped at his kneecaps. We agreed to wear them, but then something caught our eye. Some tourists were not wearing any gowns or sarongs. A Caucasian guy was wearing shorts without a sarong, a Caucasian woman was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and chinos, and an Indian girl was wearing skinny jeans and no headscarf. When we brought this up, the staff got really annoyed. They insisted that the Caucasian guy was wearing shorts that were one inch below his knee so he didn’t need to wear a sarong. After a lot of futile arguing, my husband agreed to wear the sarong, and they allowed me to enter without the gown, but we will not be returning to that mosque anytime soon.

Rosemary Gillan Griffith-Jones, Turkey, Write. SaidRose

While living in Istanbul, Turkey and heavily pregnant with my second child, my brother and his fiancé came to visit. We did the rounds of the Kapalıçarşı (Grand Bazaar), and were now at the famous Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque) on a sticky hot summer’s day. Looking more sack-like than sexy, I was confident I was appropriately dressed for a mosque. Desperate to rest my aching back and legs, I suggested my guests go on a guided tour while my four-year-old daughter and I sat down somewhere cool. Donning a head scarf, I headed to a section where local women were sitting on the floor, as tourists similarly dressed to me (though perhaps not in maternity gear) milled around them, admiring the mosque’s ceiling above. Near the wall at a short distance to the left of the women, I settled cross-legged with my child on my lap, ready to wait out the next half hour. Within minutes, three stern-faced clerics marched towards me demanding I get off the floor. I pointed to my eight-month-old pregnant middle and pleaded in broken Turkish that I just wanted to sit while waiting for my guests, but they refused and began hoisting me up. Embarrassed and humiliated, we meekly left and went out into the blistering heat to resume our wait, sad that this experience had tainted what had been a glorious year so far in this incredibly beautiful country.

Jennifer Malia, United Arab Emirates, Munchkin Treks

When we were American expats in the United Arab Emirates, my husband and I visited one of the largest and most architecturally-elaborate mosques in the Middle East, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. We had to split up when we got there because men and women are expected to go through different entrances to the mosque. I was required to wear a black abaya (a robe-like overgarment) and a shayla (headscarf), which was provided at the entrance. At nine-months pregnant, I was worried about tripping over the bottom of the abaya, so I held it up as I walked, which led to being scolded by the guards for exposing my ankles. I carefully maneuvered through the crowd of hundreds of women, protecting my pregnant belly, and joined my husband, who was easy to spot with his blond hair. He wasn’t required to wear the men’s traditional dress, a white thawb (ankle-length tunic) because his baggy shorts came below his knees. We were amazed by the world’s largest chandelier and the large open spaces in this mosque that was the size of five football fields. I returned the abaya on the way out, and we took a closer look at the white marble Moroccan domes and columns decorated with semi-precious stones on the outside of the mosque. Photography was allowed on the premise, so we were confused when a guard started mumbling something in broken English and reached toward our camera. We eventually understood that the problem was not that we were taking pictures of ourselves in front of the mosque but that I, as a woman, was not permitted to get my photo taken unless I was fully covered.

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