A common question for visitors to Istanbul is how to dress, specifically for visiting the mosques. Women must cover their knees, shoulders and head, men must cover their knees and shoulders and everyone must remove their shoes. Outside of the mosques there are coverups if you don't have any of the parts covered up that need to be and there are plastic shoes for you to place your shoes in as you walk around the mosque.
This is not suggested dress, it is mandatory and they will stop you if you try to enter not being appropriately dressed.
It was nice to see and hear how Muslims pray in real, how they are invited for a pray, how they clear their bodies before pray, bowing at pray time or putting shoes after going out of mosques.
Most memorizing thing was the earliest muezzin’s invitation for a pray at about 5 o’clock in the morning, when you get up due to a few the same voices, glorifying Allah. At first mornings it was harder to fall asleep a bit again after invitation, but later I got used.
You must remove your shoes before you enter the mosque and that means before you step on the carpet at the entry to the mosque, which could be outside the structure. In many of the highly visited mosques there are plastic bags for you to place your shoes in and which you carry around while in the mosque. I found that the VT travel bag worked perfectly for the job, and also left my hands free for picture taking. Please note that I should have not have been wearing shorts.
Before entering a mosque you will be asked to remove your shoes, there is a carpet where you do this so your socks will not get dirty. Do not make the mistake as I did and remove your shoes while standing on the stone walkway or you will get a stern lecture.
Many mosques have rules posted outside. Some are more strict than others about allowing entry, particularly when it comes to dress, and others will supply a cover-up if you are not dressed appropriately. It is probably better to err on the side of caution. Women should have a scarf for their heads and a shawl, etc. to cover arms and legs if necessary.
An attendant at the entrance of most mosques will direct you with your shoes and supplying a coverup (if available and needed). At the New Mosque you were not allowed to touch the ground with your shoeless feet. You had to stand on the ground, remove one shoe and place your foot on the mat. You then had to balance to take off the other shoe without touching the ground or the mat until the shoe was off. If unsure what to do, ask the attendants or watch others.
Some mosques don't allow photography at all and some only allow photography without a flash. Be sure to know how to turn your flash off!
Most importantly, do realize that a mosque is a place of worship so please be respectful!
The following are from actual mosque signs (Blue Mosque):
Please remove your shoes and place them in the shelf or put them in a bag.
The ladies should wear a scarf and long skirt.
The gentlemen should be in trousers not in shorts.
Should not speak aloud inside the mosque.
Photograph should not be taken during the prayers.
Should wait at the rear until the prayer ends.
Should not go beyond the area allocated for visitors.
No smoking (sign in the courtyard).
The following are from Yeni Camii (New Mosque):
Please take your shoes off and do not step on the entrance with your shoes.
Please cover your head and arms.
Do not enter with short, bermuda, and miniskirt.
When walking around Istanbul, always be prepared to enter mosques, since they are some of the most beautiful buildings in the city and you won't want to miss out on seeing their highly decorated interiors. There are a few simple rules for entering and visiting mosques:
1. Women must wear headscarves that keep their hair covered. If you don't have a scarf, you can often borrow one from the attendant at the mosque's main entrance. If you are carrying a purse, carry a scarf for mosques so you don't have to worry about who wore the loaner scarf before you.
2. Men and women must keep their knees and shoulders covered. In other words, no shorts, tank tops or short skirts. Women wearing sleeveless tops can get around this rule by wearing a scarf around their shoulders. Men with shorts can enter by wrapping a large scarf around their legs like a sarong, but are likely draw a few snickers from their fellow males.
3. Don't enter during one of the five daily prayer times.
4. Take your shoes off before entering. Youcan put them in a plastic bag (which you then carry), leave them on the pavement outside the mosque, or put them on shelves just inside the entrance.
5. Once inside, stay behind the section of the mosque (usually in the front by the mihrab, the decorative niche in the wall that shows the direction of Mecca) where men actively pray.
6. Don't use flash in photos (the mosques don't want their tiles to fade) and don't take photos or videos of people praying.
7. Once inside, be quiet and don't talk on mobile phones.
Turkey is unique in that it is one of the few predominantly Muslim countries in the world where alcohol is legal. Nevertheless, there is one regulation you'll want to keep in mind: Alcohol is not served within view of a mosque, which in a city like Istanbul that is full of big mosques, can pose some challenges if you want a beer with your meal. But even if your hotel is in view of a mosque, there is nothing wrong with buying your own alcohol and drinking it there. In fact, one of my most enjoyable evenings in Istanbul was when I sat on the roof of my hotel in Sultanahmet and enjoyed a cold bottle of Efes Dark (an excellent beer, by the way) while looking out over the Sea of Marmaris in one direction and the top of the Blue Mosque in the other.
Most mosques in Istanbul are open to the public during the day. And the utmost respect should be observed when visiting the mosque or really any hose of prayer as a visitor. Prayer sessions, called namaz or salaat, last 30 to 40 minutes and are observed five times daily. Tourists should, however, avoid visiting mosques midday on Friday, when Muslims are required to worship.
For women, bare arms and legs are not acceptable inside a mosque. Men should avoid wearing shorts as well. Women should not enter a mosque without first covering their heads with a scarf. Before entering a mosque, shoes must be removed. And you should not walk in front of a person praying or distrub them. It is better to observe quietly from the back.
Muslims washing their feet before going into a mosque (The New Mosque in this case). While it's not required to wash your feet before going into a mosque it is strictly forbidden to do so with your shoes on. Special racks can be found where shoes should be stored on.
Remember that no one is allowed inside the mosques without first covering their shoulders and knees. As far as we could tell, all Turkish men wear slacks no matter what the weather is like, so it's no big deal for the locals. But tourists used to wearing shorts and/or tank tops should dress appropriately. If you forget, it's not a big deal because all the mosques have shawls and velcro skirts you can borrow at the entrance. Some mosques also require women to cover their heads, but scarves can be borrowed at those mosques.
Even though I knew about these rules before our trip, we took an unscheduled visit to the Blue Mosque on our first day in Istanbul to escape the pesky salesmen around the Hippodrome. My wife and I were both wearing shorts, which was no big deal for my wife because she looked fine in the borrowed skirt. I attracted more than a few giggles as I strolled around in my skirt though. I'll even let you laugh at me in my skirt in the photo I'm providing. Oh well. I'm just grateful they let me in at all.
Inside the mosque women have a separate area to pray, usually at the back of the mosque. I spend sometime in this area and discover that there is a Library with different books.
After prayer a lot of the women stayed to wonder through the books.
Although visitors need not go through this ritual before entering mosques, it was interesting to see Muslims preparing themselves for prayers by washing their feet, hands, and heads before entering mosques to pray.