Just as MCC is a gem for Muslim worshippers, it has become a resource on Islam for surrounding churchgoers and area residents.

The MCC routinely opens its doors to community members. Many visitors join us for Friday services. They come seeking to learn about and appreciate Islamic beliefs and Muslim cultures – beyond the stereotypes and political talk.

Please send us a message and let us know you are coming. Friday afternoon services are when the mosque is most active, and most visitors choose to visit, but we welcome you at any of the five daily prayer services.

If you choose to visit on a Friday, we’d love to sit down in the Banquet Hall after the services, have lunch with you (vegetarian options can be arranged), hear about your experience, and answer any questions. We have two services in the summer and three from Fall to Spring (see homepage for timings).

We hope you enjoy your visit. These are questions and answers to the most common questions we receive during and before a visit from a community member.

Things to Know When Visiting a Mosque

What is a mosque?
A mosque is a place of worship used by Muslims. The English word “mosque” is derived from its Arabic equivalent, “masjid,” which means “place of prostration.” It is in the mosque that Muslims perform their prayers, a part of which includes placing the forehead on the floor.

How is a mosque used?
Mosques play a vital role in the lives of Muslims in North America. The primary function of the mosque is to provide a place where Muslims may perform Islam’s obligatory five daily prayers as a congregation. A mosque also provides sufficient space to hold prayers on Fridays, the Muslim day of communal prayer, and on the two Muslim holidays, called Eids, or “festivals.”

Is a mosque a holy place?
A mosque is a place that is specifically dedicated as a place of prayer. However, there is nothing sacred about the building or the place itself. There is no equivalent of an altar in a mosque. A Muslim may pray on any clean surface. Muslims often pray in public places like parks, schools, and shopping malls.

How many mosques are in the U.S.?
As of 2009, about 2.5 million of the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims lived in the United States, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. According to National Public Radio, at least 100 mosques are in New York City alone — two near Ground Zero — and 1,000 across the country. Yet many of us have never set foot inside of one.

How big are mosques?

In North America, mosques vary in size from tiny storefronts serving a handful of worshippers to large Islamic centers that can accommodate thousands. The prayer hall at the MCC East Bay accommodates just more than 500 worshippers.

Do mosques welcome visitors? 
Mosques in North America welcome visitors. Tours can be arranged at most facilities. It is always best to call mosque administrators before arrival. They will want to make sure your visit is enjoyable.

What does the inside of a mosque look like?
In America, there is usually a lobby when you walk through the front doors into the building. This space is not considered an actual “masjid (mosque),” which means a place of prostration. However, people tend to refer to the entire building as the masjid. Shoes are removed only when entering the prayer hall.

Unlike other places of worship, the prayer halls at a masjid are very open and empty. There may be decorations along the walls, ceiling, and front of the space. Usually, the decorations are verses from the Quran written in Arabic calligraphy to adorn the space, all about praising God. A stark difference one will notice between a mosque and another religion’s place of worship is that the mosque has no images of people. In Islam, renderings of God and the prophets are forbidden. Historically, designs resembling gardens and vines (in addition to the calligraphic verses) adorn many mosques worldwide, as this is the description of Heaven in the Quran. The actual middle of the prayer hall is wide open—you will not see aisles of chairs or benches.

What are the distinctive features of a mosque?  
The “musalla,” or prayer hall, in each mosque, is oriented toward Ka’aba, the cube-shaped building in Mecca that is the most sacred site in Islam that Muslims face during prayers. In North America, Muslim worshippers face the northeast. Prayer halls are open and uncluttered to accommodate lines of worshippers who stand and bow in unison. There are no pews or chairs. Congregation members sit on the floor, and mosques provide chairs in the prayer hall for those with trouble sitting on the ground.

Because Muslim men and women form separate lines when they stand in prayers, some mosques will have a balcony reserved for women. Other mosques will accommodate men and women in the same prayer area (like at the MCC East Bay), or they may have two separate areas for men and women.

Women and men have different spaces designated to sit during the prayer. They either have an entirely separate area or a shared but divided space in the big prayer halls to prevent free mixing. The mosque is a sacred space to focus on God and prayer, and it should be free of any temptations and potential for sin that can result from men and women being in unnecessary contact.

What should I wear to visit a mosque?

One should be dressed modestly, ready to participate in the prayer services. Shoes are removed before entering the prayer hall area of the Mosque as they often carry dirt from outdoors. This is a humble place for self-reflection and turning to God.

What else is in the prayer area?
All mosques have some “mihrab,” or niche, that indicates which wall of the mosque faces Mecca. The mihrab is often decorated with Arabic calligraphy. Its curved shape helps reflect the imam’s voice, or prayer leader, back toward the congregation. Many mosques also have a “minbar,” or pulpit, to the right of the mihrab. During the Friday prayer service, the Imam delivers a sermon from the minbar. You can watch MCC’s weekly prayer services here.

Pictures or statues are absent in a prayer area, in observation of the warning in the Hadith (the sayings, actions, or traditions of Muhammad and his companions that are not part of the Quran) that depictions of living things can lead to idolatry. Many mosques may be decorated with intricate patterns running the length of the walls, pillars, ceilings and floors.

Shelves lined with books on Islamic philosophy, theology, and law, along with collections of the sayings and traditions of Muhammad, are common features of any mosque. Copies of the Quran are also made available to worshippers, along with wooden book holders (rihal/tawla) provided so that readers can avoid placing the Quran on the ground.

Why are there no benches in the prayer hall?
The Islamic Prayer is a full-body experience. There are elements of standing, bowing, prostrating, and sitting. When listening to a sermon, the worshipers sit on the floor as long as possible. There are always chairs available for the elderly or injured on the side.

What about children in the prayer area?  
Children will often be present during prayers, whether participating, watching, or imitating the movements of their elders. Their presence continues the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, who behaved tenderly toward children. The Prophet sometimes carried one of his grandchildren on his shoulder while leading the prayer and was also known to shorten the prayer if he heard a baby cry.

What might I hear during my visit?
In the mosque, you will hear Muslims exchange the Islamic greeting, the Arabic phrase “as-salaam alaykum” (“peace be with you”). Muslims return this greeting by saying, “wa alaykum as-salaam” (“and with you be peace”). You will also hear the call to prayer, which is said in a melodic voice (listen here) to call worshippers to the mosque for each of the five daily prayers. The call, or “adhan,” contains the following phrases (in Arabic):

God is most great; God is most great.
God is most great; God is most great.
I bear witness that there is no god but God.
I bear witness that there is no god but God.
I bear witness that Muhammad is a messenger of God.
I bear witness that Muhammad is a messenger of God.
Hasten to prayer, Hasten to prayer.
Hasten to success, Hasten to success.
God is most great; God is most great.
There is no god but [the One] God.

All Muslim prayers begin with the recitation of Al-Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Quran:

In the name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds.
The Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.
Ruler of the Day of Judgment.
Only You do we worship, Only You we ask for help.
Show us the straight path.
The path of those whom You have favored, not that of those who earn Your anger, nor those who go astray.

Worshippers enter the prayer hall by stepping with the right foot and saying, “Oh Allah, open the door of mercy for me.”

What about the rest of the building? 
Many mosques have a minaret, a large tower that is used to issue the prayer call five times daily. In North America, the minaret is largely decorative. Facilities to perform “wudu,” or ablutions, can be found in all mosques. Muslims wash their hands, faces, and feet before praying to purify and prepare to stand before God.

Wudu facilities range from wash basins to specially designed areas with built-in benches, floor drains, and faucets.

Bookshelves are found in most mosques. They contain works of Islamic philosophy, theology, and law, as well as collections of the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Copies of the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, are always available to worshippers. Calligraphy is used to decorate nearly every mosque. Arabic quotations from the Quran invite contemplation of the revealed Word of God.

Other common features in the mosque are clocks or schedules displaying the times of the five daily prayers and large rugs or carpets covering the musalla floor.

Many American mosques also have administrative offices. In addition to the prayer space, the MCC East Bay contains a conference center, banquet area, private prayer spaces for mothers and fathers with small children, and 21 classrooms for religious instruction and weekend Islamic learning.

The MCC mosque is also fully wheelchair-accessible and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. We are also a special-needs-friendly mosque.

Is a mosque used exclusively for prayer?  
Though its main function is as a place of prayer, the mosque plays various roles, especially in North America. Many mosques are associated with Islamic schools and daycare centers. Mosques also provide diverse services such as Sunday schools, Arabic classes, Qur’anic instruction, and youth activities like martial arts and girl scouts.

Marriages and funerals, potluck dinners during the fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid prayers and carnivals are all found in North American mosques. They are also sites for interfaith dialogues and community activism.

Some mosques in the U.S. also serve as recreational centers for the local Muslim community and may have a gymnasium, game room, weight equipment, library, and classrooms. Every mosque has a place for zakat, or charity, where Muslims may donate money to help the poor or to support the mosque.

In addition to prayers, mosques often host meetings for spiritual revival and adult education (halaqa). Many mosques have an attached school, or madrasah, where children learn the traditions, laws, holy books, and prophets of Islam and Arabic.

Do mosques have special rules?
Men and women should always dress conservatively when visiting a mosque, covering their arms and legs. Examples of inappropriate clothing include shorts for men and short skirts for women.

Shoes are always left at the entrance to the prayer area so as not to soil the rugs or carpets. Shelves are usually provided to hold shoes.

Women may be asked to cover their hair when visiting a mosque. Many mosques have scarves for visitors to borrow, but it is better to bring a head covering in case none are available. Visitors to mosques should behave as they would when visiting any religious institution, but they should feel free to ask questions about the mosque, its architecture, furnishings, and activities. Muslims are happy to answer questions about their religion.

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