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Head covering in mosques

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London, England
posts: 12
Head covering in mosques

I don't want to be one of those crass tourists that offends so could someone please advise me about head covering in mosques for women - does the scarf have to be opaque? I have several filmy/gauzy scarves but they are semi-transparent - is this okay?


Perrysburg, Ohio
posts: 3,174
reviews: 21
1. Re: Head covering in mosques

Hi ajw,

Prior to visiting Istanbul in July, I was a strong believer that female tourists should cover their heads when visiting mosques and that to not do so was disrespectful to the Muslim religion. However, when my daughter and I entered the Blue Mosque with our heads covered with Pashminas, a Muslim standing by the door (I assume he was an employee) tugged the Pashmina down from my head and said "shoulders only...head only covered if Muslim woman coming to pray. Too hot anyway." (A similar explanation was also repeated to us by a guide who decided to attach himself to us in the unrealized hope that we'd later visit his carpet shop and by a couple of Istanbul residents that I later spoke to.) I also have to say that I saw no other female tourists inside the mosque with their heads covered, other than Muslim women who always cover themselves. Now, I could swear I saw a sign prior to entering the mosque that said a woman's head and shoulder's had to be covered, but my daughter insists it said only shoulders. So...my suggestion is to bring a pashmina or scarf with you, and if people are covering their heads then you do the same. Just don't be surprised if someone in the mosque tells you it's not necessary or even removes it from your head. In any event, you definitely must have your shoulders covered and you must remove your shoes.

Just be prepared to cover or not to cover, and you'll do just fine. As for the transparent gauze scarfs, I would imagine if a covering is required it needs to be one in which the hair doesn't show through, but that's just my guess.


Worthing, United...
posts: 583
reviews: 65
2. Re: Head covering in mosques

This happened to me as well when I visited the Blue Mosque. I had my head covered with a black lace shawl (respectful for cover up but lightweight enough to carry tucked in a bag) and was told it wasn't necessary - just my shoulders. To be honest I thought it looked more disrespectful where people were talking and taking flash photos while other people were praying...

Have a great time


posts: 67
reviews: 3
3. Re: Head covering in mosques

Hi ajw

You can definitely cover your head or shoulder with whatever you like. Maybe not in Sultanahmet area, but if you go to other places or shopping malls in more residential areas, you'll see young woman covering their heads with very bright, gauzy and sometimes even funky scarves in a very eye-catching way. So, I wouldn't worry about it...

Perrysburg, Ohio
posts: 3,174
reviews: 21
4. Re: Head covering in mosques

dbdancing: I'm so glad to hear I wasn't the only one that something like that happened to.

Heseka: I was really quite confused about the whole thing in the Blue Mosque, because prior to going in I had reminded my daughter how important it was that we cover our heads! You are so right when you talk about the neat scarves, head coverings, etc., that the women wear over there...many of them are absolutely gorgeous. And the women look so beautiful when they wear them...when I put on a scarve, I look like an old peasant woman!


posts: 67
reviews: 3
5. Re: Head covering in mosques

Osumom: years and years ago, I had the opposite situation while visiting a mosque in Bursa. I wasn't rushing to cover my head, and the guy at the entrence asked me If I were muslim, I said yes I was, then he was like "If you are a muslim girl, you should be covering your head before you enter the mosque and not inside the mosque".

(I don't really believe in head covering, anyway...)

So, people are more tolerant towards non-muslims here. I think just like in France or Italy, tourists are ONLY expected to be respectful about religious places, but not to perform any part of the religion itself (which is head covering).

posts: 19
reviews: 11
6. Re: Head covering in mosques

Hi ajw,

I was in Istanbul last week and visited a few mosques. The Blue Mosques provides large pieces of cloths for female visitors to cover their shoulders and both sexes to cover their legs. We brought our own scarves but since we were wearing tops that cover our shoulders we would not have to use the scarves. They require visitors to wear pants, skirts or dresses that cover down below their knees. When I was there at mid day, the Mosques was reserved for prayers and it last for about 45 minutes.

Other mosques that are less frequented by tourists may not have materials ready for you to use so bring along a scarves and wear something that's long enough to cover your knees.

I hope this information helps.


Mount Dora, Florida
Destination Expert
for Istanbul
posts: 12,263
reviews: 200
7. Re: Head covering in mosques

We have already had the Great Debate on Head Scarfs about one month ago. I have always covered my head whenever I entered a mosque. I do not worry if the covering is somewhat transparent or that it totally covers my head. I cover my head not as a Moslem woman, but as a person who wishes to be respectful to this faith.

I have never had anyone in the Blue Mosque tell me that the scarf was unnecessary, but it has been a long time since I was there in the summer, and when I was there in March most women wore head scarfs. When the gentleman at the exit saw me put on my scarf he also noticed my cane and motioned me to come in through the exit to avoid having to walk all the way around the mosque. As I entered he thanked me for my "respect to Allah".

I think you could follow osumom's advice and just go prepared. I would highly recommend that you plan to wear the scarf if you visit mosques that are not major tourist attractions, or mosques located in smaller cities. Most Turkish people appreciate the gesture of respect.

However if you have a major political issue with the secondary role of women and see the head scarf as a symbol of sexual slavery or you believe that the head scarf threatens the secular nature of the Turkish government then you should feel free to do what you wish. No one in Turkey will do anything to you if you do not wear a scarf: although in less well-known mosques you may be asked to put on a head covering before you enter the mosque. If you have strong ethical beliefs against wearing the scarf I would recommend that you do not enter the mosque at all, but that is something that every woman must decide for herself.

In my case, I elect to wear the scarf not only out of respect, but because I am quite jealous of the elegant ladies I see on the streets of Istanbul in their beautiful scarves and pashminas. I like the excuse to wear one myself.

posts: 232
reviews: 10
8. Re: Head covering in mosques

Well I went that day wearing jeans(that was the only time i covered my legs) and short sleeved shirt that covered my shoulders, me and my mom had a couple of scarves, though not convinced it was necessary, didn't want to offend anyone. The guy out there, told us not to bother, the guide said the same, and no one was covering their heads inside.

So it's okay I guess.

Mount Dora, Florida
Destination Expert
for Istanbul
posts: 12,263
reviews: 200
9. Re: Head covering in mosques

I think we have established that it is not necessary in the Blue Mosque. It is entirely possible that you may acquire a "guide/carpet salesman" or even a professional guide who is a secular Turk. These people will encourage you to avoid the head scarf which is widely regarded as a symbol of the invasion of theology into government.

The head scarf is controversial in Turkey. When I lived there in our small village, veiling was totally illegal. The older womem, uncomfortable with this law, used their left hands to hold a piece of their scarf over their mouths. When I was in Turkey in March I saw some women fully veiled so I assume that this illegal behavior is now being challenged by those who would have a state governed by religion.

The feelings are very strong. Women in Turkey may not enter government buildings while wearing a head scarf. A few years ago one of the communities on the Asian side elected a person to a city council type of organization. This woman wore a head scarf. The council would not permit her to be seated. She is now teaching at a univesity in New York City (where she can wear her head scarf) and the community she was elected to represent has no representaton in the council.

The protests in Turkey earlier this spring were sparked by people who did not want the third element of the Turkish government to be held by a devout Moslem, and they protested his placement because his wife wore a head scarf.

Those of us who enjoy freedom of religion do not easily understand a nation that forbids the exercise of your religious beliefs in public. It took me a long time to understand why Turkey had laws like those that prohibited veiling. With the benefit of events during my lifetime I have come to understand the danger of a government ruled by religion rather than demoncracy.

Turkey is one of a very few Moslem nations that has successfully separated government from religion, and I do sympathize with those who are anxious to maintain the secular nature of their government. When I was young I had respect for Attaturk. As I ihave grown older I have greatest respect for a man who had such vision as to create a secular state amid much controversy.

You have to remember that many nations in the middle east have laws that prohibit women from being fully franchised citizens. In Saudia Arabia, for example, it is illegal for a woman to drive a car. I have great intellectual support for the secular element of Turkish politics.

I have, however, always been sensitive to the Moslem faith, and, in my case, the events of 9/11 plus the addition to my family of a Moslem son-in-law have prompted me to demonstrate my respect for this religion whenever possible. So regardless of who gives me permission not to wear a head scarf, I will still continue to do so. It is may way of saying...."I respect your religion and honor your right to worship who and how you choose."

I think we all need to demonstrate some religious tolerance, particularly given the climate in today's world. One of our presidential candidates here in the US uses the phrase "Islamic Terrorists" on a regular basis. I think it is unfair and inflammatory to link religion and behavior in that manner.

Of course, I remember in the days after 9/11 my daughter and son-in-law had to arrive hours early at the airport because Aref would be pulled out of line and held and questioned. (Oddly enough I also have a son-in-law who is part native-American, and he was also singled out for attention). Aref is still often referred to by his department head at the university as "our resident terrorist". We do not find that humorous.

So while I have nothing but respect for those Turkish citizens who zealously guard their secular government, I feel a greater international obligation to make a statement of respect to a faith that suffers greatly in the international main street media.

To scarf or not to scarf? Every woman needs to make that decision for herself, and be prepared to deal with the consequences of that decision, which may be positive or negative depending on the philosophy of those who witness what you do. I would still recommend that women wear scarfs in mosques in small towns and cities away from the tourist centers, and even in smaller, less well-visited mosques with the city.

Athens, Greece
posts: 179
reviews: 4
10. Re: Head covering in mosques

Speaking of head scarves, here are some examples of how it can be incorporated into a funky & contemporary style --->



The Turkish women have a preference for bold hues, either solid color or prints, and the scarf is usually a silk or imitation silk square, worn tightly and neatly, as you can see in the above examples.

A pashmina, in my opinion, is not suitable for its texture, for its shape, and also for its large dimension (it is hard to wrap neatly around the neckline). On my visit last year, when necessary -- I visited a number of mosques in the residential areas, besides the historical center -- I put on a large bandana-print scarf I picked up from the airport gift shop and stuck to shirts with sleeves just past my elbow, and had no problem at all.