PLACES OF WORSHIP are beautiful, sacred places that are major tourist attractions around the world.
Some of the more spectacular ones boast awe-inspiring architecture and magnificent facades, such as the Brihadeeswara Temple in India, St Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican, and The Paro Taktsang in Bhutan.
In pictures: The staggering beauty of Paro Valley, Bhutan
Aside from its many islands, pristine beaches, and abundance of greens, Malaysia is also home to wondrous mosques with stunning design elements, both classic and modern.
The country is where Islam is a predominant religion and the fastest-growing hence mosques can be found practically everywhere.
In between streams (Masjid Jamek), floating (Malacca Straits Mosque, Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque), peeking out from the top of a hill (Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque), and on a man-made island (Crystal Mosque).
Built with steel, glass, and crystal, the stunning Crystal Mosque or Masjid Kristal is a mosque in Wan Man, Terengganu, Malaysia. Source: Shutterstock.
There are some mosques that prohibit non-Muslims from entering but in general, most mosques in Malaysia allow visitors except during certain times of the day, particularly during prayer times. For example, the National Mosque of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur have restricted visiting hours for non-Muslims.
And if Muslims have certain rules to follow inside the mosque, so do non-Muslims.
Recently, two foreign tourists were caught on video dancing indecently and disrespectfully in front of Sabah’s city mosque. Sabah’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Environment strongly condemned the behavior and the government is planning to take action against the tourists and the tour operator.
This is not the first time tourists were caught misbehaving in Sabah.
In 2015, Briton Eleanor Hawkins, Canadians Lindsey and Danielle Peterson, and Dutchman Dylan Snel were given jail terms and fined for posing naked on Malaysia’s highest peak, Mount Kinabalu.
Mount Kinabalu is estimated to be at least 15 million years old and is protected as Kinabalu Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Regarded as sacred to the Kadazan-Dusun tribe and seen as the resting place of their ancestors, the mountain has been worshipped for centuries.
Locals believe that the tourists angered the spirit of the mountain, as a 6.0 magnitude earthquake shook Sabah, the strongest to affect Malaysia since 1976, a week after the naked tourists’ offensive picture went viral.
Puncak Seringgit aka The South Peak at Mount Kinabalu, Sabah. Source: Shutterstock.
Planning on visiting a mosque sometime soon?
Here’s some mosque etiquette to keep in mind.
Observe the prayer times
There are five prayer times in a day: salat al-fajr (dawn, before sunrise), salat al-zuhr (midday, after the sun passes its highest), salat al-‘asr (the late part of the afternoon), salat al-maghrib (just after sunset), and salat al-‘isha (between sunset and midnight).
The easiest way to tell if you can or cannot visit the mosque is if you hear the azan, the Muslim call to prayer, being broadcasted over loudspeakers.
If you happen to see people praying outside the prayer times, let them fulfill their prayer duty in peace. Do not stare at them or walk in front of them.
Cover up, please
Try to dress modestly as a mark of respect.
Countries like Malaysia are pretty humid and hot, and you may want to dress down when you’re out and about. However, if you’re planning to visit a mosque, make sure the bare parts of your body are covered.
For women, grab a shawl or a big scarf to cover your hair.
Take off your shoes
Like most homes and places of worship in Asia, you will be required to take off your shoes when visiting.
Believers take them off at the entrance and leave them in the racks.
However, to save yourself the hassle of potentially losing your shoes in a sea of shoes should the mosque be particularly crowded, and to prevent a potential shoe mix-up, put your shoes in a bag and carry them along.
Don’t cause a ruckus
Don’t run, dance, scream, shout, or laugh out loud. Talk in whispers and remember to turn on the silent mode on your smartphone or switch it off altogether.
Most mosques will allow you to take photos or shoot videos, but do so with no flash photography, and don’t shove your camera in the faces of believers.
Whether they’re in the middle of their wudu (ablution) or halfway through salat al-zuhr, they’d appreciate it if you gave them some privacy.
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