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What Not to Wear to a Mosque

September 15, 2010

Hello, readers.  I apologize for my recent lack of posts.  The untimely combination of busy days at a new job, a bad stomach, and a fickle internet connection at home meant that I had to take a short hiatus, but I’m back now, with more stories from my adventures in Old Delhi!

From Chandni Chowk, Amrit and I hired a cycle-rickshaw to take us to the Jama Masjid, the principle mosque in Old Delhi, and one of the largest and best-known mosques in India.

The Jama Masjid

The mosque is open to everyone, except during times of worship.  Amrit and I walked up the steps to one of the main entrances, deposited our shoes, paid our Rs. 200 (a little over $4) for carrying a camera, and went in.

The mid-day sun had made the red sandstone quite hot on our bare feet, so we took only a brisk stroll around the open courtyard before heading to a shadier place with much cooler tiles.

The Jama Masjid was relatively quiet and empty (especially compared to the outside streets of Old Delhi).  In fact, aside from a few Indian families lounging in the shade to escape the mid-day heat, the crowd at the Jama Masjid was primarily foreign tourists.

I noticed that a few of the foreigners were wearing frumpy floral muumuus, but I just chalked it up to poor taste in clothing.  Soon, though, I realized that nearly all of the tourists – both male and female – were wearing these hideous frocks.  I was trying to figure out what the deal was, when I saw a flash of skin from underneath one of the floral prints.  “Was that a bare shoulder I just saw??  Couldn’t be.  Who would be so foolish as to wear a tank top to a mosque?”  Again, there was another flash of skin – this time a bare thigh.  I was scandalized!

Floral muumuus at their finest

Now, I do have to admit that my standards of modesty have changed since I’ve been in India.  I now think twice before wearing a low-cut top or a skirt that falls above my knees, and before going out I always consider whether the amount of skin that I’m showing is appropriate for the place that I’m going.  In America, I only would have considered only once in a blue moon.  So, I suppose that I understand how, for some foreign tourists, this question of what is appropriate dress might be a consideration.

However, what shocked me is that these tourists were dressed in shorts and a tank top as if they were strolling around some Epcot or Disneyland exhibit, when the Jama Masjid is, in fact, an active place of worship.  It’s a mosque, not just some tourist destination.  Dressing appropriately to cover bare arms and bare legs isn’t simply a matter of modesty, but a matter of respect as well.

Still more muumuus

But, enough of my rant.  Ultimately it is every individual’s prerogative to wear whatever they choose.  Admittedly, it is much more comfortable to wear only shorts and a T-shirt in Delhi’s heat (although I would think that it’s significantly less comfortable to be walking around Old Delhi, one of the most conservative parts of the city, so scantily clad).  And, judging by the large pile of floral muumuus that were sitting outside each of the entrances to the mosque, it seems that the consensus amongst foreign visitors is  to wear shorts and a t-shirt for most of their traveling and exploring, and just borrow a cover-up (no matter how unflattering) when necessary.

Aside from these clothing issues, which I have to admit I found more amusing than annoying, the Jama Masjid was a great experience (and another item completed on my India To-Do List).  It was a respite from the chaos of the streets just beyond the walls, and climbing the minaret offered stunning views of the city.

View of the Jama Masjid dome and Old Delhi from the minaret

For anyone living in or visiting Delhi, I would highly recommend a trip to the Jama Masjid, though I would suggest that clothing choices are considered beforehand.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Your Mama permalink
    September 15, 2010 8:55 pm

    Katherine –

    When visiting India, what clothing should we bring along? If I have a pair of gray wool slacks, can I wear only a long sleeve sweater (that does not completely cover my derrierre)? Should I think about all tops coming below my hips?

    What about short sleeves or sleeveless under a jacket or blazer?

    Please give us guidelines!

    • September 15, 2010 10:13 pm

      Well, keep in mind that appropriate dress in a mosque tends to be more conservative than everyday dress in other parts of the city.

      It would be best, though, to pack a combination of short and long (long enough to cover the hips and bum) tops. This way you’ll be prepared for most situations.

      Short-sleeve/sleeveless under a blazer is appropriate in most situations.

      Don’t forget, too, that traditional Indian clothes like salwar kameez are affordable and easy to find. Wearing this in situations where more conservative dress is expected should prevent the feeling of being under- or inappropriately dressed.

  2. April Morris permalink
    September 16, 2010 5:49 am

    New job, you say?

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