Vice President- Outreach, Centre for Islamic Studies
“Mosque Tours” (MT) is a unique interfaith initiative conceived by Syed Raziuddin Ali, a Director of the Bahrain-based Discover Islam organization in the late 1980s. The mosque tour program commenced at Al-Fateh Mosque in Bahrain and was later introduced to historic mosques in other parts of the Islamic world such as the Blue Mosque in Turkey and Sultan Masjid in Singapore. Of late mosque tours have also caught on in Britain with the Visit My Mosque Campaign.
Why Mosque Tours
The rationale behind mosque tours is that the mosque lends itself well to explain Islam. Tourists are also keen to visit mosques and see its architecture, besides curiosity about what’s going on in mosques due to media publicity, often adverse, especially since September 11. As such, mosque tours should be viewed as the ideal opportunity to create an awareness of the true teachings of Islam and clear misconceptions, so that they understand Islam in its true spirit and go away with a favourable impression of Muslims.
There is a mistaken belief among some Muslims today that those of other faiths cannot enter mosques. In contrast, there are many instances in the lifetime of our Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) where those of other faiths were admitted into the Prophet’s Mosque, Masjid-ul-Nabawi in Medina. For instance a delegation of Christians from Najran were housed in the mosque and were even allowed to perform their devotions in this sacred spot.
The mosque is well placed to explain Islam to tourists. For example, the absence of idols explains Islamic monotheism which is compared to Biblical commandments against idolatry, the mihrab (prayer niche) explains the story of the prophets through Abraham’s building of the Kaaba. Saff (prayer rows) explains concept of brotherhood in Islam and prayer postures demonstrated then and there explains Islamic prayer including SoorahFatiha which is likened to the Christian Lord’s Prayer and the Sujood which is compared to Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
All this is done by a trained mosque tour guide (MTG). In fact, the success of any mosque tour depends on the skill and experience of the tour guide selected for the purpose. Linguistic skills, especially in English, a friendly disposition, a broad-minded attitude and a sound knowledge of comparative religion are all ingredients that go to make a good tour guide.
Prerequisites of a mosque tour include provision of a clothes rack to ensure visitors confirm to Islamic dress code, a book rack stocked with free Islamic literature to take away and ideally a walkthrough area with a panel of posters dealing with Islamic topics tourists find interesting such as concepts of equality, tolerance, human rights and women’s rights.
Initiatives in Sri Lanka
The Centre for Islamic Studies (CIS) in association with Discover Islam Bahrain, launched its pilot MT program at WekandaJumma Mosque in Slave Island in late August 2014. The first tour group comprised a group of visitors from the US embassy in Sri Lanka including its Cultural Affairs Officer, Dawn Suni and Press Officer, Joshua Shen. Since then, groups of foreign tourists and school children have benefited from the tours.
Sri Lanka’s first ever public ‘Open Mosque Day’ took place at Akbar Mosque on Kew Road, Colombo on 26th of March 2017. It was an immense success with nearly 100 visitors participating to learn about Islam and the role of mosques. Visitors were also offered free calligraphy of their names in beautiful Arabic script and traditional Muslim foods among other things.