Correct Religious Head Coverings

Some men wear head coverings in mosque, but it is not required
Inside the mosque, men’s section

When you travel to Israel or other religious sites around the world, you cannot help but come face-to-face with many religious matters. So, you need to know the various traditions as regards covering your head, shoulders, knees and feet.

At the entrance to various holy sites, quiet men or women sit unobtrusively off to the side in a chair, seeming to mind their own business. But try to enter the holy site improperly dressed, and they spring into action, like an Army General, shouting commands at you, often in a foreign language, in a way that might make you shake in your boots.

Western Wall: Jewish men praying
Jewish men wear head coverings, here at the Western Wall

As you enter a Jewish holy site, a synagogue or shrine, men are supposed to cover their heads. If you are wearing a gimme baseball cap or a cowboy hat, that qualifies as a hat. If you don’t have a hat, the synagogue will usually provide cheaply made head-coverings. In Israel, I noticed they were sometimes made of paper stapled together to form a sort-of hat.

On the other hand, if you are a woman, no hat is required, but women often wear some head covering, frequently a doily, but Jewish women will often have quite fancy hats. Very religious women aren’t allowed to show their hair outside their home, so they wear wigs that look like hair and a hat on top of that!

Just when I was getting used to the idea of not removing my hat as I entered a synagogue, I stepped next door into a church and was accosted by the aforementioned unobtrusive man sitting by the side who yelled at me to remove my hat. In the churches, men are not allowed to wear hats. Of course, exceptions are made, as with the Pope and his clergy who all wear hats.

Entering the church, the inspectors are also looking at women to make sure their shoulders aren’t exposed and their knees aren’t showing. And men’s knees showing are also forbidden, but the rule is lightly enforced for men. If the knees or shoulders are showing, a thin wrap-around cloth is provided to sling over your shoulder or around your waist, as needed, to cover these very revealing areas of the body (sarcasm is mine). The visitors look ridiculous, but they pass inspection.

Step inside a mosque and the situation changes once more. First of all, no shoes are allowed. Outside the mosque, cubby-holes are usually provided for your shoes, or sometimes they are strewn around in a huge pile. I often wonder if people ever lose their shoes at the mosque. I recommend that you bring a bag to put your shoes in and that you wear sandals or slip-on shoes when going to the mosque, so that you don’t have trouble putting them on again as benches to sit on are in short supply or non-existent, and you often have to put your shoes on standing up.

Again, exposed women’s shoulders are a problem in a mosque. The same solution is offered. Women must cover their heads.

Men are not required to wear a hat, but many worshipers do. Apparently, Mohammed said it is a good thing to cover your head (he always did), but no edict was ever incorporated into Islamic law to require men to wear hats. Of course, there may be sects that have more stringent rules … so don’t take my word as gospel or, more appropriately in this case, Quran.

One of my must carry items for travel is a large, thin, lightweight scarf. For men, I suggest black. That way you can cover your head with it if needed, you can use it for warmth if it gets cold, and you can use it around your waist as a skirt if one of the army commandos comes after you for exposed knees. Women can use it in so many ways that there are even websites devoted to the many ways to wear a scarf.

Whether you take my advice and bring a scarf or not, you need to be ready to follow the custom if you want to gain entry to some tourist attractions.


  1. “Hats off to That!” is an enjoyable and helpful article. It is nice to be informed how to be prepared for a visit to the tourist attractions.

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