Travelling With Respect: What NOT To Do In An Iranian Mosque


When travelling, we are exposed to a wide variety of new experiences, as well as new cultures. Though these cultures and subsequent cultural practices may be vastly different from our own, it is our responsibility – and our duty – as travellers, to accept and respect these practices as best as we can.

I wrote last week about my incredible experience visiting Nasir ol Molk (The Pink Mosque) in Iran, but unfortunately, I also feel it is necessary to write about the not-so-great parts of that visit, or more specifically, the not-so-great people who happened to be visiting the mosque at the same time as I did.

On this particular day, there was a small tour group of about 10 people present, and honestly, I still cannot quite believe how completely and utterly disrespectful they were.

There are a few points to cover, so lets start at the beginning.

First things first, they were talking so loudly that they were borderline yelling. I mean, honestly guys, when visiting a sacred place like a mosque or church, keeping your voice down should be a given!

Things then got progressively worse.

There were five or six women in this group, and all of them took it upon themselves to remove their hijabs whilst inside the mosque! Now, I understand that people may not love wearing the hijab, but it is just something that you must do while travelling in Iran. Women are expected to don a headscarf at all times (except whilst inside hotels or private residences) and this most definitely includes while inside mosques. In fact, even more modesty is expected while inside these mosques. To take off your headscarf is blatantly disrespectful.

Despite my disapproving glares aimed squarely at these women, they were not deterred in the slightest. They paid me no mind as they continued to parade through the mosque sans headscarves, and they seemed to have no concerns as they then proceeded to start posing provocatively for photographs while doing so!

They took it in turns to spread themselves out on the floor, push out their busts and make themselves look as ‘sexy’ as they possibly could while their fellow travel companions loudly spurred them on. How anyone could think that this is okay, I honestly do not know.

As if that wasn’t already horrible, one of these women decided that she hadn’t already been offensive enough! She grabbed one of the Qurans from inside the mosque and proceeded to use it as a prop while continuing to “sexily” pose on the floor sans headscarf!

It was at this point that I couldn’t stay silent anymore, and I told the women to put their headscarves back on. They seemed to then realize that just because I wasn’t Iranian didn’t mean that I was going to sit back silently and allow them to continue to be disrespectful.

Basically, the moral of this story is that if you ever intend to travel to a country whose most prominent religion is different than your own, only do so if you intend to respect this religion and the customs of that country.

To not do so honestly just makes you a complete and utter asshat.

Don’t be a dickhead, travel with respect… and when in Iran, wear your headscarf!

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30-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

32 thoughts on “Travelling With Respect: What NOT To Do In An Iranian Mosque

    1. That was definitely the vibe I got too, I think they definitely knew what they were doing was wrong which makes it so much worse 🙁

  1. Wow, there ignorance is overwhelming! At least you had the guts to tell them and they might actually think twice now before being this culturally insensitive again..

  2. Absolutely disgusting behaviour by those travellers. I always tell people I am a guest when visiting another country, heck even in my own country I am respectful when entering a culture not my own.

    1. Totally! You would want foreigners to respect your culture in your home town/country, so why wouldn’t you do the same for others?

  3. You haven’t mentioned their nationality. Definitely not locals and so were they yours, ours, or Americans? I’m favouring the latter two…although how they got in I do not know. It sounds like the aftermath of an awful drunken night out.

    1. They were not locals and not westerners. I have diplomatically avoided revealing ethnicity because I don’t want to play into the stereotype game… but after ruling out westerners it is possibly fairly obvious…

      1. I figured you were being diplomatic. The fact I see so much of the English-speaking Westerner in that must say a lot about how society is going. Hope you gave them hell.

  4. Why would you visit someone else’s house of worship and not respect their rules? You wouldn’t pose provocatively with a copy of the New Testament in a church. I just don’t understand why someone would pay money to get into a place and be so blatantly disrespectful.

  5. I almost wonder what these tools would have thought if someone had gone into their sacred places and behaved in such a disrespectful manner. And then folks wonder why they get bad reputations.

  6. Good thing that you said something. It is totally bizarre to do sexy anything in a mosque. These people topped it off with the sans head scarf too.

  7. I just can’t understand behaviour like that. From locals fine, make whatever statement you want in your own country but visitors honestly just need to have some respect, glad you said something

  8. Well done for speaking up. I do not understand people when they travel, I know they are on vacation to have a good time, but really. I am American and I have to tell you I have seen some pretty rude Americans traveling in Europe. Again I do not know how that behavior would be considered in any place of worship, bet they would not do that in a church.
    Well again thanks for saying something and keep on traveling. It is up to persons like you to show what people from other countries are really like.

  9. Such a well written article and on a very important point. Respect for another persons’ religion and customs, especially in their place of worship is vital. Recently, my son-in-law Haaris visited a place called Kalash where people live according to an ancient religion. He heard a man remark ‘go ahead and do whatever you like with their children, don’t come near mine. (His friend had just been admiring the child’s beautiful face.) ‘ Just because a person has a different religion doesn’t entitle anyone to be disrespectful or disregard them as individuals.
    So proud of you to have had the courage to right a wrong that was going on. Few have the courage. Stay blessed. Lovely one.

  10. Absolutely agree with you!
    When you come into contact with new cultures – it is important to pay respect to what is important to that culture.
    I was just in a South African Township and I was utterly shocked when the people who were around me were visibly disgusted by the township and the locals that lived there.
    They refused handshakes, distanced themselves from engaging and refused their hospitality when offered local cuisine.
    It was unbelievable, especially when travel opens immense new doors of opportunity and learning!

  11. If only people travelled more conscientiously. But Ellen you did make laugh with the picture you painted of the (asshat) women posing sexily with the Quran. Empty headed and callow to say the least.

  12. I was cringing the whole time while reading that. I have so much trouble understanding people who willing travel to places, only to be disrespectful to the country/culture upon arrival. I believe part of travelling is to experience the culture of the country in a respectful manner. I hope after you talked to this group, they realized {even if only a little bit} just how rude they were being.

  13. It is shocking how ignorant people can be when traveling. A few weeks ago we published and article about how the morning alms rituals (a sacred meditative ancient Buddhist ritual in Laos) gets so violently disturbed by tourists taking selfies and flash photography in the faces of monks in Luang Prabang. Hotels and tour operators even add for this. We were so disgusted that we felt like we had to write about it. It is good that you posted this post. Thanks for that!

  14. It makes me SO angry when people do this! I am glad you said something! I see so many tourists in Southeast Asia walking around temples in shorts and strappy tops and it makes me speechless!

  15. Wonderful! You are doing a good job here, and I want you to know that your presence and work are acknowledged and they are helping us reach our targets and goals.Keep up the good job!

  16. Nasty behaviour. I’ve seen many tourists dressing or behaving inappropriately in sacred places but what you’ve described beggars belief!

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