Mosques are sacred spaces, and great care is given to maintaining their ritual purity. Mosques have special washing areas where people can clean themselves before prayer. Shoes must never be worn in the main prayer area. Long racks of shoes are a common sight in the entryways of most mosques. Modesty requires that women do not pray in front of men. Some mosques have a women’s area separated by a partition of fabric or wood, or located in a room away from the men’s section. At other mosques, men and women pray in the same room, with men positioned at the front. A popular trend in larger mosques is the women’s mezzanine, a balcony located above and behind the communal prayer space.
The act of prayer can be solitary or communal, but Muslims are encouraged to pray together on Fridays. During the Friday noonday prayer, Detroit’s larger mosques are filled with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of worshipers who form long prayer lines, their movements choreographed in synchrony with the imam’s recitations. In some Muslim-majority neighborhoods,
the call to prayer (and even the entire Friday sermon) is broadcast over public loudspeakers. Work and traffic come to a standstill, and mosque parking lots overflow in all directions.
In Detroit, where mosques are often located in buildings originally constructed for other purposes, the space of prayer does not always fit symmetrically with existing floor plans. Muslims must face Mecca when they pray, even when their buildings do not, and this requirement often gives Detroit mosque interiors an “off center” look. Purpose-built mosques are aligned toward Mecca, but Detroit’s older mosques often have two qiblas, since techniques for determining the direction of Mecca changed in the 1970s, when local Muslims stopped using map orientations that did not factor in the curvature of the earth’s surface.