Sunday, August 22, 2010

Islamic Society of San Francisco

Date visited: August 21, 2010

Location: San Francisco, CA (where else? They're not like the Niners, with San Francisco in their name but with a home in another city)
20 Jones Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Tag-team Taraweeh: And how! Three different imams lead the first eight rakat.

Qirat: The grizzled vet sounded like he'd been leading taraweeh for a tad too long because he was clearly hoarse. The second guy was fantastic.

Size of congregation: < 100

Capacity of center: < 500

Parking: The best way to find parking in SF is to hitch a ride with a hafiz. Whenever I've ridden with one they've always found convenient parking. Parking in the Tenderloin is easier to find than the other neighborhoods because the residents tend to not own cars.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: A three-story building which I am to understand is owned by the ISSF.

Friendliness towards women: Decent. There was no partition hiding them from view, though I believe that changes during Friday prayers.

Friendliness of congregation: Great! A random guy offered me perfume for my hand, definitely not a bad idea to have handy especially if you've just sampled the cuisine of one of a dozen halal Desi restaurants in the immediate area.

Before you ask, no, I did not see Dave Chappelle.

When I think Tenderloin, I think halal restaurants. It's a great place to find one, two or twelve options when it comes to Desi food, but it's also home to a couple other cuisines. The thing all these restaurants have in common is a blatant disregard for the city health codes. The important thing to do when eating at these restaurants is ignore the fact that there are more flies than people in the restaurant and focus on the positives.

The same attitude is necessary when looking at the Tenderloin neighborhood. It is a picture of human misery. Spend a couple hours there and you will be shocked by the ravages of drug abuse on an entire neighborhood. Spend the couple hours with a girl by your side and be prepared to have her accosted by one or more crackheads.

However, there is a jewel in this part of town. Walk down Jones Street, all the way down. Ignore the bright, tempting lights of the porn theater on Market Street and turn into a small, dimly lit foyer. You never know who'll be there to greet you in the foyer and today it was a homeless man begging us for change. Walk up three flights of steps, past what appears to be an abandoned office. On the final landing, you'll be at your destination: the Jones St. masjid.

I still marvel at the fact that in the midst of all this dereliction and destitution there could be a space as beautiful as the Jones Street mosque. I have nothing but respect for the individuals who were faced with a run-down building but saw the potential for a beautiful prayer space. The tilework is absolutely fantastic and it's wonderful how large the mosque is.

My friend wondered why the mosque was so big when the worshipers were only filling about a quarter of it. The simple answer to that is it gets extremely crowded during the weekdays, when working Muslims are looking for a place to pray. Still, his comment made me think of something. The mosque being empty and yet looking so beautiful could only mean that people from outside the Tenderloin have supported the mosque to make it the institution it is today. It was truly amazing to me that Muslims had stepped forward to support a mosque that isn't even in their neighborhood because they see the value of establishing a prayer space.

The taraweeh was great because it seemed like the grizzled veteran was using his talents to train the imams of the future. He stepped away early and let two younger imams take the reigns, all the while giving them support when they stumbled. It's something I don't see often enough at mosques and, quite frankly, to make Islam sustainable in America it's something that needs to start happening.

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