Thursday, August 19, 2010

Islamic Society of Stanford Junior University

Date visited: August 18, 2010

Location: Leland Stanford Junior University
3rd floor, Old Union

Tag-team Taraweeh: Nope, just the one imam

Qirat: Amazing.  The guy wasn't even a hafiz (he was in fact reading the verses from a little Quran) but his voice was sublime.  If I were a girl and he hadn't been wearing a ring I would have definitely inquired about his availability.

Size of congregation: Tiny, so tiny.

Capacity of center: < 300 people

Parking: Ample.  Parking at Stanford is free in most lots after 4 and the visitors lot at the time was 10% full.

Mihrab: Ha, nope

Minbar: Ditto

Shoe shelves: Ha, nope

Building: The Old Union is home to a lot of Stanford's administrative offices.  When they remodeled it a couple years back they added a multireligious prayer space.

Friendliness towards women: Very.  Hard to find a university Muslim student association that's not, especially since this one's had female presidents in the past (something the U of C Berkeley organization can't boast)

Friendliness of congregation: Incredible.  I could have waltzed into their iftar and it would have been all gravy.

I had to do my laundry before going to Stanford tonight; I didn't have any clean Cal t-shirts.  Yes, I did wear a Cal shirt, I'm obnoxious like that.  Clearly my reputation had preceded me, though, as multiple friends and acquaintances quickly IDed me as that Berkeley guy.

Finding this place is a bear if you have no idea of the campus layout.  I've always disliked Stanford's campus because of its large size; in my humble opinion, it's not the size of the campus that matters, it's what you do with it.  I wasn't quite as lost as a first-time visitor would be, but I was a bit disoriented when I came to the Old Union.  You see, I used to spend my summers at Stanford working at the student store.  Back in my university-apparel hawking days I used to pray at the Old Union as well, but in those days guma namaz was held in a ballroom with hardwood flooring.  It was quite hard on the feet, as you can imagine.

However, now the university has spent the big bucks to build its non-Christian religious students a place where they can pray.  Not only that, they've added wudu rooms.  Sound amazing?  It gets better.  Not only do they have wudu rooms, they have male and female wudu rooms.  I curse the fact that I went to a university that was bent on separating church and state.

Anyways, when I got there the students were wrapping up their dinner.  Tons of people were milling about...until the adhan was called.  It was comical to see how few people were left as soon as the adhan was over; I understand that students have a million excuses to not pray taraweeh, but if you were just milling around anyways, couldn't you have stayed for Isha, at least?  Meh, who am I to judge, I was famous at my state school of a university for showing up for 2 rakats and only 2 rakats of taraweeh.

During the prayer, I saw rocks on the ground.  Karbala rocks.  There were Shias in this congregation, and that was beautiful.  Unfortunately mosques in the Bay Area are built along ethnic and ideological lines and thanks to sectarianism, you will never see a Shia praying at MCA.  Only at universities have I seen Shias and Sunnis praying side-by-side.  It breaks my heart because clearly the college congregations prove that both sects can pray together and yet traditional differences are so great you will never see a SuShi mosque.

The ISSU has always fascinated me because of the way its students have come together despite their different sects.  Back when my brother was still at Stanford (and this was a WHILE back since he's an old fart now) one year the ISSU had a Shia president.  That in itself was a huge sign of progress because I think the odds of the MSA at Berkeley having a Shia president in my lifetime are slim to none.  However, not only did this Shia lead the ISSU, he also lead taraweeh.  A Shia leading taraweeh is kind of like a Republican not blasting Islam in an election year: it's strange as hell, but it does happen.

These Shias didn't pray taraweeh.  In fact, almost nobody did.  By the time taraweeh rolled around, there were maybe 10 people in the congregation.  By the time taraweeh was half over, there were three: me, a regular and, of course, the imam.  It was fantastically intimate.

This was quite possibly the best taraweeh I have prayed to date because of how beneficial it was.  Before each set of two rakats, the congregation circled up and someone read the translation of the verses the imam was about to read.  Yes, this meant that 8 rakat took more than one hour, but isn't it better for a non-Arabic-speaking congregation to understand what's being said than to get out of there in less than a half-hour?  Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for Desi imams who have perfected the art of machine-gun taraweeh, but wouldn't their congregation like to know what exactly they're saying?  MCA took a stab at this by asking someone to sum up in five minutes before Isha prayers what verses were going to be recited that night.

I definitely realize that time is precious and mosques can't expect people to spend half their time at the masjid listening to a translation, especially if the imam is bent on finishing the Quran in 30 days.  If the imam was reading a juz of Quran every night, and someone was reading the translation of the verses in between rakats, that taraweeh would easily take 4 hours every night.  Still, I would have respect for the mosque that assigns someone to go over the verses at a different time, so those who are interested can get more out of their taraweeh.


  1. ooooooooooh yeahhhhhhh, that berkeley guy.

  2. love this blog! i'm going to my mosque tomorrow night (just moved here alone so haven't been feeling like going on my own), i'm so inspired. thanks!

  3. Salam Zuhair,
    this is Irfan. This is an excellent docu-diary. If you are running short of Masajid in this area, check our Evergreen Ruby Masjid, in San Jose. It is SBIA junior ;-)

    a small correction. I have seen Shia's pray at MCA. Occasionally I've seen individual praying in the back during Taraweeh, or sometimes after Dhuhr prayer. So it's not as you say "Never".

  4. Already hit it:

  5. Also, I figure that there may be Shias who show up to pray at MCA, but will a Shia ever lead prayer or deliver a sermon? Unfortunately, what happened at Stanford back when Mehdi was president hasn't been replicated anywhere in the Bay to the best of my knowledge.

  6. Hey

    I just want to say that I absolutely love this blog and that it really is amazing. Also come on man Stanford doesn't start until late september and you know it! If you had come when school was in session then you would have seen more people. I won't lie though the number of people that pray taraweeh is significantly smaller than the number of people that come to eat...