Date visited: September 6, 2010
Location: Mill Valley, CA
62 Shell Rd.
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Tag-team Taraweeh: Yes
Qirat: Good, but the younger hafiz's was better.
Size of congregation: 300
Capacity of center: 400-500
Parking: They have a lot, but there's also a fair amount of street parking
Mihrab: Yes. A beautiful wooden piece with intricate carvings on top.
Shoe shelves: Yes, though less than half the people use them.
Building: A one-story building nestled in a residential neighborhood
Friendliness towards women: They had their own section, I guess, because I really didn't see any tonight, to be honest.
Friendliness of congregation: It was the 27th of Ramadan (funny, it was the 27th last night according to MCA...oh, moonsighting) so everyone was in a good mood.
The toll on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is racist. I always thought when the government is deciding which direction on a bridge to make the tollway, they choose the direction heading towards the place with more commerce. It's far more likely that people who live in Marin work in Oakland than people who live in Oakland work in Marin. In case you don't know Marin, it's the richest of the six Bay Area (yes, there are six; Solano, Napa and Sonoma don't count because they don't touch the SF Bay) counties and is a mostly residential county. I'm willing to bet when they built the bridge they deliberately made sure that drivers would have to pay a toll to go from Richmond to San Rafael to keep the Richmond-type folks (YOU know who I'm talking about) out of Marin County.
Anyways, this mosque is in the thick of Marin County. You can tell it's in a nice neighborhood because there are no streetlights; rich people have an aversion to well-lit thoroughfares, I suppose. The building itself blends in quite well with the neighborhood; it's a pleasant brown one-story structure. You really can't tell it's a mosque till you get inside (or read the sign outside which says Islamic Center of Milly Valley).
Once you get inside, it hits you. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and I swore it smelled exactly like the Old Country. Yes, somehow this quintessentially Desi smell has permeated almost through the building and you can't avoid the smell almost everywhere you go.
The only place where there's no aromatic resemblance to Pakistan is the actual prayer hall, which is really quite pretty. The carpets are nice and plush and the minbar and mihrab both look very beautiful. There's a thick door between the prayer hall and the rest of the center, which I'm guessing is to keep the smell out.
I came early, so I was able to find a spot inside the parking lot and did a little bit of exploring. I noticed all the white boards had this squiggly language written on them. I asked a young'un what it was and it turns out it was Gujrati. Yes, this is another mosque that was built and is still run by one ethnic group. Kind of makes me wonder where the non-Gujus go, though, because the only other mosques nearby require you to pay a toll (on the aforementioned Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge to get into SF). The only other mosque in Marin County is all the way in Novato, near-on 20 miles away.
That said, it seems like there aren't that many Muslims in that county to begin with. Since it was the 27th of Ramadan (according to them) it was arguably one of the busiest nights of the year. They were finishing the Quran, so if it was going to get packed, it was going to be tonight. However, the hall was only about 3/4ths full.
The only thing that irked me tonight stemmed from my decision to park inside. I wanted to dash after 8 rakats because dammit, I was raised in a mosque where the T in taraweeh doesn't stand for twenty. I get out, and I find out that Gujus are partial to double-parking. I was boxed into my parking space by another car, and I wasn't the only one. All in all, there were about 10 cars blocking the exit of other cars.
Two things. Muslims would NEVER do this at work. If you box someone in at the office without leaving your keys with a parking attendant (if there even is one) then your car is getting towed. Second, what if someone had an emergency? If I had had to leave in a hurry, I would have had to literally interrupt the imam in the middle of taraweeh so he could make an announcement to the congregation to help unblock my car. I would have come off as a douche and it would have been generally unpleasant for everyone.
However, this is definitely a common practice there is Mill Valley because as soon as taraweeh was over, a lot of people dashed to their cars to move them because they had the courtesy to realize folks might want to leave right away (taraweeh ended at 10:45 and it is a worknight). Let's hear it for self-awareness and sensitivity!