Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Oakland Islamic Center

Date visited: August 31, 2010

Location: Oakland, CA
515 31st St.
Oakland, 94609

Tag-team Taraweeh: No

Size of congregation: ~ 500

Capacity of center: ~ 500

Parking: Some off-street, mostly street

Mihrab: Gorgeous marble structure inlaid with tiles and topped with calligraphy.

Minbar: Beautiful wooden structure which didn't epitomize elegance but came close.

Shoe shelves: Plenty

Building: A mosque, not a converted building. This community's been around for a LONG time and I get the feeling a lot of local Muslims businesses were developed because of this mosque. It's got a minaret and a huge open area for spillover. The prayer hall has three large chandeliers hanging near the front of the building and is ringed by pretty light fixtures. Clearly this community takes a lot of pride in its masjid.

Friendliness towards women: Lots of women came to pray here. Haven't ever hheard any complaints.

Friendliness of congregation: They hosted a huge iftar where they kept refilling the plates of those who didn't ask for it. Egyptian hospitality.

I always though this mosque was a little strange because it seemed so out of place in the neighborhood. Don't get me wrong, I didn't think that because this mosque was wrongly built on sacred land. It's just that the neighborhood is predominantly black and this congregation is for the most part Egyptian. However, I saw today that things have changed. Even more Muslim businesses have opened up and the congregation is definitely not all Egyptian, although the imam still lectures only in Arabic.

I think this mosque is a good example of how Muslims can help improve blighted neighborhoods. This is one of the oldest parts of Oakland, with beautiful old Victorian houses lining the side streets. However, most of these houses are now in terrible condition and they don't seem to be getting any better. To see this beautiful masjid in the midst of all this deriliction and all the business it attracts has to be good for the neighborhood.

Masjid Al-Salam

Date visited: August 30, 2010

Location: Oakland, CA
1005 7th. St.
Oakland, 94607

Tag-team Taraweeh: Nope

Size of congregation: Surprisingly large

Capacity of center: < 200

Parking: Street

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes, one of which was stolen from a retail store because they still had mylar stickers on them.

Building: A converted commercial building. Surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. However, they do have a basketball hoop, which is nice.

Friendliness towards women: Son, if you come here, do not go through the black door in the front. It may look like the main entrance because it's the only door facing the street, but it's the women's entrance. I didn't see any women (God forbid) because there were stairs leading up to their section. It did seem like the women were out-of-sight and out-of-mind, though. Definitely not like IKIC in Fremont, where women were literally inching into the men's section to hear Zaid Shakir speak.

Friendliness of congregation: Incredible. Oh my God, incredible. I did iftar here and they would not stop feeding me. One of the men actually got upset because he thought I hadn't eaten. He thought that because he hadn't actually seen me eat. Arab hospitality, man, can't beat it.

"What did you study at Berkeley?"

I was stunned by the question. I turned around to face the person who asked me.

"How did you know I went to Berkeley?"

How did he know?? Did he smell the stench of my rejection from Stanford, even after all these years? Did he notice the worry lines permanently etched on my face from being put on too many waitlists for classes?

He smiled and pointed at my lanyard, which was sticking out of my pocket (on the left side, because that's the Crip side). Duh, my Cal lanyard.

It turns out this gentleman played ball at the D-1 level, even squaring off against Cal once. Yep, he played for USF...the Don one, not the Bull one. He and I had a fantastic conversation about his career and what he was up to these days.

See, he was representative of this congregation. It was exceedingly Arab--as I rounded the corner of the mosque someone asked me in Arabic and not English if I'd eaten--but everyone was charming. They seemed genuinely happy to see me and were happy to welcome me to their community.

The center itself is surprisingly large. I guess I never thought that the congregation in this neighborhood could be so large. It is just a mosque and not a community center, but still, when you have a basketball court on your property you clearly have community in mind.

Masjid An-Noor

Date visited: August 29, 2010

Location: Richmond, CA
1330 Cutting Blvd.
Richmond 94801

Tag-team Taraweeh: Nope

Size of congregation: Small. < 30

Capacity of center: ~ 400

Parking: Street

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: None. Shoes ALL over the floor. I can't imagine how it looks during guma.

Building: A building in the middle of the warehouse district. A building in the middle of the warehouse district surround by a tall wrought iron fence with spikes on top. Welcome to Richmond, son.

Friendliness towards women: Women? What would women be doing here, there's no kitchen.

Friendliness of congregation: Extreme. Small congregation, w00t! One of the dudes went to Berkeley...he and I stared at each other for a little bit since we couldn't place where we'd seen each other.

I've relocated to Richmond and was without the interwebs for a bit. Apologies for the delay. However, now you can expect loads of posts about masajid in the heart in Oakland.

If you can't read Arabic, you're not finding this place. Well, I suppose you could look at the address painted on the wall, but my point is, the only sign for this place was in Arabic. That said, however, even if the newest convert got the urge to come to this place, I suppose all he'd have to do is look for the only place for miles with a sign in Arabic.

This place is massive. I wasn't expecting it to be quite so large, but as I entered I saw the sizeable prayer space in addition to a long hallway leading to other rooms. The bathroom was done up nicely too, which means this masjid has been operational for a long time. All in all, it's another one of those oases in a pretty rough neighborhood.

And man, it is rough because this place is imposing from the outside. If that iron gate's closed, you're shiz out of luck. Come during prayer time or don't come at all.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ibrahim Khalilullah Islamic Center

Date visited: August 28, 2010

Location: Fremont, CA
43140 Osgood Road
Fremont, CA 94539

Tag-team Taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: Large. The men's section was holding about 300 people

Capacity of center: Not large enough. There were people praying in the aisles.

Parking: Shared with local businesses. Enough.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Not enough. Lots of shoes on the floor.

Building: A converted office building.

Friendliness towards women: There was a strong female presence.

Friendliness of congregation: There were lots of worshippers in a crowded space. Not too much opportunity for niceties.

The best way to find this mosque is to look for the one office park which has a full parking lot. Otherwise, you just have to keep your eyes peeled for the small sign they have out front.

I really like what they've done with the place. The mihrab is massive and made of marble. It's decorated with calligraphy on top and they've made sure the paint on the walls matches the structure's red and beige shades.

There's a few things I noticed right away about this place.

Space is a huge issue. In fact, as I was coming in, I heard a volunteer tell someone to go to another mosque in Fremont because they're all pretty close together. Yes, it may have been very crowded, and there is no dearth of masajid in Fremont, but is that an appropriate thing to say? I'm unsure.

Most of the volunteers were in uniforms. The young men were decked out in white button-down shirts and black pants, and some were wearing ties. I have no idea of why they chose to do that, but it was a little unsettling. Granted, a couple were not in uniform and I'm guessing they chose to do so because it was a fundraising night, but if they wear the same stuff every night that's a little weird.

Everything was said in Afghan first, and then English. Now that's hardcore immigrant-status. It's funny too, because due to sheer size of the crowd it was easy for me to see that there was plenty of diversity in this congregation. That said, Ramadan always attracts folks who don't normally come to the masjid so I'm sure they do this because their regular attendees are mostly Afghan.

There were plenty of guys goofing off outside when I came outside after prayer. That's the problem with building a masjid in a business park; there's nothing to distract the kids so they waste time by crowding the hallways. MCA tries to take care of this problem by having lectures after 8 rakat, but these kids probably didn't even pray taraweeh so that wouldn't do anything for them. SBIA has a basketball hoop outside their building; sure, it may piss some people off that these damn kids are playing ball during prayer but at least they're at the masjid, right?

Zaid Shakir was leading the fundraising tonight, which means there are some influential people behind this mosque. I found it hilarious that Zaid Shakir (obviously) gave a speech in English and then the MC started speaking in Dari to get the congregation ready for prayer. If there really are that many people in the crowd who cannot speak English I hope someone was translating the entire speech for the Afghans.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Islamic Association of Immigrants

Date visited: August 27, 2010

Location: Hayward, CA
185 Folsom Avenue
Hayward, CA 94544

Tag-team Taraweeh: Father-son partnership

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: < 300

Capacity of center: < 500

Parking: Plenty on the inside, but I parked on the street.
Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: It fits right into the neighborhood...if you ignore the minaret. This minaret does for this masjid what I imagine MCA's soon-to-be-completed minaret will do for it. It makes it distinctive because really, the building fits into the neighborhood pretty well.

Friendliness towards women: They had a separate section, seemed large enough.

Friendliness of congregation: Ran into a friendly face, but again, everyone was Afghan and they seemed to prefer to communicate in their own language.

The location of this masjid puzzles me. Yesterday, I visited an Afghan masjid on Mission Blvd. This too is an Afghan masjid, and I had to take the same exit off the freeway as I did yesterday. In fact, these two mosques are less than a mile apart. This would make complete sense to me if both masajid had been full to the brim; why not make two mosques in the same area to deal with capacity issues, right? But no, neither mosque was full and the one I visited yesterday was almost half-empty.

There MAY be politics involved. That's one plausible explanation because it doesn't makes sense that two groups of the same ethnicity and religious backgrounds wouldn't form one organization...unless there was beef. The Afghans are a very tribal folk...

Okay, now I'm going way into conjecture. What I did notice about this masajid was that despite the overwhelming Afghan population, the short speech before the prayer was in English. Additionally, I was amused by the fact that as soon as the speech ended, the imam and his son walked into the room and took their places at the front of the room. It had to be coordinated.

It turns out the imam is raising a family of huffaz; I actually heard his other son the other night in Fremont, apparently. If anything, this and the fact that the speech was done in English showed me that Afghan-Desi relations are not as fraught as they're sometimes made out to be. There's plenty of home-spun racism in Pakistan against the Afghans but it gladdens my heart to see it hasn't impacted the East Bay communities.

One perk of going to this masjid is you get free food after 20 rakats. I'm not pointing that out so you can go for the grub; it's just another sign of this community's generosity.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

ARIC

Date visited: August 26, 2010

Location: Haystack, CA
29414 Mission Boulevard
Hayward, CA‎ 94544

Tag-team Taraweeh: No

Qirat: Great. It was also refreshing to hear a middle-aged man's voice after a week of hearing old men and children.

Size of congregation: < 200

Capacity of center: ~ 600

Parking: Plentiful, but the lot filled up. There's lots of street parking, though.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: Another masjid that looks like it's been built from the ground up. Beautiful structure.

Friendliness towards women: The only indication I had that there were even women there tonight was a sign for the ladies' restroom. Otherwise I didn't see any women. Granted, I did come only a couple minutes before the prayer, but still, there was strict separation of the sexes.

Friendliness of congregation: Gays have their gaydar and Afghans have their Desidar. I think they knew as soon as I saw me that I was Pakistani so the reception was a tad cool.

The first thing I saw was the sign: "Abu Bakr as-Saddiq Mosque", underneath which was written "ARIC." The only name I knew this place by was the former, so I thought for a second what ARIC could mean. I felt a flash of guilt because, could it mean...? I texted my Afghan insider and got an answer.

Yes, ARIC stands for Afghan Refugee Islamic Community. It really shouldn't surprise me that the Afghans have embraced their refugee status. Back in college whenever anyone in the CalMSA needed help with their FAFSA the go-to guys were the Afghans.

This mosque is a giant middle finger to the Russians who made the Afghans refugees in the first place. I mean, what it seemed to be saying was yes, we are exiles now, but we're sure as hell not losing our culture. This place is eye-candy; the facade was covered in tiles and the domes were lit up to make the building seem prettier. I was even more impressed with what I found inside. The Afghans went all out with the interior in that the mihrab looked like it'd been stripped from a mosque back home. I also loved how the walls were lined with tiles painted with Islamic calligraphy. The minbar and podium were made of wood, both of which had intricate designs etched into them. It was a fantastic place to visit because clearly the community spent a lot of time and resources building it.

Fiji Jamat-ul-Islam of America

Date visited: August 25, 2010

Location: South City, Cali
373 Alta Vista Drive
South San Francisco, CA 94080

Tag-team Taraweeh: Yes

Qirat: The first guy was great

Size of congregation: < 200 (men's section)

Capacity of center: ~ 400 (men's section)

Parking: Plenty of space in the lot and the street

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: The first mosque built from the ground up I've seen in my quest. The insider informed me that the city of South San Francisco had set aside land on the entire block for religious institutions. Looking downhil, I did see a church next door and I'm sure there were more out of sight.
The building is absolutely gorgeous. Its entrance is flanked by two minarets and there's a dome over the courtyard. Inside the prayer area the wall is painted with Islamic art and covered with religious paraphernalia. The overwhelming color is green, but it works because it helps everything match.

Friendliness towards women: The women were in a completely separate part of the building, but I'm to understand that they have an equal access to resources. My female insider has never complained about the mosque so I'm going to assume it's a great place for a woman to pray.

Friendliness of congregation: Incredible. The first thing we did was gather for iftar and even then the mosque leadership was inviting us to the community iftar on Saturday. After dinner a guy came up to us and seemed like he genuinely wanted to get to know us. We had a great conversation and I learned a crapload about this mosque from him.

Do you think it's possible to have a crush on a mosque? I do, because I do. I was floored when I first pulled into the parking lot and saw the beautiful facade of this place. It was definitely not what I'd been expecting.

Let me back up slightly. One of my best friends lives in the area and so I've heard a lot about this mosque. However, it could not have prepared me for the gorgeous exterior of this place. After seeing a string of converted R&D labs, veterans' centers, houses and stores, it was a refreshing change of pace to see a mosque that had been built from the ground up.

The beauty of the mosque was matched by the reception my buddies and I got when we got inside. We were ushered into a side room where we were treated to an iftar, and then gently escorted into the prayer hall for maghrib. After maghrib, the imam treated us to a short talk, which was a brilliant distraction.

You see, this mosque straight up (straight up!) provides a full dinner to its congregation every single night. Not only that, they actually serve YOU the food, instead of you having to stand in a buffet line. Of course, this takes time to set up, so while the mosque volunteers are setting up, the imam delivers a short reminder to the congregation. All in all, it amounts to marvelous hospitality.

It was during the lecture that it became obvious that the "Fiji Masjid" nickname my buddy uses to refer to the mosque is almost a misnomer. The Afghan imam pointed to a black guy, a Pakistani guy, an Iraqi guy, an Indian guy and, of course, a Fijian guy, all in the first row, to highlight the diversity of the congregation (he did it to reiterate the importance of brotherhood). If they'd had a white guy they could have shot a United Colors of Benetton ad on the spot.

I didn't solve the mystery of the lack of Fijians till I spoke to the insider. He informed me that the mosque was indeed founded by Fijians, but about 30 years ago. However, soon after they'd built the mosque, South City became too expensive for them so they moved to Hayward. In fact, the story of the Fijians' migration is a good lesson in the rise of the Bay Area property values. First, they established themselves in SF. When that became too expensive, they moved to the then-industrial city of South City. When that became expensive, they moved to Hayward. How long till Hayward becomes as expensive as the peninsula?

I liked the taraweeh because two young bucks were tag-teaming it. It makes me happy when mosques go with younger imams because it shows their focus on the future. Bigger mosques which have been using the same imam for 20+ years could take a lesson from the Fiji Masjid.

Do visit this masjid, and support them because they are providing valuable services to their community. I was slightly bummed when my buddy informed me I came on a night when they weren't serving Fijian food, but maybe you'll get lucky.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Taqwa Islamic Center

Date visited: August 24, 2010

Location: Fremont, CA
4673 Thornton Ave. Suite M
Fremont, CA 94536

Tag-team Taraweeh: No

Size of congregation: < 50

Capacity of center: ~ 100

Parking: Ample

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: No

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: A unit in a strip mall. However, it was unique in that the congregation was praying perpendicular to (also parallel with?) the walls. Odds are when Muslims convert a building into a prayer space they'll have to pray at an angle because the odds of it lining up in the same direction as Mecca are slim. This wastes precious square footage, props to this community for avoiding this problem.

Friendliness towards women: This is a women's mosque. The first thing I noticed when I stepped into the mosque was the sheer number of women. Since there was no barrier between the men and the women I was able to see that there were maybe five men and fifteen women. By the time the prayer started there were maybe 15 men and 30 women. When taraweeh started the ratio had almost balanced out but there were more women than men. Masha'allah? Masha'allah indeed.

Friendliness of congregation: Great. Small communities are always friendly. Plus 2-3 guys brought a lot of water to share with the congregation, always a nice gesture.

This mosque afforded me a unique opportunity not present at most mosques: I was able to contrast the men's section and women's section because they were only fifteen feet apart. All the men before the prayer were sitting in silent reflection, occasionally a quiet hello to the newcomers. The women, on the other hand, were yakking and yukking to their hearts' content. I won't crack a joke because clearly I wasn't myself engaged in quiet reflection if I was being amused by this spectacle.

It was the women talking that helped me figure out that most of the people in attendance were of the same ethnic group. I mentally narrowed it down to three groups: Turks, Persians and Afghans. I quickly eliminated Turks from the list because after all, it was a mosque (I kid, I kid! I know a religious Turk.) Whatever the language was, I got confirmation that all the women were speaking it when a few minutes before isha the imam addressed the women, cracked a joke and they all elle oh elled.

I'm a big fan of this dimming-of-the-lights-for-taraweeh business. The only time I can recall the MCA dimming its lights during prayer is for qiyam, and I get the feeling that's so they don't disturb the sleepers performing itikaaf. It must be a hanafi thing...

I concluded that this was was Afghan mosque because clearly, these were strong, confident women in the congregation, to be outnumbering the men, and there was market named Little Kabul next door.

One final note: if you do visit this mosque, bring a prayer rug or else you'll be the one chump who didn't.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Masjid ul Haqq

Date visited: August 23, 2010

Location: Saint Matthew, CA
228 N. Ellsworth Ave
San Mateo, CA 94401

Tag-team Taraweeh: No, just the one imam. He also had longer hair than me so I felt like I fit in better here than at other masajid :D

Size of congregation: < 30

Capacity of center: < 200

Parking: Pretty much only street. However, the Caltrain station is a few short blocks away.

Mihrab: Only decorative, not functional

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: A converted house, very similar to the SBIA Center in terms of appearance.

Friendliness towards women: This is the only mosque I have ever seen where the front entrance was reserved for women and women only. Good for them!

Friendliness of congregation: Extreme. I had a very nice conversation with two gentlemen who quickly noticed I wasn't a regular. I explained my mission, received their masha'allahs with grace and learned a lot about the mosque. The younger one, upon hearing I had gone to Berkeley, started playing the do-you-know game with me ("Why, in fact, I DO know William Hung!")

I've always wondered how California would look if its cities had been renamed by white folks. Santa Clara would become Saint Claire, San Mateo Saint Matthew and San Francisco Saint Francis. Actually, I'm glad they didn't rename the cities; Saint Francis doesn't seem a noble enough name for a city with such a rich history. Plus, instead of Frisco the locals would call it Frank, which would be wholly unacceptable.

But I digress. This masjid appears to be a converted house because it's located in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Unlike SBIA, they do not have partnerships with local businesses for parking so I was stuck looking for street parking. It wasn't too big of a deal; after you've dealt with the parking nightmare at MCA everything else is a joke.

The masjid is beautiful, simply gorgeous. I love the fact that they took the time and money to make it actually look like a masjid. Also, since there weren't too many people there, it was quite serene. Some masajid simply invoke feelings of peace because of their idyllic nature; this was definitely one of them.

The community is also very diverse. Both of the insiders I spoke to told me that the community is composed of a variety of ethnicities and they're always looking for more people to welcome. They commended me for my mission to visit a different mosque every night but at the same time insisted that I come again (with friends) to enjoy their iftar. It's stuff like that you just don't see at the bigger mosques.

I'm also a huge fan of how they handled taraweeh. Before he began, the imam pretty much summarized the translation of the verses he was about to read. I've commented before on the benefit of going over the translation beforehand and I respect this mosque for taking the same approach. The difference between this mosque and Stanford was that there were little kids praying as well. I would imagine especially for the little kids to hear the stories of the Quran in a language they can understand is very beneficial for them.

Guess there's just something about the peninsula Muslims; they sure know how to build solid mosques.

Islamic Center of Fremont

Date visited: August 22, 2010

Location: Fremont, CA
4039 Irvington Ave.
Fremont, CA 94538

Tag-team Taraweeh: Yes. They had a starter, a reliever and a closer.

Qirat: As mentioned earlier, they had three huffaz. It went from great to good to excellent

Size of congregation: < 600

Capacity of center: Not big enough for the crowd, they had prayer mats laid out outside

Parking: What the mosque has done is uploaded a parking map on their website. It's a simple Google satellite map, but they've crossed out the lots in which patrons can't park and checked off where they can park. Because of this handy map, I found in addition to parking on the street, I could have parked in a neighboring church parking lot and the lot of a restaurant I won't mention because the owner's not paying me to advertise. This, by the way, is why mosques should have websites; makes everyone's life easier. Some mosques have such useless websites they don't even put their address up.

Mihrab: Yep

Minbar: U know it

Shoe shelves: Lots

Building: A good-sized single-story affair

Friendliness towards women: Such strict segregation I'm pretty sure it's a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I've talked to women about mosques designating a completely separate room for their kind. They say while they understand that some men can't bear the sight of the fairer sex, the problem is a lot of women use the relatively isolation to start chatting with their gal pals, thus raising the noise level to uncomfortable levels for those who actually want to pray.

Friendliness of congregation: Very much so. I made a new friend, whom I'll refer to as the ICF insider, who was invaluable in my understanding of the mosque's dynamics.

The motto of the mosque could be summed up as follows:

If you're brown, stick around.
If you're white, you're all right.
If you're black, please come back.
If you're Arab...get out of here, you lousy Arab, this is a Desi masjid.

Ha, well, okay, it wasn't quite that bad, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a Semite in this crowd. That's okay, though, like I've said before, a lot of these mosques are built along ethnic lines. I found out from my father today that the Jones Straat mosque I hit up last night was founded by Yemenis, which explains why the speech afterward wasn't in English and there was an Arabic US Census sticker near the entrance.

The most fascinating aspect of this mosque is its hafiz-development program. A huge part of its programming is focused on finding youth in the community who have the potential to become qaris. And they do excellent work; I went to college with one of their products and his voice made straight guys swoon.

Everyone leading taraweeh tonight was a product of the program. Their logic is it's not enough to teach the kids how to recite the Quran; to be a really effective school, their policy is to throw the kids into the fire by making them lead taraweeh. The guy who started taraweeh tonight was a mere 17 years of age. Truth be told, when he first stepped up to lead I wondered what kind of hafiz didn't have a beard. Upon learning his age from the insider, I suppose it is too much to expect a baby to have a beard.

I learned that the imam of the masjid (also the closer, by the way) was in the middle of an alim program to become certified as an imam. He'd already finished two years of the program and apparently was heading to Africa del Sur to complete the last five years. This begs the question, does a guy really have to go all the way to South Africa to become certified as an imam? How is it possible that there isn't a decent program in the US?

The length of this program also leads me to conclude that it must be impossible for anyone to pursue a university degree AND become certified as an imam. IT of SBIA is quite proud of the fact he doesn't even have a high school diploma because he started the alim program so early. The takeaway lesson here is if you see a hotshot young imam, you can bet that he sacrificed a higher education to get to where he is today and must be commended for the love he has for his religion.

I do wonder, though, if Islamic religious studies will get to the same level as Christianity. After all, it is very possible for you to earn master's and PhDs in divinity at any Christian university these days. How long before you can earn a PhD in divinity with an emphasis in Islam?

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.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

South Valley Islamic Center

Date visited: August 20, 2010

Location: San Martin, CA (where? Ha, I know, it's kind of out there.  Think Morgan Hill. Where? Shut up.)
14770 Columbet Ave.
San Martin, CA 95046

Tag-team Taraweeh: Yes

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: Tiny. < 30

Capacity of center: More than sufficient for the community

Parking: That's a problem. I was able to find a parking spot because I always come early to unfamiliar mosques, but the lot was full while the mosque wasn't. Also, since it's San Martin, street parking isn't an option because those country roads don't exactly have shoulders.

Mihrab: No

Minbar: No

Shoe shelves: Yes, but for some reason, nobody uses them. I placed my shoes on the shelves next to the only other pair, and saw that those flip-flops had cobwebs all over it. Guess the mosque left a demo pair on the shelves to show folks that they're shoe shelves.

Building: A ranch house

Friendliness towards women: Top notch. From their website: "There is also a women's club that meets regularly at one of the member’s home. Its charter includes, among other social activities, to promote women's interests and participation in the affairs of the mosque and those of the greater community." Active women, gotta love 'em.

Friendliness of congregation: Good. Smaller communities tend to be less exclusive and more welcoming.

This place is exceedingly difficult to find. First of all, I don't know if it's because the ranchers want the animals to sleep, there's no lights on any of the roads. The street signs are tiny and the address markers even smaller. I drove past this place simply because the addresses are so hard to read.

It turns out the mosque is really a ranch house on the back of a community member's property. This definitely made it harder to find, but it was also easy to figure out I'd come to the right place because it was the only place within miles with its lights on. Much love to ranchers and their early bedtimes for making my life a tiny bit easier.

As I entered the center I saw a sign which told me another name for this outfit is the Cordoba Center. Oh, why oh why couldn't the residents of San Martin have declared this ranch house to be a national landmark? They could have stopped these evil Muslims from performing their nefarious prayers right under their noses in a place named after Cordoba, of all places. Cordoba, where the Muslims violated a church by turning it into a mosque. Cordoba, birthplace of Averroes, who made the works of Aristotle accessible to Europe in the Middle Ages...whoops, Fox News forgets to mention that bit of Islamic history.

Anyways, I liked how congenial the congregation was. The person who read the iqama at the beginning of the prayer was an eight-year-old boy, which I thought was simply adorable. You just don't see stuff like that at larger mosques. The recitation was solid because even though the imams were Desi, they didn't rush like the other imams.

Tell you what, stepping outside after prayers to the smell of animal dung made me think of Pakistan. If these folks set out to replicate the mosques of their motherland, they succeeded.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Al-Hilaal Islamic Charitable Foundation

Date visited: 8/19/2010

Location: Milpitas, CA
90 Dempsey Road
Milpitas, CA 95035

Tag-team Taraweeh: No, just one imam

Size of congregation: < 400

Capacity of center: Too small

Parking: Parking is in the charming strip mall parking lot. The mosque shares the lot with numerous liquor stores and even a night club. I wouldn't drive anything new than a 2005 model or else my car would get keyed for sticking out like a sore thumb.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Not enough

Building: Two units in a strip mall.

Friendliness towards women: Separate entrance for women. No way for the women to look into the men's section; folks in these here parts don't believe in one-way mirrors.

Friendliness of congregation: Meh, it's mostly a bunch of old Desi guys wearing kurtas. If we'd been inside a cave in Afghanistan these guys would have fit right in. The guy sitting next to me did offer to share his bottled water with me, so it's important to remember not to judge these books by their covers.

The first thing you notice after you step out of your car is the smell of garbage.  No, that's not the putrid parking lot, that's just Milpitas.  Milpitas is where the trash of the Bay Area goes, and no, I don't mean that it's where the Davis grads of the Bay Area go.  However, it would be terribly unfair of me to dock points from this masjid because of its location.

"Insha'allah I will say insha'allah at the end of every sentence, insha'allah."

That's the prayer the guy making the announcements must have said to himself before he got up to speak.  Seriously, his insha'allah-to-sentence ratio must have been at least 3:1.  It always troubles me when I find that an established mosque such as this one can't find someone articulate to do their announcements.

And this is an established mosque, founded a while back in one of the wealthier parts of the Bay Area.  However, the mosque looks like a piece of crap.  Yes, I realize that when mosque foundations are starting out they're thrilled to have even one storefront property to call their own.  However, after ten plus years, it's wholly unacceptable to be running a joint which is too small for the congregation in terms of size and facilities.  I'm truly curious to find out why they haven't been able to find a nicer place.  I took a look at their website and it turns out to rent this dump they have to pay 8,000 dollars a month.  That's 8,000 dollars down the drain.

The Silicon Valley is a ghost of its former self.  Back in the dot-com heydey, developers built hundreds of new offices buildings to keep up with the booming number of start-ups.  As soon as the dot-com bubble burst, these buildings quickly became vacant.  Most of them are to this day still vacant, and because they have been empty for so long their rents have severely deflated.  If this foundation was smart, they would lease one of those buildings and custom remodel it to suit the needs of their community.

But whatever man, it's not my mosque.  If they want to stay in a facility where they've had to etch new lines into the carpet to compress the congregation into that small space, that's their prerogative.

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.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Blossom Valley Muslim Community Center

Date visited: August 17, 2010

Location: Blossom Valley, San Jose, CA
5885 Santa Teresa Blvd #113
San Jose, CA 95123

Tag-team Taraweeh: No

Size of congregation: Small, > 100

Capacity of center: Very small. They had overflow prayer mats outside

Parking: Cramped. Shared with a bunch of small businesses in a strip mall

Mihrab: Nope

Minbar: Yup

Shoe shelves: Not enough.  Tons of shoes outside

Building: Tiny space in a strip mall.  Definitely not sufficient.

Friendliness towards women: Could be better...while the women and men were entering the mosque from the same door and there was no barrier to hide the fairer sex, I was a bit perturbed by an announcement about the emergency exits.  There are two emergency exits in the mosque, one in the front, one in the back.  The dude made it clear that the one in the back was for women, and the one for men was in the front.  Apparently even in an emergency they don't want men and women making contact.

Friendliness of congregation: Saw a lot of familiar faces.

Please tell me if there's any more categories on which you'd like me to report.

I've always been opposed to the concept of minarets in American mosques.  First of all, those who argue that it's traditional apparently don't know that the Prophet's mosque never had a minaret while he was still alive, let alone the Ka'ba, the holiest site in Islam.  However, when trying to find this mosque, I realized how useful minarets can be.  Imagine that you're an out-of-towner, and say you went to Davis.  You're having trouble finding this place just like you've had trouble finding your way through life.  Instead of getting frustrated by the fact that all strip mall stores look alike, however, all you'd have to do is look for the minaret and you're golden.

This mosque doesn't have a minaret, by the way.  I was just fortunate that because it's Ramadan there was a big enough flock of hijabis heading towards a single location that I was able to find the mosque with ease.  Normally it'd be enough to follow a gaggle of brown people but in this neighborhood, that wouldn't be enough.  This is the district of San Jose that's so brown it elected the city's first Desi city council member.

The first thing I noticed about this mosque was that they had prayer mats outside on the strip mall sidewalk.  Big warning sign of how crowded it was going to get, and I patted myself on the back for being smart and arriving early.  The second thing I noticed was that the carpet was very familiar: it was the same carpet as MCA.  The third thing I noticed was that the imam leading taraweeh at this mosque was one of MCA's resident imams.  The carpet and the imam were enough to convince me that this mosque is MCA, Jr.

And this is a junior mosque.  In terms of square footage it's smaller than the average 3 bedroom house.  Despite the small size and the lack of a non-carpeted surface, however, it seems like the Muslims down here know how to have a good time.  They have plenty of community iftars and have lectures down here all the time.  I must imagine clean-up must be a bitch because it's not easy avoiding spills on a carpeted surface, but hey, they make it work.

After 8 rakats I jetted, but I stuck around to watch the people outside who were praying.  They seemed incredibly serene, and it struck me that they're closest to the Prophetic taraweeh than anyone else in the entire Bay Area.  The Prophet's first mosque didn't have doors; for all practical purposes, it was an outdoor mosque.  I'm just glad for them that Ramadan's moving into the summer months; I can't imagine how terrible winter Ramadans will be if they don't get a new center.  I'm actually surprised they haven't been able to expand into the neighboring stores; given the high rate of small business failures you'd think they could buy them out.  I guess this is one neighborhood where business are actually sticking around, because as far as I know, this mosque is at least 7 years old.

San Ramon Valley Islamic Center

Date visited: August 16, 2010

Location: San Ramon, CA (as if you couldn't tell from the name)
2232 Camino Ramon
San Ramon, CA 94583

Number of imams: 2

Qirat: Both imams were solid, though the second one, who also seemed older, was a bit better. He was also reciting a bit faster, which I've started to think is a sign of experience amongst Desi imams, haha.

Size of congregation: Moderately large. 400 folks?

Capacity of center: Enough, for now. I learned from my pal that the center had purchased the building across the street for expansion purposes.

Parking: Plenty. It's in a suburban commercial center so there was nobody there at night.

Mihrab: Yep

Minbar: Yep

Shoe shelves: NOT ENOUGH. There were maybe 20; each rack had maybe three pairs of shoes in it.

Building: A converted commercial office building. They've made it really classy on the inside, though, you wouldn't know you're in a converted building.

Friendliness towards women: Quite. The women's section was nice and ample, and while I didn't see any, I'm sure they were there.

Friendliness of congregation: Quite. Folks will shake your hands if you stick it out.

Please tell me if there's any categories on which you'd like me to report.

Came here at the behest of my good friend Icon, who promised me I wouldn't be disappointed. We started by doing Maghrib prayer at the San Ramon mosque. The first thing that struck me was how few people were in attendance. The mosques of the MCA are overflowing with worshippers these days; sometimes it's so crowded people have to wait for others to leave before they can pray. Here there were maybe 10 people in attendance, which tells me that the San Ramon community is not centralized around a mosque. Most people live so far away from the mosque that if they drove to the mosque for Maghrib and drove back home, they would have almost no time to eat before coming back for Isha at 9:30. Can't blame them, really.

The mosque is NICE. It looks like an old office in a large commercial complex, but on the inside there's nice plush carpeting and a really nice ambiance in general. I loved the fact that the mosque leadership played with the lighting depending on what prayer was being read; for all of taraweeh we were shrouded in darkness with no light except a few romantic bulbs on the wall. It was all very nice, something bigger centers don't replicate as they resort to using cold white fluorescent bulbs for lighting.

Tag-team taraweeh? You know it. The first imam seemed a little shaky, I don't know if that's the reason why the second imam stepped in, but you could tell he was having trouble remembering that part of the Quran. Again, highlights the difficulty of reciting the Quran in prayer.

The center has purchased a building across the street, which I think is a good move. See, here's why I like MCA. It's not just a mosque, it's a whole center. You want to get married? They can do that. Do you want food? There's a restaurant located within the building. The problem with the San Ramon center is all I saw was a prayer space, which is great, don't get me wrong, especially since it seemed big enough to hold the congregation. The thing is, in this day and age, Muslim organizations need entire community centers which is more than just a place to pray. It ensures that their congregation will come to the mosque at times other prayer times without having rent out expensive city community centers.

Peninsula Muslim Association

Date visited: August 15, 2010

Location: Mountain View, CA
805 W El Camino Real
Mountain View, CA 94040

Number of imams: 1

Size of congregation: TINY. Maybe 15 people showed up.

Capacity of center: The prayer area was more than sufficient for that tiny congregation

Parking: A bitch. It's located on El Camino Real, which means you're relegated to finding street parking on one of the busiest commercial streets in the Bay Area.

Mihrab: Ha, nope.

Minbar: Nope!

Shoe shelves: NOPE. Had to ditch my shoes at the entrance.

Building: It's a rug store, no joke. Plenty of people walking by on El Camino were giving us strange looks, probably wondering what the hell those terrorists were doing in a closed business.

Friendliness towards women: There was one woman in attendance, and unlike Saratoga, where there were no barriers, she was forced to pray behind a barrier. I didn't even see her till I was leaving.

Friendliness of congregation: Very. It's so small they can't be rude.

Please tell me if there's any categories on which you'd like me to report.

I think was my favorite taraweeh to date. I don't even know how people would find it before the magic of the interwebs because of its unique location. When I first saw that it was being held in "The Rug Store" I didn't know what to expect.

When I got there, the first thing I saw was the strip of land on which the rug store is located is for sale. Blame the bad economy, but the point is, there's a chance that the PMA will have to find a new location for its taraweeh. Too bad, too, because it was AWESOME.

I had no idea of what to do once I got there. All the other businesses were closed, even the Peet's, so I could do nothing except wait outside the store. Eventually, someone showed up at 9:35, the first clue which lead me to believe that the crowd here would pale in comparison to all the other crowds I'd seen.

I was correct, maybe ten people showed up at the start of the prayer and at its peak 15 people were present. However, it was such an intimate setting I couldn't help but to enjoy myself. It was almost like being transported back in time; this is what taraweeh in the Bay Area probably looked like in the 1970s.

I did again get asked what I was doing there, but not because they recognized me for who I was; they only had to hear that I was from Santa Clara to query me. I only appreciate MCA more when I'm away with it; I never truly appreciate how large that community is till I see tiny congregations like the one I saw in Mountain View.

No tag-teaming here, but I was kind of surprised to see that the guy leading the prayer was recording himself on camera. Why? Did he think his technique could get better by looking at video of himself?

There was one woman there, an 80-year-old grandma, and they made her pray behind a thick wooden barrier. Come on, guys, is that really necessary? One reason why some women in MCA advocated for a permanent barrier was so they could breastfeed their children if need be. Trust me, I don't think any woman's going to want to breastfeed her child in the rug store.

Yaseen Foundation

Date visited: August 14, 2010

Location: Belmont, CA
621 Masonic Way
Belmont, CA 94002

Number of imams: 2

Qirat: I liked Imam Abdurrahman's recitation.  He's more meticulous than his brothers IT and II.  Too bad he did only four rakats because the other guy's not that great.  A Yaseen Foundation insider tells me that Imam A has been lazy this year or else he'd be doing more rakats :D

Size of congregation: 300-400

Capacity of center: Too small. I don't know if they can afford it, but they need to find a bigger building pronto.

Parking: Not enough. I showed up a half-hour before prayers so I was parked right next to the main entrance, but I imagine most of the congregation had to find street parking in a mostly residential neighborhood, no easy task.

Mihrab: Yep

Minbar: Yep

Shoe shelves: Yep

Building: A tiny building. Really small for the community; the president said that they're expecting 2,000 people for their Eid prayers.

Friendliness towards women: They used the same entrance as the men, but were forced into a room with a door, thus ensuring we would neither hear them nor see them :D

Friendliness of congregation: Very. I mean, it was incredible how many strangers were coming up to me to say hi.

Please tell me if there's any categories on which you'd like me to report.

The people up here are so friendly it's ridiculous. I started my evening with an iftar at the mosque, which up to this point I'd been avoiding because I lived so close to the mosques I'd been visiting I could eat at home. However, when I started this project, I realized if a mosque is more than 20 miles away, I should definitely eat at or near the mosque. Here's why: these days, sunset's hovering around 8 PM. They start Isha at 9:30. They could start Isha later to give people more time to eat, but I think people would much rather get home earlier to get enough sleep for the next day than get a few more minutes to eat.

Anyways, during the iftar, random people were saying hello to me, asking how I was doing. I had come with a friend because I didn't want to be the loner eating by himself, but I quickly realized even if I had come by myself I would have had company during my meal, no problem. It's something that's disappeared from MCA as the community has gotten larger, which is to be expected. Small-town America is purported to be a much nicer place to live than Big-city America for the exact same reason.

Since my friend and I were strangers, we got to the masjid super-early because we had nowhere else to go. My ex-roommate, who frequents this mosque, was nowhere to be found so we chilled in the parking lot till 9:30. One thing that struck me about this community was the balance of Arabs and Desis; it took me back to MCA. Unfortunately, most mosques in the Bay Area are built along ethnic lines so it was refreshing to see this diverse community.

I liked the mosque building, it reminded me a lot of Masjid An-Noor, MCA's first mosque. However, just like Masjid An-Noor, I know it would fail to meet the capacity requirements for this growing community. I'm not sure what this foundation has planned, but I hope for their sake they find a bigger building because trust me, it's not fun to pray in a sardine can. Way back before MCA bought its center Masjid An-Noor was so crowded people used to have to pray on each other backs due to a lack of space.

I liked the imam, and not just because he's the third Anwar brother. Seems like a nice, friendly guy, always smiling and shaking hands. I think in this day and age it's become even more important to have a friendly, charismatic person leading your mosque. He did break my heart, though, because after leading four rakats he tagged himself out. I personally like his recitation the best out of all the Anwar brothers so I was disappointed to have to listen to a mediocre recitation for the rest of Taraweeh.

I did like the fact that they do witr the Maliki way here. I can tell it always throws people off because it's such an uncommon way to do it in the Bay.

I was tickled by the fact that the women's section has a solid door, thus ensuring they will be neither seen nor heard. It is literally impossible for any man to even peek inside that section. They, however, have a clear view of us thanks to one-way mirrors.

South Bay Islamic Association Evergreen Center

Date visited: August 13, 2010

Location: Evergreen, San Jose, CA
2486 Ruby Ave
San Jose, CA 95148


Number of imams: 2

Qirat: Not bad.  I liked Imam Ilyas' better than the other guy's, but he's not as good as his brother, Imam Tahir

Size of congregation: Small. Maybe 200 people

Capacity of center: Not big enough. Folks were squeezed into that tiny place. They are building a new center on the same plot, but judging by the plans, I'm thinking it's already too small for that community. Folks estimate there's close to a thousand Muslims families in that part of San Jose.

Parking: Not enough. There's a parking lot, but I had to find street parking. I did find parking right across the street, though, so it's not like I had to walk for too long.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Not enough. I had to leave my shoes on the floor outside, which would have gotten gross had it been winter.

Building: A converted house. However, as mentioned earlier, they're building a new center, due to be finished in 9 months or so.

Friendliness towards women: The women were sequestered in a completely different room with its own entrance. However, it is a predominantly Desi community, so they're not too conservative.

Friendliness of congregation: Folks will say hi to you, but since it's an old and established community it's hard to break into the many social circles, especially if you're not brown.

Please tell me if there's any categories on which you'd like me to report.

This place is too god damn small given the size of its community. I showed up at 9:28, two minutes before the prayer started and the hall was already full. This posed a problem because people, especially Muslims, are never running on time and I genuinely do not know where the latecomers prayed. What kind of irked me about the mosque was that the new one they're building alongside this shack of a masjid didn't seem to be much bigger. That's the problem with the Muslim community; they only build what they can afford without thinking about the future. The new mosque will be gorgeous, I'm sure, but what good is a new building if it's going to be too small in 10 years?

Tag-team taraweeh (I'm going to trademark that phrase) reared its pretty head again. Imam Tahir's little brother, Imam Ilyas, ran half the show down here. The Anwar brothers, I learned have been trained to do taraweeh as quickly as possible; the imam who started the taraweeh here actually took his time. I didn't think it was possible for a Desi imam to do taraweeh slowly, and yet here he was.

Oh yes, got another, "what are you doing here?" at this masjid as well. I did get a masha'Allah when I told him about my quest, but still, I started wondering, am I ever going to be able to step out of my father's shadow? When am I finally going to be old enough for people to stop assuming I'm at a mosque with my dad?

West Valley Islamic Association

Date visited: August 12, 2010

Location: Saratoga, CA
19848 Prospect Rd
Saratoga, CA 95070

Number of imams: 1

Size of congregation: Small. Maybe 200 people

Capacity of center: It's a city community center designed to hold no more than 350 people. None of us were cramped for space.

Parking: Ample. Bless you, suburbia. It's located in the middle of a residential neighborhood, though, so it's essential for worshippers to enter and exit quietly lest their permit be revoked.

Mihrab: Nope

Minbar: Nope

Shoe shelves: Definitely a no. Folks were leaving their shoes at the door, thus making the classy Saratoga center look like a trashy third-world mosque from the outside.

Building: The Saratoga Prospect Community Center. Nice building, but definitely not made for Muslims and their prayers. The organization laid down carpet on the wooden floor so it didn't hurt to pray, but still.

Friendliness towards women: Very. Since it's a small congregation and it's not a traditional mosque, they had no barriers between the men and the women. So, women could technically check out men's butts when praying, but whatever, I got nothing to hide.

Friendliness of congregation: It's an offshoot of MCA, which means everyone already has their cliques, making it hard to get to know people.

Please tell me if there's any categories on which you'd like me to report.

This was my second time checking out this taraweeh. The one thing I remember from last time was how anal the mosque leadership was about the noise level; given the center's location in the middle of a residential neighborhood, they were adamant about make sure their congregation did not make the mistake of making even a peep while they were outside the building.

I got another, "what are you doing here?" reaction from an uncle. Apparently to my father's friends I'm not the kind of guy who'd willingly go to a mosque without prodding from my parents, which is true to a certain extent. It may sound strange, but all the hate spewing from the mouths of Republicans has made me a stronger Muslim. I've become determined to practice my faith to the best of my abilities to show everyone that Muslim American isn't an oxymoron.

I liked that this community isn't extreme enough to set up barriers between men and women. That's what I like best about smaller Muslim communities: they seem less determined to enforce strict gender segregation. It is a shame to me that the larger a Muslim community gets the more likely they are to impose stricter guidelines for appropriate gender interaction. I've always wondered why when a Muslim community is small that it's okay for women to get a clear view of our butts sticking in the air but as soon as the community gets a tiny bit larger it becomes necessary to put up barriers to curtail the women's viewing pleasure.

South Bay Islamic Association Center

Date visited: August 11, 2010

Location: Downtown San Jose, CA
325 North 3rd Street
San Jose, CA 95112

Number of imams: 2

Qirat: I liked Imam Tahir's recitation because of how quick yet clear it was.  It was a real pleasure listening to him.  The other guy was a notch below in terms of quality.

Size of congregation: I'd say about 400 people were in attendance the night I was

Capacity of center: Good for the congregation. There was plenty of spillover space

Parking: A bitch. Downtown San Jose isn't the best place to find parking, especially since the city started charging for paking in their lots after 6 PM. I came early and found parking in their tiny lot.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: It was definitely converted, but I can't tell what it was before.

Friendliness towards women: Good. Women weren't put in a separate room, but there was a barrier to separate the sexes.

Friendliness of congregation: Good. Folks are happy to see you here.

Please tell me if there's any categories on which you'd like me to report.

The last time I went to this mosque was the first time the resident imam, one Tahir Anwar, had finished the Quran while taraweeh in Ramadan. As a young child, one of the things which struck me was how the imam started openly weeping during the closing dua. I remember mocking him at the time because who cried during prayer? Sheikh Jibreel had never cried like that, and he was my standard for what imams should be. My parents patiently explained to me that the young imam's heart was still soft, and that it was common for people to be so moved by the Quran. I later developed a tremendous respect for the imam the more I thought about how much love and respect he had for his faith.

Folks were surprised to see me. I'm what you can call an MCA poster child; I've grown up close to the mosque almost all my life and my father was president of the organization in the early 90s. There's always been an underlying tension between MCA and SBIA; SBIA was founded because certain individuals felt like MCA was not going in the right direction. The story of SBIA's founding only underlines the fact that due to the vastness of the Islamic world, it's hard for Muslims to see eye-to-eye.

Imam Tahir kicked off the night by leading Isha, but my heart sank when he announced they'd hired an imam from Leicester, UK to lead taraweeh. What was this crap, I thought, I was hoping to hear IT recite the Quran. SBIA was in fact that first mosque where I experienced tag-team taraweeh, where 2 or more people lead taraweeh. Growing up in MCA, where Sheikh Jibreel ruled supreme, it was unusual for me to witness this collaboration. After speaking to my father later, he said that Sheikh Jibreel is the exception, not the norm; it is so difficult to prepare for even 8 rakats of taraweeh that oftentimes masajid split the duties amongst many imams.

The biggest difference between SBIA and MCA is the speed at which they do taraweeh. Sheikh Jibreel is meticulous in his recitation, which means it can take close to two hours for him to finish 20 rakats. Imam Tahir and his cohort finished taraweeh in 55 minutes thanks to their rapid-fire Desi style of recitation. Frankly, I was impressed at how quickly the man was spitting Arabic, but I saw that he also made more mistakes than Sheikh Jibreel because of his speed. However, since at the end of the day everyone has to go to work in the morning, I'm sure nobody was complaining that IT finished taraweeh in half the time of MCA.

Muslim Community Association of the San Francisco Bay Area

Date visited: Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Location: Santa Clara, CA
3003 Scott Blvd.
Santa Clara, CA 9505

Number of imams: 1. Sheikh Jibreel is a stud because he's one of the few imams in the area who leads 20 rakats by himself.

Qirat (recitation): Excellent.  My standard for recitations.

Size of congregation: Large. Easily a thousand people were in attendance

Capacity of center: Large. I believe this center can hold up to 2,500 people with ease

Parking: Ample. Thanks to its suburban commercial location, there's plenty of street parking in addition to a good-sized parking lot.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Plentiful

Building: Converted HP R&D center

Friendliness towards women: Good. The women are made to pray a separate room, but through the magic of one-way mirrors, they are able to see the front of the mosque and theoretically the imam while he's leading the prayers.

Friendliness of congregation: It's very large, so it can be hard to take initiative and approach people. The mosque board is very welcoming, however, so it's easy to make friends through the many events the mosque hosts.

Please tell me if there's any categories on which you'd like me to report.

This is my home mosque, so I really can't write about any first impressions. I can only comment on my displeasure with the direction the remodeling project is taking. For some reason, the powers that be decided it was more essential to build a relatively expensive minaret instead of adding something more functional, like a second men's bathroom.

Intro

My name is Zuhair (pronounced: Zuhair) and I am unemployed. Ramadan is upon us and I've taken it upon myself to use my free time wisely by praying taraweeh in a different Bay Area masjid every night.

What is taraweeh? That's a fair question.

My reasons for doing this are twofold. First of all, I've always been curious to see how many different kinds of mosques there are in the Bay Area. I've always been aware that they run a pretty wide spectrum, but I need to see for myself.

My second reason is to show the Islam-hating mosque-bashers out there (and there are plenty) that Muslims aren't going anywhere. We have every right to build our places of worship and have all over the Bay Area. I'm fully confident that I'll be able to find 30 mosques in 30 nights with ease.