Thursday, September 9, 2010

Conclusion

Well, it's done. 30 mosques? Check. 30 nights? Thanks to some arguably shady moonsighting, also check.

Before I continue, please check out this map I made.  It's a map detailing the locations of all the masajid I visited, just in case you're not familiar with the geography of the San Francisco Bay Area.  As this map shows, there is a mosque in each of the six Bay Area counties and you really don't need to travel more than twenty miles (and that's if you're being picky) without hitting one.  How many parts of the US can say the same?

Here's the really amazing part.  I barely scratched the surface of San Francisco, and I didn't have enough time to hit up all the mosques in Oakland.  There's also scores of masajid scattered around the Bay I didn't even bother looking up because I knew I only had 30 days.

Another cool thing is I could not have done this project 30 years ago...well, maybe if I renamed it 3 Mosques in 30 Nights.  Muslims have literally exploded onto the scene over the past couple decades and I saw for myself that each of the communities is at its own stage of development.  That's what made this project so exciting; if every mosque had been the same I would have been bored by the tenth day.

I would like to thank Mohammed Khan (gasp!  I used his first AND last name.  Relax, that only narrows it down to about 20 million men) for first planting in my head the idea to create the blog.  When I first came up with this project over a year ago, I figured I'd just leave the memories in my mind.  Now I'm so glad I didn't.

Icon, thanks for giving me the encouragement to actually start the blog.  I'd been wavering after my conversation with Mohammed, but Icon, tired of having only medical textbooks for reading material, provided the final push I needed to start publishing my thoughts.

To The Haashole, thanks for keeping me company on some of the long drives and my visits to alien mosques.  I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb at some of these masajid and it was nice to have good company to fall back on.

Finally, I'd like to announce my favorite masjid.  This masjid will be getting a share of my zakat money.  And this establishment is...

Al-Hilaal in Milpitas.

Hahahaha, no, can you imagine?  If I gave them my zakat money they'd probably spend it all on Febreeze to cover up the smell from the Dixon Landing landfill.

No, but seriously, I was most impressed by the Yaseen Foundation in Belmont.  It's a diverse community lead by a charismatic young Desi imam and a board with an Arab presence.  They've already established a beautiful little masjid and have their sights set on developing a larger property.  If they play their cards right, they're poised to overtake the MCA as the premier masjid of San Francisco Bay Area.

Thanks for reading this, because it's been a blast writing it.  Merry Eid to all and to all a good night.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Masjidul Waritheen

Date visited: September 8, 2010

Location: Oakland, CA
1652 47th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94601

Tag-team Taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: ~ 50

Capacity of center: < 400

Parking: Street. Be warned, this is the kind of neighborhood where the houses have tall fences and doors are protected by iron grills.

Mihrab: No

Minbar: They had a lectern, not a minbar.

Shoe shelves: Some

Building: A mosque/school combo

Friendliness towards women: High. Lots of women were present, and they got to take their food first during iftar.

Friendliness of congregation: Very high. You could strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone in this place.

One thing had been lacking in my quest to visit 30 mosques this past month. Even though I'd already been to two mosques in Richmond and four in Oakland, none of them had been African-American masajid. Yes, there was a smattering of African-Americans at all the masajid I did visit, but because of that, I made the decision to skip Berkeley and go to an authentic African-American mosque.

I find street parking and the first thing I notice is I've already seen two churches on this one block alone. I see that I've overshot the address of the mosque by a block so I start walking up towards the Oakland Hills. Then it hits me.

I heard the adhan. I'm not even kidding, it's like they've attached speakers outside so everyone within a reasonable proximity knows that this is a masjid. I trace the source of the sound and was stunned. The masjid was the largest building in the neighborhood, and dwarfed the two churches. This was the first time I'd ever seen a mosque dwarf a neighborhood church, and I marveled at the sight.

The building itself appears to be a converted church. The mosque is part of a large nationwide network of masajid, run by the son of the late Elijah Muhammad (yes, that Elijah Muhammad). They really haven't done much to change the church because it was clearly so functional for this community. You come inside and you can tell what is now the prayer space used to be where the pews stood, and where the Christian worshippers used to face.

By a lucky coincidence, the Muslims at the mosque pray almost in the opposite direction. What's cool about the prayer space is that the mosque wasn't leveled properly so everyone is praying uphill. It's a strange feeling praying on a surface which is angling upwards. I really don't think I could get used to it even if I came here every day.

The prayer hall is painted green and white, and is covered with a plush green carpet. There is a banquet hall right next door, where they served us iftar and I think where the children eat lunch every day.

Oh yes, there is a school on site as well, the Clara Mohammed elementary school. It warmed my heart to see that this community values education so much they established a school right next to the mosque. The proximity of the school would also explain the balloons and lights strung from the walls which celebrated the coming of Ramadan and the nearness of Eid.

The people are absolutely beautiful. Yes, I have been blessed with a large amount of hospitality this Ramadan, but this was only the second masjid where the men and women were kind and courteous towards me. Unfortunately, in the immigrant communities, it seems like gender interaction is frowned upon, even if it is civil and modest. Tell you what, you will never see a woman serving a man food at MCA, or a man serving a woman, for that matter.

The stark contrast between this mosque and the mosque in which I was raised made me think I made a good decision wrapping up this project here and not somewhere else. The whole point of me burning dozens of gallons of gas this month was to see just how different the communities of the Bay Area are. Well, it doesn't get much different from MCA than this.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lighthouse Mosque

Date visited: September 7, 2010

Location: Oaklandish, CA
4606 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Oakland, CA, 94609

Tag-team Taraweeh: As far as I know, nope.

Qirat: There weren't no taraweeh tonight.

Size of congregation: Small. I'll explain later.

Capacity of center: 150, if even that.

Parking: Street. Be warned, this is the kind of neighborhood where you might come out and see someone sitting on the hood of your car. It HAS happened with me once.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: Could be described as a large studio apartment, haha.

Friendliness towards women: Nary a one. However, since this is a Zaid Shakir joint, if they were here, they'd be sitting next to the men during iftar.

Friendliness of congregation: Astronomical. The funny part is the guys I met first weren't even from Oakland. One was from LA, the other from Sacramento, but since they'd been spending the past few nights at the mosque they acted like hosts.

Whoever walks through the doors of this mosque owns it. Or, at least, that's how it felt tonight. There were so few people there I was actually invited to lead Maghrib. Lucky for them, I didn't want to.

Zaid Shakir runs a pretty tight ship here, so tight he doesn't even need to be here to manage things. I was stunned to see how everything was running so smoothly when there didn't even seem to be someone in charge. A generous woman dropped off food for iftar, which was received by the two out-of-towners doing itikaaf. The two out-of-towners set up dinner because they already knew where everything was. It's stunning to see such hospitality when nobody could really call themselves the hosts.

This community is pretty awesome, though. I mean, the woman dropped off food and apparently does it regularly during Ramadan without even being asked. She's been dropping off so much food that the fridge is full of leftovers from a couple days ago.

The only directive I really saw was one asking that the kitchen be kept clean. Stunningly, it was. I say stunning because you can find the same signs hanging in some masajid in the Bay and lord knows those aren't clean.

Iftar ended up being me and four other guys. There was enough food to feed 30 people. Such is the generosity of the people who are supporting this mosque.

That said, it's not like this is a lonely masjid tucked away in a dusty corner of Oakland. Apparently they had a fundraising dinner the night before which was so large they had to hold it at a local community center. The impressive thing is, they're not even raising money to remodel the center, which is quite frankly the number one priority for most mosques. They were raising money primarily to continue providing services to their community. This is a very active mosque in that lectures are held here on a weekly basis, if not more frequent.

That's what I liked best about tonight. This is a relatively famous mosque, and on a night when other mosques would be packed with people eating iftar, I got to enjoy a serene dinner with four other guys. It was one of the most unique experiences I've had this Ramadan and one that will probably be hard to replicate in the future.

As a parting gift, one of my dinner companions gave me the gift of non-alcoholic beer. Because that had Ramadan written all over it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Islamic Center of Mill Valley

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.

Minbar: Yes

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!

Islamic Community of Bay Area Bosniaks

Date visited: September 5, 2010

Location: San Jose, CA
1445 Koll Circle #103
San Jose, CA 95112

Tag-team Taraweeh: Nope

Qirat: Good!

Size of congregation: 300-400

Capacity of center: 250 (yeah, there were people praying in the parking lot behind the unit)

Parking: Tight. The Koll Center is home a lot of the Bay Area's biggest radio stations (e.g. 98.5 KFOX, Channel 92.3) so I'm sure their employees didn't appreciate how we took up most of their parking.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: A unit in the Koll Center. Far too small for the community, and they've already purchased a bigger building to suit their needs.

Friendliness towards women: Extreme. Women and men were mingling like it was no big deal. After taraweeh, the imam had some girls come up to the front for their Night of Power celebration.

Friendliness of congregation: Gosh. Some people follow the sunnah of the Prophet, and others embody it. These folks fall in the latter category.

Way back, in the early '90s, I was a young child bumbling through the halls of the MCA Islamic Center. While traversing the building one day, I came across another child, a white child. "Me Eldin," he said. I later laughed at length with my friends at this kid. What kind of white kid didn't know how to speak English? As I started looking around, I noticed there wasn't just one of them, but literally dozens.

These children, and their parents, were of course Bosnian refugees, who were escaping ethnic cleansing in their homeland. The US government placed them in the Bay Area, and the MCA, being one of the bigger mosques in the area, welcomed the new community with open arms.

However, as time passed, I noticed fewer and fewer Bosnians at the mosque. Soon there came a day that I didn't see any Bosnians at a prayer. I learned that they had formed their own masjid, whose location I didn't learn till about two weeks ago.

Today was my opportunity to learn more about this community. My ex-roommate was Bosnian, and he prepared his parents for my arrival. He told me the community would be thrilled to host me, and he wasn't lying.

My friend and I stuck out like sore thumbs at this mosque. Literally everyone, save for one other person, was Bosnian. You want try something surreal? Try taking in a mosque where almost everyone except for three people are Caucasian.

However, at this mosque, the lingua franca is Bosnian. This community has refused to succumb to the pressures of assimilation and have made the collective decision to preserve their culture as best they can by speaking only Bosnian at the mosque. In my opinion, they've succeeded. I've never been to Bosnia, but from what I saw today, I got a pretty accurate picture of what Ramadan in that country looks like.

"Are you Zuhair?"

I turned around and saw a friendly woman looking at me. She was my ex-roommate's mother. I was surprised for a half-second that she was able to recognize me, and then I remembered, oh yeah, I'm one of three brown people in a crowd of 400 white people. Anyways, her approach led to me being connected with my ex-roommate's father. I used this to ask a burning question I had about this community.

Why did they break away from MCA? It turns out, the answer makes a lot of sense. My ex-roommate's father explained the biggest reason they formed their own community center was because the older refugees simply did not speak English. MCA does its Friday sermons and generally all of its communication is in English. Truth be told, I can't blame them. If I suddenly had to relocate to a country with an alien language, I'd feel more comfortable in an English-speaking mosque as well.

The secondary reasons were the religious practices at MCA seemed strange to them. The Bosnians hailed from a culture which prescribed to a different school of Islamic law so some of the customs at MCA seemed too bizarre. Most notably was the practice at MCA of people leaving after praying 8 rakats of taraweeh. Bosnians believe that taraweeh should be 20 rakats, no discussion.

The uniformity in this community is amazing. Everyone is on the same page when it comes to prayer. For example, when Isha ended, everyone immediately got up for sunnah. At a big mosque like MCA, you'll see some people making dua, some people not praying sunnah and folks moving around to pray sunnah. Also, after every two rakats of taraweeh, everyone was saying the same dua in unison, another practice alien to MCA. All in all, my taraweeh experience at this mosque was very different from MCA and the more time I spent there the more I understood the need the community had to establish their own home.

I have a lot of respect for the uniformity of this mosque. If they keep it up, their traditions won't disappear and they'll preserve their culture. MCA was essentially started by three guys who decided to start praying jummah together on Fridays. Now, MCA's bending the rules by having jummah before the actual time for zuhr. Would the guys who "started" MCA be shocked at this practice? Probably. Ironically, I'm willing to bet that the guys who started MCA are still somehow involved in the mosque and may have been responsible for that decision.

Anyways, my point is, if this mosque plays its cards right, in 20 years they'll be doing their prayers the same way they were doing them today, and I assume that's the same way they did them back home. However, I recognize a big reason why MCA even started to change and evolve was the introduction of new ethnic groups in the populace. Is this Bosnian mosque destined to acquire community members of a previously unrepresented ethnic group, just as MCA was 15 years ago? Mayhaps...and it'd be interesting to see how that plays out, if it happens.

To end on a lighter note, taraweeh tonight was only 8 rakats. Seemed kind of funny, especially after my ex-roommate's father emphasized that taraweeh should be 20 rakats.

No, let's end on a serious note. Like I mentioned earlier, everything was being said in Bosnian. My friend and I were therefore lost, and that just made us feel even more like we were in a foreign country. However, as soon as the prayer started, a feeling of peace washed over me. I sure couldn't understand what was being said before the prayer, but as soon as the prayer started, we were all on the same page. That's the wonderful thing about Islam. I could go to the most wretched place on Earth but still find someone and say, "Okay, my UC Davis brother, it's time to pray, let's do this."

The Catholic church had the same thing going on, what with Latin being their universal language, but we have the Vatican II to thank for practically getting rid of that.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Zahra Center/Muslim Community Center of East Bay

Date visited: September 4, 2010

Location: Pleasantville, CA
Zahra Center
1249 Quarry Ln
Pleasanton, California 94566

MCC East Bay
5724 W. Las Positas Blvd. #300
Pleasanton, CA 94588

Tag-team Taraweeh: Not that I could tell. Definitely not at the first one.

Qirat: Great, not fantastic, at the second one.

Size of congregation: 200-300

Capacity of center: 500?

Parking: Both were in business parks.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: No/Yes

Building: Business park offices

Friendliness towards women: Okay at both

Friendliness of congregation: Could have been better at the first one, good at the second one.

Google Maps and my 2010 California Prayer Locations guide led me astray today.  I knew I was going to MCC East Bay tonight, so I looked up the address and even googled "MCC East Bay" and came up with the first address.

I was running a little late tonight because of a fundraising dinner I'd attended earlier in the evening, so I didn't expect to catch Isha prayer.  I pulled up to the Quarry Lane address and found parking with relative ease.  The first thing I saw was a sign saying, "Zahra Center." This didn't immediately strike me as strange because oftentimes an organization will give their mosque a different name.

However, as I entered, I started to get an uncomfortable feeling.  Nobody was in taraweeh mode.  There was an imam lecturing in the front, which wasn't too strange, since often times mosques have speeches in between Isha and taraweeh, but I started getting weirded out when a man told the women to quiet down because the "program" had begun.  I started thinking, mostly about the fact that the only Zahra I'd really known was a...

I exited the prayer space to text my buddy Icon to find out if I was at the right place.  A man approached me, who at first seemed friendly but as it turns out came up to me because he thought I was taking a picture.  I picked my words carefully.

"Do you pray taraweeh here?"

I was also mulling, "Is this a Shia mosque?" but opted against it because it could come off as a slur.  It turns out I made a good choice because he described the community as being "Jafri" (read: Shia).  He then proceeded to give me an earful about how the Prophet never prayed taraweeh in congregation and how we shouldn't either.

That's what pisses me off about Shias.  I don't go up to Shias and try to tell them why they should pray taraweeh in congregation, or why it's okay to have a ski trip in muharram, or why it's not the worst thing to name your child Muawiyah or Yazid.  Almost all the Shias I've met have been fiercely critical of taraweeh in congregation, and I think they should give it a rest.  The fact is, even if it was an innovation, as they claim, it was approved by the scholarship at the time and if it really was so offensive the practice wouldn't have survived for the nearly 1,500 years it has.  Let us Sunnis do what we do, and we'll be more than happy to let you do what you do.  I almost felt tempted to blow this guy's mind by telling him about the Shia ISSU president who lead taraweeh, but I excused myself gracefully by explaining we still had to go to the Sunni masjid because we wanted to pray Isha in a congregation.

The MCC is a smart community.  They've purchased a large office building, are leasing out half of it and are making do with the large space they have to work with.  They're cutting down on operating costs by collecting rent and the current size of the center seems to be suiting them fine for now.  I have a lot of respect for communities who have the vision to invest in a project designed to meet the needs of their congregation 10-20 years down the line.  They and the Yaseen Foundation of Belmont have put together successful fundraisers this Ramadan and I think their intelligent leadership has them on track to build functional community centers.

Tonight also reminded me it's almost easier to find strange masajid located in business parks and not residential neighborhoods.  Even though we were late and couldn't exactly follow the stream of traffic, we really had to only look for the business park with a full parking lot and a bunch of brown folk chatting outside.  It never fails.

I talked to my buddy Icon about my experience and it turns out Google and the California Guide are not completely wrong.  Apparently MCC rents the location at which the Shia masjid is now located, thus making the Shia masjid sublettors..  However, this makes my experience at the Shia masjid even more troubling, because when I asked the man how to get to the Pleasanton mosque, he claimed the only Sunni masjid in the area was in San Ramon.  Why would a tenant lie about the existence of their landlord?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Islamic Society of East Bay

Date visited: September 3, 2010

Location: Fremont, CA
33330 Peace Terrace
Fremont, 94555

Tag-team Taraweeh: Yes

Qirat: Depends on who it is. One of them had a voice that wouldn't stop quivering.

Size of congregation: Large, about 400

Capacity of center: There was a lot of spillover in the courtyard.

Parking: Plenty.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: Two symmetrical structures. Kind of pretty to look at.

Friendliness towards women: Not bad

Friendliness of congregation: It was a busy night, but folks here are generally friendly.

This mosque's story always makes me crack up. When I was a young child, one day my dad bundled us all up in the car and we made the trek to Fremont for a mosque fundraiser. At this fundraiser, I learned that a Muslim group had bought a parcel of land right next to a church and planned to build a grand mosque on it. Parking wouldn't be a problem because the church already had a large lot and they could build one of their own.

Oh, and the model they'd built! It was gorgeous. It looked like a classic masjid, with a courtyard, sculpted pillars, a dome, a minaret and all in all a lot of space. These people seemed to know what they wanted and I was actually kind of excited about how the mosque would look when it was completed.

Fast forward a few years. I visited this place for the first time when I was in high school, and I noticed instead of a grand mosque, all they'd built was a relatively tiny building. Worse, they had left NO room for future expansion without destroying part of the building. This I knew they would never do because they'd built the outer wall with marble imported from India. Part of me of course wondered if they'd cut back a little on the Indian marble, could they have built a bigger space?

I do have a fond memory of that visit, though. I remember they had a sign near the bathroom pointing to their "voodoo" area.

Anyways, this place was not big enough for the crowd yesterday. And yes, I know that the mosque is never this crowded because it was a weekend night in Ramadan, but honestly, Muslims need to start building their mosques with Ramadan in mind. They should start to think like convention centers. Nobody ever books the big 4,500 person space at the Santa Clara Convention Center but they still have it because occasionally, someone will book it and that's when they'll make their money. Similarly, since mosque traffic is never as high as it is during Ramadan, the mosque boards need to build their mosques with that month in mind. More people equals more donations. Simple as that.

Basically, that's what upsets me about this space. They did have the space to build a grand mosque with the capabilities to outshine MCA but they blew it with short-sightedness. Now instead of one grand building they have two buildings which aren't even connected.

I did take my newt's eggs, cow femur and snake venom into the masjid with me yesterday, but I saw that they have stopped referring to their wudu area as a voodoo area. Sad day.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Islamic Center of West Contra Costa County

Date visited: September 2, 2010

Location: Richmond, CA
1110 36th St.
Richmond, 94804

Tag-team Taraweeh: No

Size of congregation: 30-40

Capacity of center: 200-250

Parking: Small parking lot, mostly street

Mihrab: No

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Plenty

Building: Relatively new mosque; it was built when I was young. It's in a pretty sketchy neighborhood; it's surrounded by an iron fence with thick padlocks at every gate.

Friendliness towards women: There were plenty of women there, and they were treated equally when it came to iftar time.

Friendliness of congregation: Very. Lots of food was passed around.

I don't know much about this place. I do remember coming here more than a few times as a child, but it had been more than ten years since I visited this place today. That would explain why everything seemed smaller than I remember it.

Don't get me wrong, it's a very nicely-sized center. And yes, it actually is a center, they have a kitchen and a few open spaces which double as classrooms. They walls are covered in decorations and the prayer space has a beautiful new carpet. It's clear that the congregation takes a lot of pride in its center.

I struck up a conversation with the dude next to me because he saw my Berkeley sweatshirt (no confusion about how someone knew I went to Berkeley tonight). I appreciate these conversations because it opens my eyes to how hard the folks up here really have it. It makes me thankful for all the things I do have, mostly my youth. I can get by on a low salary because I don't have any roots or anyone to support. I'm meeting guys who are struggling to make ends meet because they've been relegated to part-time jobs while supporting entire families. There's plenty of cases like that in the South Bay too, but I guess it took me relocating to a new neighborhood to become familiar with them.

This mosque is a Tablighi mosque. That said, I've realized, especially in Ramadan, the background of a mosque shouldn't impact my decision to stop by for prayer. All I do these days at these mosque is eat and pray...and love the fact that I still have the opp to check out a different mosque every night.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Masjid Abu Bakr

Date visited: September 1, 2010

Location: Oakland, CA
948 62nd St.
Oakland, CA 94608

Tag-team Taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: ~ 30

Capacity of center: They could fit about 150 in there if they wanted to, but for some reason they were putting two safs between each line. So, they could have fit eight lines of men in the center, but they put only four. Strange.

Parking: Street. Found it right next to the mosque, though.

Mihrab: No

Minbar: Yes. Delicately carved wooden piece.

Shoe shelves: Yes.

Building: A circular concrete structure. From the outside it looks kind of pretty because the concrete blocks have been textured to look like stone. From the inside it would look like a prison if they hadn't painted a smattering of designs on the concrete and hung up decorations.

Friendliness towards women: Women have no place in this facility. It only has one room, and this isn't one of those hippie Muslim places where men and women pray in the same space. I'm looking at you, Stanford.

Friendliness of congregation: Very. Arab hospitality reared its pretty head once again.

If you haven't been to hajj, you might be a bit unprepared for the dinner they serve here. If you're from a community where folks drive BMWs and eat catered food at the mosque, you might be a bit taken aback when you see this community at dinner time. It's a very traditional community and don't abide by Western traditions of table manners.

You see, when I was on the pilgrimage on Mecca the evening after our day on Arafat we were served lamb pilaf courtesy of the King of Saudi Arabia. There were no spoons, no forks and no plates. Everyone just dug in with their hands from a common plate.

This place took a similar approach. Everyone did have their own plate, but since there were no spoons, you had to dig in with your hands to get your food. I was a bit reticent at first, but a man encouraged me to help myself, saying this is exactly how the army did it.

I was touched by this community's generosity. There was more than enough food for everyone and since it was coming out of household pots and pans God knows how many people spent how many hours cooking it for the congregation.

One thing inside the masjid which stuck out was that they had El CorĂ¡n on the shelves. No, not just one Quran in Spanish, but 12. Surprisingly, however, I did not see any Hispanics in the crowd.