Thursday, August 25, 2011

Afghan Islamic Center (Concord)

The first thing you want to do when you arrive at this masjid is ponder the façade. It’s just nothing I’ve ever seen before, and certainly nothing you will ever see “back home.” The masjid is on the second floor of a commercial building whose first floor is occupied by a smoke shop. The “Smoke Shop” sign dwarves the tiny, unlit sign pointing to the masjid. So, if you get lost, let the makruh merchant/haram hawker guide you here.

This masjid is composed of Urdu-speaking Pakistanis and Pashto-speaking Afghans, an alliance which would make anyone a little uneasy. After all, the last time Pakistanis and Afghans were caught working together, SEAL Team 6 became a household name.

Seriously, though, it was nice to see the two ethnic groups setting aside their differences to operate a masjid together. The leadership fluidly switches between Urdu and Pashto when addressing the congregation, thus ensuring no one feels left out, unless of course one doesn’t speak Urdu or Pashto.

This is a very small congregation, which means everyone knows each other really well, but unfortunately also means they’re homogenous in terms of religious practice. Before taraweeh started, my host turned to me and asked if I knew that they were about to pray 20. I nodded, sure, that was a reasonable assumption to make, but I hoped he wasn’t expecting me to stay, because I left after 8. I was especially empowered to pray 8 by a recently discovered quote from IT in which he implores his congregation not to judge those who pray 8, as it could very well be true that their 20 may not be accepted. The underlying belief, as I understand it, is to worry about yourself and let others practice the way they want.

Another thing which somewhat bothered me was when I was taking pictures of the outside of the mosque, someone stopped me and asked if I was a member of the press. When I said no, he seemed relieved and let me proceed. I don’t know what the press in the area has done to the Concord Muslims, but this isn’t the first time I’ve sensed tension between the Muslim community and the press corps. Back in the day, a reporter from a local newspaper asked if he could cover the Eid prayers hosted by the Concord Muslim community. They agreed, and the reporter spent a few hours with the community, taking pictures and asking questions. When the article came out, they saw the only picture in the paper was of the shoes strewn all over the community center’s floor.

So, two things. Yes, that may have created a bad impression of Muslims to the average Concord resident, but it should have been a wakeup call, as in, hey, we need to stop tossing our shoes around because it looks awful to the common man. Second, negatively reacting to all potential press because of that one event is not the solution. What if I had been a reporter? I would have thought these Muslims have something to hide.

Taraweeh was sweet, though, the imam was on a juz Amma (3mma?) kick, and was picking express-lane surahs (10 ayahs or less). Quickest taraweeh I’ve ever prayed, not counting the time my roommate made me lead taraweeh in our apartment (if I had to do it all over again, I would have used a Quran as a guide and done an hour-long two rakats to teach him a lesson).

 Welcome to Concord, one of the last remaining white bastions in the Bay Area.

Can you see the masjid?  All I see is a sign for one.

Date Visited: August 24, 2011

1545 Monument Blvd.
Concord, CA 94520

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Average

Size of congregation: 15-20 men, unknown number of women

Capacity of center: 50-75

Parking: The lot is inadequate. For one thing, you have to share the lot with the smoke shop, and even then there’s maybe 5 spots. Fortunately, it being suburbia, there’s ample street parking.

Mihrab: Yes.

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: A few at the entrance, shared with the womenfolk

Building: Second floor of a commercial building, the first floor being occupied by a smoke shop which tonight was getting no business whatsoever. Behold the power of the odd nights of Ramadan.

Friendliness towards women: The women have a room which is around the same size and the men’s room. However, it doesn’t seem like many women show up, as the masjid’s fridge is also in there and the congregation was going in and out of there with no hang-ups.

Friendliness of congregation: Above average, it was a small but welcoming community. I’m glad I spoke Urdu, not knowing that language would have made me feel a little out-of-place.

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