Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Al-Sabil (Tenderloin, San Francisco)

I’ve had a lot of guardian angels watching over me during this quest. Some are genuinely concerned about me, others are pontificators and the rest are just curious about my adventures. The general advice I received about this masjid last year was to stay away because if I entered it, I would instantly be placed on an FBI watchlist. I shrugged off their warnings, mostly because I’m probably already on a watchlist or two, being the son of a former MCA president. I’m not even being paranoid, there was a big hullaballoo when a son of a well-respected late former president found an ill-concealed government tracking device in his car. If that didn’t do it, I was the editor of the premier Muslim newspaper at UC Berkeley, which was sponsored by controversial advertisers like AllahHafiz Cola (Their ad was something like, “AllahHafiz Cola: Because sometimes KhudaHafiz Cola doesn't cut it.” My roommate and I thought it was hilarious).

I ended up not visiting this place in 2010 not because I was afraid of the controversy, but because there were so many masjids for me to explore in the Nickel Dime (510 area code) that I couldn’t justify paying the toll to visit San Francisco more than a couple times during Ramadan.

I do know this masjid sprung out of the Jones St. congregation. I’m not from the Tenderloin, and nor do I visit either mosque regularly, so I’m not qualified to speak about the history of or beef between the two. I will point out that this mosque is literally on the next block; proximity tends to be a warning flag, because if the congregations got along, they would have formed one masjid. It was also curious to me that the attendance tonight here was higher than the attendance at Jones St. when I visited last week. However, that could be explained away by the fact that we’re in the middle of the last 10 days of Ramadan, which generally boost the already swelled attendance at any masjid.

The first thing you notice about this place, just like the Jones St. mosque, is its size. Wow, with such low rents, it’s no wonder the Tenderloin is becoming gentrified! However, the place was massive even when considering the undoubtedly low rent they’re paying. I mean, come on, it was 3x bigger than some South Bay masjids, and those communities are rolling in the dough!

The second thing I noticed about this place was the Pepsi vending machine they’ve had put in right next to the shoe racks. If I may, I’d like to take a stab as to why Pepsi and not Coke. A Palestinian friend of mine from college had an opinion about everything, especially world affairs. He drank Diet Pepsi instead of Diet Coke because, in his words, every Coke you buy is a bullet for the Israeli army. Well, then. Could the same mentality be driving the leadership at this masjid?

Nothing really seemed too different about this masjid when compared to my hometown masjids. There was a banner with post-prayer duas which also hangs in SBIA, there were youth sitting along the walls under signs which explicitly told them not to (fire hazard and all) and the community was very diverse. Well, there were very few Desis, but that’s not surprising because Desis tend to stay away from mosques were taraweehs are only 8 rakats. You see, at these masjids, it takes them as long to do 8 rakats as it does a Desi masjid to do 20 rakats. Desis then prefer to go to the 20 rakat masjids because then they can finish 8 there quickly and bounce. So really, the issue isn’t whether the masjid does 8 or 20, it’s which masjid can get them home the soonest. Verily, Desis are the craftiest and wiliest of the Muslim ethnic groups.

The floors are covered with absolutely gorgeous, non-Persian rugs. At first I thought they were kilms, but they were too soft for that. In any case, what disappointed me was they had scarred the carpets by laying down tape to make the lines for prayer. I realize it’s important to make straight lines, but once you lay down tape on rug, you’ve effectively ruined it. Shame, really, such beautiful rugs.

I arrived relatively early, so I didn’t notice this on my way in, but as I was walking back to my car through the urine-soaked sidewalks of the Tenderloin, I noticed a whole lot of off-duty cabs. There’s a joke in some circles about how it’s impossible in some cities to get a cab during jummah. I’m sure Ramadan has some impact on the availability of cabs as well.

This masjid is brought to you by Bebsi.  Also, as the sign says, the door on the left is for Women Only!

Date Visited: August 22, 2011

48 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Better than average. Taraweeh tonight was led by a young Arab man, which to be honest, was the first time I’d seen that this month. I mean, I’ve prayed behind Arabs, but up to now they’ve been grown men.

Size of congregation: 100

Capacity of center: 200

Parking: Street. You could be a chump and park in a lot, but I have never done that in the Tenderloin. (Wo)Man up and waste 3 dollars worth of gas looking for a parking spot, but never park in a lot.

Mihrab: Yes.

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: A couple shelves, but they weren’t racks. Call me spoiled, but I prefer racks to ensure nobody’s going to be putting their shoes on top of mine. Shoot, I wear flip-flops, and if there’s urine on the streets outside, every time someone puts the soles of his shoes on my flippy-floppies I’m putting my feet in urine. Gross.

Building: The (incredibly large) basement of a building. They’ve dolled it up by throwing some green paint on the walls and have added some very attractive light fixtures on the pillars. The masjid also boasts an array of wudu stations.

Friendliness towards women: I was taking a picture of the mosque from the outside when a family approached to enter, a family composed of a man, his son and women in niqaab. So, it’s THAT kind of mosque. I realized if I was going to take pictures inside, I would have to be as sneaky as the ninjas these women look like. The women’s section is surrounded by walls which don’t touch the ceiling, so it’s not like they’re in a separate room, but it could still cause issues during prayer. During taraweeh tonight, the imam failed to mention he would be doing a sajda tilawat, which my gold standards for taraweeh, namely Sheikh Jibreel and Imam Tahir, never fail to do. A sajda tilawat is when the imam has to go into a sijda after reciting certain ayats before resuming the prayer. I don’t know how much confusion this caused in the women’s section, but if even we were caught off-guard I’m sure some women thought the imam was going into a ruku. Still, I have to assume the best; maybe there were some female hafizes in the crowd who ensured the women knew it was a sajda tilawat. Of course, I have to recognize this mosque for being progressive enough to be a place where the men could bring their whole families and not just their bros.

Friendliness of congregation: I guess I stuck out because a man approached me after saying salams and asked me a few questions about where I was from and what I was doing there. I guess that means it’s easy for the community to tell who the regulars are and who’s new in town. The community was also very diverse, so it wasn’t one of those mosques where I wouldn’t fit in because I didn’t speak Persian (as a hypothetical example).

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