Monday, August 29, 2011

Bay Area Cultural Connections (Sunnyvale)

There is nothing to indicate on the center’s website that there are prayers held here. Likewise, as you enter the center, there are no architectural features to indicate that this is a mosque. For these reasons, I apologize in advance if I’m blowing the lid off of a well-kept secret: there are religious Turks in the Bay Area, and they have centers in Sunnyvale, Burlingame and Albany (all three of these centers’ addresses were posted on the wall, so it’s not like I did any serious detective work).

Before I continue, I’d like to inform you, if I may, that back in college I spent a semester abroad in Ankara, Turkey. There, I learned many things (or so I told my parents), but two that come to mind in this context are most of the students I met were not religious and the prayer space on campus was primarily frequented by the support staff of the university. The vast majority of students I met, in fact, had a disdain for religion, although a lot of them did worship a god and his name was Ataturk.

It was because of the secularism I observed in my semester abroad that I wasn’t too surprised by the way the center was run. Maghrib rolled around and while nobody started eating before sunset, it was not like a masjid where folks eat a little to break their fast, pray and then get back to dinner. No, folks started lining up at the buffet tables and eating dinner as soon as the sun had sunk below the horizon, and if you wanted to pray, you went into a side room where an admittedly sizeable number of people were praying in waves. So clearly, there were lots of religious people in the building, just not enough to halt dinner to pray. Praying en masse would also have been a logistical nightmare, as the only space large enough was the banquet hall in which we were eating.

When taraweeh rolled around most of the crowd had disappeared, but it seemed like most of the people who’d coordinated the dinner were part of the congregation. The banquet hall where we’d all eaten was cleared out, vacuumed and prepared with sheets. That’s when it started looking more like an Islamic center, although curiously, they closed the doors to the main hall during prayers, thus preventing anyone passing by outside to see or hear what was going on. Quite a different environment from, say, those mosques who lower neighborhood property values by doing the adhan so loudly you can hear it down the block.

Taraweeh was different; instead of sets of two, Turks (ALL Turks. No exceptions) pray taraweeh in sets of four. Kind of throws you off if you’re not expecting it, but of course they have a scholarly opinion to back up that practice. The imam’s Turkish accent also bled through during prayers; close your eyes at some Desi masjids and you wouldn’t be able to tell if the imam was Desi or Arab, but here it was very clear that the imam was Turkish. Kind of makes me wonder how taraweeh at the holy cities was like when the Ottomans ruled Arabia.

Date Visited: August 28, 2011

1257 Tasman Drive, Unit B
Sunnyvale, CA 94089

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Better than average. I still find the Turkish accent quirky, so I enjoyed the recitation.

Size of congregation: 40 men, 20 women

Capacity of center: 200-300

Parking: A lot in an active business park, which of course was mostly closed on a Sunday. I imagine it must have been difficult to find parking around dinner.

Mihrab: No

Minbar: No

Shoe shelves: None, the center’s not designed for prayer so they didn’t have any.

Building: Good-sized unit in a business park. Kind of hard to find because even though the address says Tasman, the door doesn’t open out that way so if you’re not looking out for it, you won’t see it. In that regard, it’s a stark contrast to most mosques I’ve visited this month.

Friendliness towards women: Women were very active throughout the night. While it was true the men outnumbered the women during the taraweeh prayers, during dinner I’d say the place was split 50/50. This is definitely not a place where a woman would feel even remotely uncomfortable simply because of her sex.

Friendliness of congregation: I was regarded with suspicion by a couple people at first, but generally, everyone was warm and welcoming. It wasn’t as welcoming as the Bosnian masjid I visited last year, but it was a good evening nonetheless. Once the prayer started all linguistic barriers disappeared anyways.

Community members enjoying dinner.  Again, because this is a cultural center first and a mosque second, isha didn't get started till 10 PM because the emphasis is on the community coming together over dinner and not necessarily through prayer.  In contrast, MCA starts prayers at 9:15 these days.

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