Thursday, August 4, 2011

Islamic Center of Alameda

Alameda is a bubble. It’s separated from one of Oakland’s rougher neighborhoods by a small strip of water (affectionately called “the moat” by locals) and the difference is almost night and day. You go in one end from a rapidly-gentrifying warehouse district and come out the other in suburbia. It never ceases to amaze me.

If you’re looking for the mosque but have lost your way, close your eyes and open your ears. If you’re in the neighborhood, chances are you’ll hear the call to prayer. I parked my car a block away and even while I was walking towards the mosque I could hear the call to prayer for isha. Wonderful for the Muslims, I’m sure not as wonderful for the neighbors.

As I stepped inside and found my place in the prayer hall, I had a flashback to my childhood. Before my hometown mosque became the minaret-building behemoth it is today, its sole operation was a tiny converted church. This mosque was not only by the early ‘90s too small for the community, but lacked a community hall for events/spillover and had a sound system which seemed only good for picking up signals from a shady neighbor’s police scanner. Similarly, at this mosque, men (and I’m sure the women too) were asked to squeeze together to make space, old men yelled at children to be quiet (“We want the children to be future Muslim leaders, not playing outside!”), the speakers were busted and, the coup de grace, congregants were parking illegally.

None of this I minded. First of all, it was nice to be back at a mosque where children were thronging; younglings may not comprehend the importance of taraweeh but at least the parents were making an effort to bring them to the masjid. Second, I was pleasantly surprised to see how diverse the community is, another detail which reminded me of home. Third, it was great to be at a family mosque where the focus was on prayer and nothing else. Unfortunately, the larger the mosque gets, the more expensive programming gets. Anyone with an iota of nonprofit experience (that’s how much I have) knows most money comes from individuals. Unfortunately, the only way to get to said individuals is to make announcements which inevitably hold up the prayers. It’s a necessary evil and one every mosque has to embrace if they get large enough.

I didn’t do any research about this mosque, and nor did I speak to anyone in the congregation, but it does seem like the community needs a new mosque. While it may be true that the hall wasn’t bursting at the seams after 8 rakats of taraweeh, it’s obvious the building wasn’t designed to hold so many people. The men’s restroom had only one toilet, which makes me shudder to think of the lines during jummah prayer. Plus, clearly, something has to be done for the kids. While it’s great they’re at the mosque, it’s important to develop programs to keep them occupied so they don’t get restless. The solution to these problems would be, of course, to purchase a new property.

Of course, there’s a variety of factors that need to be considered before making that decision, such as availability of money, community support, proximity to Ground Zero, etc. It’s just that the Muslim population in the Bay Area is only increasing, especially in more affluent areas like Alameda as the community becomes more well-established. I say take advantage of the fact that we’re not in Sheboygan, WI or Temecula, CA and build a larger mosque if you can.

I know two girls from Sheboygan and Temecula and they’re both very nice people. I’m sure the people from both cities which led vitriolic campaigns against the Muslim community building masajid were a very small cross-section of the population.

Welcome to suburbia...I mean, the Islamic Center of Alameda

Date Visited: August 3, 2011

901 Santa Clara Ave.
Alameda, CA 94501

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: ~50

Capacity of center: ~40 (it was a fire hazard for a bit, for sure)

Parking: Street

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Who needs them when you have the floor?

Building: Looked like a converted office

Friendliness towards women: Separate entrance, but it looked like they had a space of equal size. They had had closed-circuit television set up so the women could see the men’s section, always a good indication of progressivism.

Friendliness of congregation: High

1 comment:

  1. As a ten year resident of the same block as the Center, I agree they need a new space. They are successful and have grown so much the neighborhood can't take it anymore. During the holidays, residents can't park in front of their own homes for weeks on end. Considering the advanced age of many of our neighbors, this is more than an inconvenience. Large Churches are required to obtain parking lots, and the center should do so, or find a larger facility.