Saturday, August 20, 2011

Islamic Center of San Francisco (Bernal Heights)

On my way to San Francisco tonight, I picked up my Oaklandish friend for some company.

“Where are we going?”
“Crescent Ave.”
“Never been there.”
“It’s run by TJs.”
“Should we start rolling up our pant legs now?”

TJs are a species of Muslim best known for forming roving groups of proselytizers. They are also known for wearing trousers well above their ankles, beginning sentences with, “Our success in this life and the hereafter depends on…” and concentrating their efforts on getting Muslims to come to the masjid. All of them at least once embark on a 40-day journey to help fulfill their mission of converting Muslims to Islam. It is because of this merry band of delightful dogmatists that many masajid have been forced to institute a no-overnight policy because bless their hearts, they won’t put up the cash for a motel room.

The thing is, TJs are everywhere; my alma mater was home to many who flocked to the MSA. When I visited UC Berkeley this past Ramadan I found myself in a conversation where a young man had studied the hadith that day concerning the length of a believer’s pants and from that apparently deduced the approximate length of the Prophet’s trousers. He claimed he was wearing pants that were the proper length that evening. I looked down. He was wearing capris.

Joking aside (for a bit), I suppose the TJs really are a friendly bunch. The prayer hall tonight reeked of food, which means they’re accustomed to serving sustenance to all comers. The local TJ group in my hometown of Santa Clara used to organize ostensibly free iftars for the congregation who showed up at sunset. They’re a very generous people, but I was always afraid they would come collecting for the price of the meals by knocking on my door and, of course, asking why I didn’t come to the mosque more.

Taraweeh tonight was led by young men but supervised by the ear of a grizzled veteran. The starter unfortunately was having a lot of trouble and stumbled every inning. His struggles reminded me that it’s not easy being green, and by green I mean a hafiz. Ask any hafiz and they’ll tell you how difficult it is to maintain their knowledge of the Quran. Even on the day their services are not required they must review the Quran for a substantial amount of time lest they forget some verses. The nights of Ramadan are even more stressful due to increased expectations in terms of recitation quality and length. It’s no surprise then that despite children being awarded the title of hafiz many of them are unable to retain it due to a variety of outside responsibilities which limit the time they can spend with the Holy Book. I don’t know the attrition rate for huffaz, but I’m sure it’s not 0%.

The community itself was mostly TJ, judging by the large number of rolled up jeans and khakis, but there were also the rebels whose pant legs were either touching or coming dangerously close to touching the floor. It would seem as if this community is welcoming to all men (keyword: men).

Date Visited: August 19, 2011

400 Crescent Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94110

Tag-team taraweeh: Yes

Qirat: Standard Desi fare in that it was quite rapid. My friend's theory as to why this happens is since Desis don't understand Arabic anyways, the congregations want to get the prayers over with as soon as possible. The second imam’s recitation was nicer than the first one.

Size of congregation: ~40

Capacity of center: ~75

Parking: Street. It’s in a residential neighborhood, so be prepared to walk long distances as San Franciscans have usually settled in for the night well before prayer time, thus taking up most of the nearby parking spaces.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Looked like something out of an IKEA catalog

Building: I found out this isn’t just a mosque, it’s a waqf, or an endowed piece of land. Someone from on high made sure this property was designated for the mosque and nothing else. One might wonder why they chose this neighborhood in San Francisco, as they could have gotten a larger space for less money elsewhere. In fact, they had indeed looked at larger places on Cross St. and Star of David Blvd. but ultimately decided to stick with the Crescent Ave. property.  The building is slightly imposing in that the front door is a solid wooden affair with a peephole. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a mosque whose door had a peephole. Do they have one so they know not to open the door when other TJs knock?

Friendliness towards women: There is no women’s section here. If they had one, who would take care of the kids when the men are off on their 40-day quests for conversions? [Ed. Note: There is a women's section, but I didn't see it from my vantage point in the prayer hall or when I was looking around the hallways.  Given that, I thought it would be indecent of me to go looking for a women's section because if I couldn't see one at first glance, it was obvious they wanted to keep the men and women completely separated if they had one.  I will also note I did not see any women when walking towards the masjid, which is unlike the vast majority of masajid I have visited so far.]

Friendliness of congregation: Everyone was pretty courteous during prayer. At some masajid some folks take the “shoulder-to-shoulder, feet-to-feet” commandment during prayer too seriously and demolish any Western notions of personal space, but not here. I saw smiles all around, folks seemed genuinely happy to be here.


  1. There is definitely a women's section. It's in a detached part of the building.

  2. I'm surprised that you didn't label ICF as the TJ HQ. Tj's are bred there.

  3. The "women's section" is actually the house next door, though it's connected to the masjid.

  4. i go to that madress