Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Islamic Society of Contra Costa County (Concord)

I’m on assignment for the Bay Area News Group for the next three days. I’ll be visiting three masajid I’ve never visited before and will be accompanied by a professional photographer. I mention this because it had a large part to play in tonight’s experience. As far as WHICH masajid I’m visiting, you’ll have to read to find out.

I got to the masjid at around 9 and found there had already been a minor problem with the photographer. However, it had gotten sorted out thanks to the very reasonable leadership of the masjid and she was given a space from which to shoot the congregation and, strangely enough, me. I haven’t had pictures taken of me in a masjid by a pro since I was a kid and I was TRYING to get the professional photographer to take a picture of me. It was a little unnerving, but I’m grateful for the publicity because it’s helping me achieve my blog’s mission.

The community is not small by any means, which meant that it was a little awkward stepping into the prayer hall because everyone seemed to be in their little cliques. That said, everyone was responding to my salams, which meant that it was up to me to overcome my shyness and get to know the community. Novato, thou hast spoiled me with your intimacy.

The first thing I noticed about the masjid was the activity of the younglings. Not only were they at the mosque, but they were vacuuming the carpet in preparation for isha and taraweeh. The masjid has iftar every night and the kids were more than happy to help clean up. I can’t remember the last time I saw a kid willingly vacuum the carpets of MCA or even MCA’s own Masjid An-Noor. In Islamic school, if anything, it was a punishment.

Right after 8 rakat, I was taken aside by a mosque leader who was burning with curiosity about my project, given that the photographer had told him a little bit about it. This unfortunately meant that I had to break the first rule about the 30 mosques blog: you do not talk about Fight Club.

That was a reference to the movie Fight Club, to make it painfully obvious. But seriously, I genuinely don’t like discussing the project at unknown masajid because you never know how people are going to react to the concept.

The man took me into the mosque’s office and offered me cake, dates, water and tea; Afghan hospitality can’t be beat. We had a lengthy discussion about the Muslim community in the Bay Area, and I found out that this community has been around since the early ‘80s, and he in Concord since 1987. Get out of here! I seriously thought the first Muslims to establish a mosque in Contra Costa County were South Bay transplants who had fled the Santa Clara Valley in the ‘90s for the allegedly greener pastures of San Ramon. Learn something new every day…

The more I spoke to my host, the more I felt at home in Concord because their values seem in line with mine. The mosque firmly believes there’s no point in having a mosque, and thus asking for donations to support it, if you’re not going to provide tangible services to the people. The masjid, to rattle off a few programs, provides young ones with Islamic schooling 3 days a week, hosts iftar every day and plans programs to educate the general population about Islam.

Each year, before Ramadan, the masjid hosts a barbecue for the neighbors, mostly to increase awareness of Islam and the masjid but also, I suspect, to apologize in advance for the horrendous street-parking jobs the poor neighbors are sure to encounter during Ramadan. I was heartened to see that the mosque encourages all neighbors to call a towing company if their driveways are blocked. Shoot, if the congregation can’t follow the rules, the mosque leadership is obligated to enforce them.

I could go on about my conversation with my host, but really, you'll have to meet this guy to get how great it was to talk to him.  Look him up, and if that's not enough reason for you to make the long drive to Concord to see one mosque, come for the muezzin.  The call to prayer was sublime.

This is not the main entrance of the mosque, though it is the one facing the street.  This is the qibla wall, so the mosque has smartly decided to not make it an entrance.

Date Visited: August 9, 2011

2836 Clayton Rd.
Concord, CA 94519

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: ~40

Capacity of center: ~125

Parking: Off-street and street

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Enough for the congregation

Building: A sizeable on one of Concord’s busiest streets (not saying much). The sign is on the street, but the entrance is from the back. The Islamic architecture, especially of the windows, is a dead giveaway that this is a mosque.

Friendliness towards women: Men and women have separate rooms with separate entrances, though their two halls seemed to be comparable in size and were connected by two doors, which the children were freely using to hop from one section to the other. My host informed me that the community is moderate enough to have considered having no walls at all, but the reason they kept them is it helps separate the rooms when they’re using the mosque to teach Islamic school classes.

Friendliness of congregation: Very diverse and welcoming. I want to say the dominant ethnic group was Afghan.

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