Sunday, August 7, 2011

Islamic Society of West Contra Costa County (Richmond)

There’s something strange about the Richmond Muslim community. This month I visited a Richmond mosque with the capacity to hold 100 worshippers with ease, and there were maybe a dozen there, if even that much. This Richmond mosque also has a capacity of around 100-150 worshippers, and it was bursting at the seams. Clearly, there’s a space issue, so why don’t worshippers attend the other one?

I don’t really care enough to investigate, and besides, it’s more fun to speculate. My Belmont insider, who apparently also fancies himself to be a Richmond insider, said one mosque is controlled by a group of Muslims which tends to drive others away. These Muslims are bent on spreading the word of God, but amusingly sometimes spread Islam to folks who are already Muslim. It can get a little annoying, from what I hear.

I like to think I’ve gotten to know Richmond pretty well, including the ethnic breakdown. Based on what I saw today, I think it’s safe to say most of the people in attendance do not live in Richmond. I say that because I did not see a noticeable number of blacks, Latinos and whites, the three dominant ethnic groups of the city. I’m willing to bet this mosque was the brainchild of wealthy Muslims looking for cheap property.

And it must have been cheap. While this isn’t located in one of the worse neighborhoods in the city, it’s also not one of the best. It’s close to the freeway, sure, but the only source of light in the area was the mosque itself. Cars line the very narrow streets, making it difficult to find parking and creating a traffic logjam as worshippers leave the mosque after prayers. Mosques in residential neighborhoods tend to be at odds with their neighbors, but I wonder if this neighborhood welcomes the Muslim community. What better way to keep your street safe than by welcoming a religious institution with congregants who come five times a day? I’ve heard stories about a mosque in Poughkeepsie, NY which was given tax breaks to stay where it was because the presence of the mosque was making the neighborhood safer. Maybe the same is true here, I don’t know.

The hafiz was a young guy who was unfortunately stumbling in the beginning. After the fourth inning, the manager approached the mound and it seemed to me as if he was going to put in a reliever. That didn’t happen, but the hafiz’s woes got me thinking (during prayer, yes yes, plenty of Muslim minds wander during prayer). What if each hafiz had an earpiece to which they could keep up with their own recitation? There would be no chance of any of them stumbling, since, as hufaz, they know the Quran well enough to say recite it in a chorus. The obvious roadblock to this idea is that you’re not supposed to recite the Quran in a chorus during prayer, but it’s worth thinking about, especially as the demand for hufaz grows and they can’t all be expected to be spot-on every night.

The speakers cut out after the 5th rakat and there was chaos. Obviously everyone kept praying, but as soon as the 6th rakat was over, men leaped up to get batteries for the microphone. One man got up and scolded the congregation for not teaching children the proper adab of being in the masjid. Was he suggesting it was the kids’ fault that the microphone’s batteries died? I think he’s giving the kids too much credit for hatching this dastardly plan to mildly inconvenience the congregation.

Pandemonium also erupted in the women’s section, because since they couldn’t hear anything after the microphone cut out, they were stuck on the 5th rakat and never finished the 6th rakat. See, this is why I’m vehemently opposed to mosques which insist upon sequestering their women. Basically, if the Richmond mosque gave the women a visual aid, and put them close enough to the men’s section to hear what was going on without a microphone, their taraweeh wouldn’t have been ruined tonight. Accidents happen, but in other masajid, this accident would be completely avoidable.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Hatem Bazian in the crowd tonight. If you don’t know Hatem Bazian, he’s helped hundreds, if not thousands, of UC Berkeley students define and understand Islam in America. It’s a wonderful class and he’s a wonderful man for allowing me to be the reader for it for multiple years. I could insert a story about how I messed with the class as the reader, and how Hatem played along by giving me the time to do so, but this is neither the time nor the blog.

Men milling about after 8 rakats.  Felt bad for the neighbors; it was, after all, 10:30 PM on a Sunday.

Date Visited: August 7, 2011

Masjid Al-Rahman
110 36th St.
Richmond, CA 94805

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good, very sonorous

Size of congregation: ~100

Capacity of center: ~100

Parking: Street

Mihrab: No

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Not enough by a longshot

Building: A building located in a residential neighborhood but close to one of Richmond’s main thoroughfares.

Friendliness towards women: Medium, really not happy that their taraweeh was disrupted

Friendliness of congregation: High

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