Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Masjid Al-Iman (Oakland)

Maghrib these days, according to my trusty calendar, is around 8 PM these days, 8:05 to be on the safe side. The time for Isha started at 9:16 today. In the South Bay, thanks to the corporate culture fostered at MCA, the mosque leadership is bent on starting Isha as early as possible these days, i.e. the Daylight Saving Time era, so folks can get more sleep or whatever. Unfortunately, starting Isha as early as possible severely cuts into the time you have to break your fast, pray and then eat dinner. Think about it, if sunset is at 8:05, how much do you really have to eat if the mosque is starting Isha at 9:30? Not only is Isha starting at 9:30, but you know you have to be at the mosque at least 10-15 minutes early if you want to find decent parking. Folks who are glued to MCA are therefore forced to swallow their dinners in maybe 45 minutes, thus making iftar parties almost impossible to enjoy.

I mention this rambling anecdote because this mentality has seeped into my bones. One of my brother’s friends and his new wife (congratulations to the two of them) invited me over for iftar and unfortunately, after 9:15 I turned into a bad guest because I kept fidgeting, thinking that I was going to miss taraweeh. Truth be told, if I hadn’t been doing the 30 mosques project, I would have stayed and finished the evening properly. Taraweeh is only wajib, while brotherhood is fard, am I right?

I left my new friend’s apartment at 9:40 and got to Oakland at around 10:00. I discovered that this is a sane mosque that bizarrely believes in giving its congregation enough time to eat and enjoy its company so I managed to arrive 2-3 minutes before Isha was even set to begin.

The congregation did dhikr in a group before Isha, after Isha, before taraweeh, every two rakats during taraweeh and a longer dua every four rakats. Yeah, this mosque is heavy on the dhikr. That’s fine, but I’m not a stickler for dhikr. Nope, I’m not a dhikr stickler.

Otherwise, the taraweeh was pretty standard fare.

The sufi influence was strong, given the number of elaborate turbans I saw on the heads of the congregation, but it was unique in that I didn’t see any white Muslims. Before tonight I assumed that all Sufi groups had at least a small minority who weren’t born into Islam. The reason for this is Sufis are a lot more easygoing about their faith than other Muslims. For example, did you know that if you adhere to the Shaf’i school of law, if you even brush against a woman your wudu is broken? That may not seem too strange, given that men and women are supposed to avoid contact with each other, but consider the fact that you also have to cleanse yourself before you can pray if you come into contact with a dog. I’m sure there’s a context behind that law, but it’s stuff like that which tends to scare non-Muslims and generally makes converts veer towards a more relaxed interpretation of Islam.

The most impressive thing about this community was everyone appeared to be in synch, and those of us who weren’t were given a piece of paper with all the dhikr that was happening or was about to happen. I seemed to be the only one relying on that piece of paper as everyone I saw in the men’s section was reciting all the duas by heart. I’d really never felt like more of an outsider, but I’d also never felt more welcome. The congregation WANTED me to participate, and they WANTED to welcome more outsiders. For the ease of the visitors, all the duas were written in transliterated Arabic, instead of the Arabic script. I mean hey, my parents didn’t raise a fool, I can still pick my way through the Arabic script, but it definitely helped me keep up with the crowd by reading the duas written in the English script.

This is a wonderful little space because it truly is an oasis in a blighted neighborhood. There have been improvements to the neighborhood since I lived in Berkeley and drove down Shattuck Ave, but it’s clear that the neighborhood is economically depressed and really, when the liquor store is the only well-lit spot on the block, you can’t be blamed for making certain assumptions about the area. However, it’s clear to me once again that I was foolish to judge a book by its cover, as the difference between the inside of the mosque and the outside was truly night and day.

Date Visited: August 16, 2011

5625 Shattuck Ave.
Oakland, CA 94609

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good, good. The imam was not a hafiz, because he was reading from a quran, but the quality of his recitation indicated he was no stranger to it.

Size of congregation: 10-15

Capacity of center: 50

Parking: Lot and street. The lot is hidden behind the building and accessed through a narrow driveway. Wouldn’t recommend parking in there because your car could easily be blocked in.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes, 2! I’ve never seen two minbars in one mosque before.

Shoe shelves: Had to use the floor

Building: From the outside, it fits right into the neighborhood. It’s a non-descript one-storey affair located right next to the local liquor store. The neighborhood isn’t the worst, but it isn’t the best either, as I could see iron bars in some of the other buildings’ windows, even the local churches’. Once you go down the narrow driveway and enter the masjid through the back, though, you’re transported into a different world. The masjid is exquisitely decorated inside with a lovely mihrab and two wooden minbars, one smaller than the other. The backdrop in the mihrab is a black sheet with gold embroidery; I don’t know if it was supposed to evoke memories of the Kabah, but it did for me. An elaborate crystal chandelier hangs inside the mihrab. What ties the room together are the calligraphic Quranic verses written in the rafters. If anything, this masjid resembles those little ones you’ll find in the dustiest corners of Istanbul. Those are grey and dull on the outside but the insides are proof of years of loving care and maintenance. Finally, the building’s parallel with the direction of the qibla! I love when that happens.

Friendliness towards women: There are no barriers here. Men and women use the same entrance and pray in the same hall with no curtain to block their view of the mihrab and minbar. A lady who entered at almost the same time also greeted me, which means this isn’t one of those outfits where once inside carrying a conversation with a Muslim woman is like pulling teeth.

Friendliness of congregation: Off the charts. Before I even entered folks heading towards the mosque were saying salam. Once inside, it was a cacophony of, “Assalamu alaikum,” “Welcome” and “How are you, brother?” They seemed genuinely interested in my well-being and I appreciated the warmth.

The inside of the mosque.  The women pray towards the right behind where I was standing.


  1. Masjid al imaan prays almost fully East. This is a smaller opinion compared to northeast and southeast qiblas from north America, but nonetheless held.

    As much as they are Naqshbandi 'Sufis,' I would like to remind the layman that the Sufi tareeqahs are all 'Sunni' (and in fact, by traditional definition, real sunnis). This masjid's imam is Shaykh Yaser. He is a mureed/student of Shaykh Hisham Kabbani who's a mureed of Shaykh Nizam who is the leader of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani tareeqa in the world. This masjid isn't a joke considering the connections it has.

    On a fiqh note, they are Naqshbandis who are largely if not all followers of the Hanafi madhhab, however Shaykh Yassir is Moroccan, so you'll see hints of the Maaliki and Shaafi'ee madhhabs in their practice. They recite the Qur'an primarily in Warsh mode.

    The calligraphy on the rafters is from Surah Noor. "Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth..."

    In terms of dhikr, you can't hate. The reason why the people's hearts here are so soft, is because of the crazy amount of dhikr they do (Saturday night is their large dhikr session). Everybody should be a stickler for dhikr. The dhikr regimens of the Prophet (SAWS) could easily fill up the whole day of a Muslim nowadays, but time can move slower for the awliyaa'. That of course, is a strange concept that many consider 'Sufi,' but then hey, Islam began as something strange and will end as something strange, so glad tidings to the strangers.

  2. Very friendly mosque. Shaykh Yaser's khutbahs on Jumaa are often insightful, and pretty funny at times (never had that experience before at Jumah). Somehow he seems to sense and respond to us too. Just a warm feeling. His verbal style and sound reminds me of Jackie Mason, a jewish comedian before my time, a bit, which is kind of funny to ponder briefly during the khutbah.

  3. If you come for jum'ah prayers or their Saturday night dhikr sessions then you will see that half of the regular congregation consists of converts, many of which are the "white" Muslims that you mentioned above.