Thursday, August 11, 2011

Masjid Quba (Alameda)

After Penn Station was demolished, a New Yorker mourned its fate: “One entered the city like a god, one scuttles in now like a rat.” Similarly, to enter Alameda, you have two options: you could scuttle in through the Webster Tube, or you could cross the drawbridge like a god. I chose the former because it made my route significantly shorter, but man would it have been nice to take the bridge.

The first thing you notice about this mosque, before you even visit, is its name. Masjid Quba is a loaded name for a mosque because of its historic significance. Quba, in present-day Saudi Arabia and south of Medina, was the site of the first mosque established by the Prophet after he migrated from Mecca. The name symbolizes establishing a community after a great journey, which I suppose makes sense the more you learn about who operates this mosque.

The masjid is run and maintained by the Afghan community, who built it way back in 1986, at the height of the war in Afghanistan. The refugees were fleeing incomprehensible violence and persecution at the hands of the commies and I suppose it’s that sentiment that led them to build a mosque and name it after Quba. Were the Afghans persecuted as much as the Muslims in Mecca in the 7th century? I’m uncomfortable to say they were, and while I’m fascinated by the fact that the masjid is named after Quba, I’m not sure if it’s right that they’re trying to draw a parallel between their struggle and the Prophet and his young ummah’s struggles.

The fact that the mosque was established in 1986 also disappointed me because it doesn’t seem like the community’s made much progress in terms of developing their community. The building is a converted house which was barely big enough to hold their congregation for isha and taraweeh. Additionally, their facilities included one bathroom and two wudu stations which doubled as their sink. I might have been missing something, but I also did not see any facilities for women. Sure, there was a section of the house with a separate entrance and a curtained wall, but where could the women go to powder their noses?

If you’re a guy, though, this place is AWESOME. I was taken to the back, where they’ve laid Persian rugs in the backyard and have a fridge. I was offered something to eat, something to drink and a comfortable place to sit down. Folks were speaking exclusively in Dari, but that didn’t bother me because hey, it’s their mosque.

What bothered me was the fact that my female guests from the Contra Costa Times were not extended the same hospitality. While they were allowed inside the men’s section, I could sense that the community felt a tad uncomfortable with the two women there. Here’s the thing, and I’ve mentioned this before: these same Muslim men interact at close quarters with women all the time. What is it about some mosques that after crossing the threshold that all women must be safely tucked away behind a visual barrier? This, by the way, is in stark contrast to an almost-exclusively Afghan masjid I visited in Fremont, where women outnumbered men and damned if they were going to be praying behind a curtain. Just goes to show that one can’t stereotype about Muslim communities even by ethnic group.

I’m incredibly grateful for the hospitality the community did show me. I showed up well past iftar time but my host had his young son rustle up a plate for me. I had tea to drink and dates to snack on. It would have been a perfect experience if the congregation hadn’t known I was writing a blog post about them. As soon as they found out, they regarded me with suspicion. It was unnerving, really, the men were speaking in Dari about me, obviously, but weren’t even making eye contact. It was almost like before they could figure me out, they were going to pretend I didn’t even exist. Just another reason why it’s best to visit small mosques incognito.

After the prayer, I was followed outside by a gentleman who turned out to live in Point Richmond as well, which was great, except he got my phone number and address, and he ominously said, “we’ll be coming over.” Nightmares of TJs flooding my apartment flashed before my eyes and I hesitantly asked what he meant by “we.” He said he meant his family, but the odd thing is it’s like he expects me to just open my doors and feed his entire family. Sorry, bub, brotherhood is something to be revered, but it has a limit. Yes, Muslims are encouraged to embrace brotherhood, but I’m also sure it’s against the sunnah to show up uninvited, and worse, expect sustenance. I’m going to see how this plays out, but I may be tapping some of my connections to concoct some TJ-repellant.

The past two days have made me realize something I didn’t think of till tonight. The more well-educated the community is, the more open and receptive they are towards outsiders. My logic is the South Bay and Plesanton/San Ramon congregations, being highly-educated, work for corporations where they’re surrounded by non-Muslims. Most of these small masajid are funded by small business owners who probably exist in ethnic enclaves and therefore never get used to dealing with non-Muslims. Large, established mosques in San Jose and Santa Clara regularly have outsiders observing Friday prayers. The reaction from the community today told me that they’re not used to the same kind of attention.

Sign hanging outside the mosque

Date Visited: August 10, 2011

707 Haight Ave
Alameda, CA 94501

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good. The hafiz they usually employ was ill today so they had a substitute. However, his recitation was still enjoyable. It was kind of funny because the sub got up to explain that the hafiz was sick and that he’d be leading the prayer. A kid didn’t hear in the back and he asked his friend what was going on. “We’re getting out early,” he said, like it was a boring class. Hilarious.

Size of congregation: 40

Capacity of center: 40

Parking: Street

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Not enough for the congregation, the stoop was littered with shoes. Considering the stoop is right on the street, not sure what kind of message that sends.

Building: A converted house with a sizeable backyard which is currently covered by Persian carpets.  To their credit, it looks very pretty inside and out.  The mihrab is made of marble and is decorated with calligraphy.  It's clear that the community takes pride in its mosque.

Friendliness towards women: Plenty of women showed up, but their section was maybe a quarter of the space allotted to the men.

Friendliness of congregation: Good, but it was a little unnerving hearing them talk about me while I was standing RIGHT THERE.

1 comment:

  1. Salam. I am doing a similar 30 mosques deal in the Chicago area. check it out at

    It's good to see a lot of others doing this now