Monday, August 1, 2011

Masjid-ul-Islam (Oakland)

Date Visited: August 1, 2011

Location: 8210 MacArthur Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94605

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: < 5
Capacity of center: ~100
Parking: Street
Mihrab: Yes
Minbar: No
Shoe shelves: Yes
Building: A good-sized building flush with the sidewalk on Macarthur Blvd.
Friendliness towards women: There were no women in attendance, but there was a non-partitioned section off to the side I assume was for them.
Friendliness of congregation: High

I wasn’t even planning on visiting this mosque tonight.  I mean, sure, it was on my radar, but I was aiming for an entirely different East Oakland mosque.  Yes, there are so many mosques in Oakland you can shoot for one and land in another.  Essentially, I took the wrong exit and ended up on a section of MacArthur far removed from the mosque I wanted to see.  Call it fate, call it a brain fart brought on by 15 hours of foodlessness, but it turned out well.

These are Amir Abdul Malik’s old stomping grounds.  While he has left, the masjid technically still remains under the auspices of one Imam Musa, a man so notorious he has drawn the attention of Daniel Pipes.  While I’m glad there is still a semblance of organization in this masjid, it was immediately apparent that it’s fallen on hard times.

I showed up around maghrib, and saw that the mosque was locked.  Unusual, especially since during Ramadan most masajid I have visited encourage their congregations to break their fast with each other.  Nonetheless, I hung around in this arguably shady neighborhood in Oakland.  There were skid marks on the road indicating bored youth had made donuts in the middle of MacArthur Blvd and there were a lot of bored youth hanging outside the corner store hitting on every girl who walked by.  I stuck out like a sore thumb, which I’m used to by now because come on, how many Pakistanis are there in Richmond?

When there are so few people showing up for prayer that I have to lead, you know the congregation is in bad shape.  It was shocking, too, because clearly the hall was big enough to hold at least 50 people easily, and probably 100 if you packed them in.  I hung around after maghrib to investigate what was going on.

The first thing I saw was literature from Imam Musa everywhere extolling the work of “The Islamic Institute for Counter Zionist American Psychological Warfare.”  If associating with the CalMSA in college didn’t place me on some government watchlist, visiting this mosque definitely did.  I found out a lot of people who used to show up (and, more importantly, donate) to this mosque abandoned it simply because it became too political.  I really can’t blame them; I wouldn’t want any part of an organization sponsoring an initiative with a name like that.

The mosque started declining right around the resignation of the Amir.  While I was not able to uncover the exact reasons for his departure, it was apparent that things were better for the mosque under his tenure.  More people used to show up, and some big names used to show up to lead the juma prayer.  Now, I found it, they were lucky if a handful of people showed up for taraweeh.  Unfortunately, the poor attendance has led to the masjid being in a state of bankruptcy.

I spent the time between maghrib and isha just talking to the people who were there, learning as much as I can about the history of the mosque and where it is now.  It really is a community institution; my host told me that I could access the masjid any time I wanted because lots of neighbors had the key, even the owner of a local liquor store.  The mosque is somewhat like a safe haven in the community; he insisted that anyone who’s coming to worship in the mosque is left alone.  Given what I’d already seen, I was inclined to believe him.

Taraweeh was led by a gentleman who was a native speaker of Arabic, which the congregation (composed of me, my host and the prayer leader) preferred due to his ability to recite the Quran very quickly.  And I mean QUICKLY.  We prayed 10 rakats of taraweeh and 3 rakats of witr in 15 minutes.

Yes, I said 10 rakats of taraweeh, not 8, not 20.  The leader’s dua during witr was also in English.  Quite unconventional, to say the least, and both actions would definitely have lead to an uproar at a larger mosque. 

I admit, part of the reason I showed up at the mosque around maghrib was I was hoping to get something to eat.  You see, I worked for an organization composed of a corps of Americans and they pay me a pitiful stipend.  If there’s anyone who qualifies to eat at free iftars without feeling guilty, it’d be me, right?  Unfortunately, I didn’t get my free meal at maghrib, but the host, bless his heart, got his wife to pick up halal fried chicken from somewhere in East Oakland, which we enjoyed after taraweeh.  It was a stunning display of generosity, especially after considering the dire financial straits of the mosque.

One additional detail I don’t want to forget about tonight, and one I’d like to share, is something from the conversation the prayer leader and I had before taraweeh.  We were discussing (well, he was doing most of the talking) the ideal mosque and he said there shouldn’t be a woman’s section in any of them.  Why?  If the women are at the mosque, who will watch the kids??  It takes all kinds to make an ummah.

 The unassuming entrance to the sanctuary.  Well, there was a huge sign to the right of this photo, but still.

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