Sunday, August 14, 2011

Muslim Community Association (Santa Clara)

The organization’s full title is MCA-SFBA: the Muslim Community Association of the San Francisco Bay Area. With such a lofty name, is it any surprise that as a young child I thought that this was the only mosque in the Bay Area? Judging by what I have seen this year and observed last year, even MCA-Santa Clara County would be a stretch, as this mosque is not representative of all the communities here.

What this community can say, however, is it has the largest space of any mosque in the Bay Area. More people come for Friday prayers here than any other mosque, and I say that because they have 3 services: 12:15, 1:30 and 2:30, even during the months when the time for Friday prayers doesn’t start till after 1:00. Thanks to MCA’s adherence to multiple schools of law, as opposed to only one, they’ve been able to take advantage of a fatwa which allows them to start jummah before the technical time for that prayer. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, because obviously there’s a demand for more than one jummah, I’m just saying this practice would not fly at a smaller mosque because they tend to have more homogenous congregations which strictly follow one madhab. Being able to take advantage of multiple madhabs is one of the many beautiful things about having a large community.

However, MCA’s size is a double-edged sword. The Friday services are popular because despite all the tech giants’ best efforts to outsource everything to India (thank you, Clinton), lots of Muslims still work around the Santa Clara area. However, the night prayers, and particularly the taraweeh prayers these days, aren’t as popular as they used to be because folks got tired of the traffic and incessant fundraising (just two of the many reasons, I’m sure). You can’t blame the mosque for the incessant fundraising because the more people use your facilities, the more money you need (last I checked MCA asks for a donation of $125 per family to cover Ramadan expenses while SBIA asks a mere $20). However, the more fundraising you do, the less likely people are to come to your mosque regularly enough to donate. It’s a delicate balancing act and the MCA’s donor base has shrunk as the wealthier communities like Saratoga and the Blossom Valley neighborhood of San Jose have established their own little masajid. It’s kind of a shame that the community worked so hard to raise the money for a humungous mosque when it turns out folks would prefer to attend smaller local mosques, just like they did “back home.”

Tonight was one of those fundraiser nights. As a nonprofit employee, I totally get why they would fundraise tonight. First of all, the congregation is never bigger than it is during Ramadan. Second, it was a Saturday night, so the hall was especially full. As a congregant facing a long drive back to Richmond, however, I was annoyed, because the longer the fundraiser, the later I’d be able to complete my taraweeh prayers. Had I known they would be fundraising I would have stuck to a smaller, local mosque. See how the MCA is slowly losing its donor base? I can guarantee I’m not the only one who was thinking these thoughts tonight.

I don’t know what the future holds for MCA, but I can guarantee the notion that the MCA was going to turn into a sprawling complex that could hold thousands of worshippers at once has gone by the wayside. It’s apparent that that’s not part of the vision anymore, as construction workers are currently putting the finishing touches on what is being called the final phase of the remodeling project.

This phase, of course, is the one which called for the MCA to have a brand-spanking new minaret. Fine, it’s built, the money was earmarked for it, whatever. My issue with the construction, after having seen the new addition, is there’s no way for one to get from the new annex to the community hall without either taking off your shoes or walking around the building, which isn’t the best option during inclement weather. Now worshippers who want to go from the bookstore to the community hall, as an example, will have to take off their shoes and carry them through the men’s prayer hall instead being able to keep the shoes on and cut through the prayer hall via a designated passage. It doesn’t sound like a big deal now, but especially since the after-jummah crowd (should) like to shop at the bookstore and most of the parking is on the other side of the building, I predict it’ll become a problem in the cold winter months when folks are less inclined to walk around the building. Taking off and putting on shoes takes a bit longer than most people realize, and if upwards of 3,000 people are attending jummah, the last thing the mosque needs is another factor which adds to the human traffic.

Of course, this is a non-issue if folks are okay with shopping at the bookstore in their socks or bare feet if their shoes happen to be on the other side of the men’s prayer hall, which is actually not very far-fetched.

I do apologize if folks are having a hard time visualizing this. Imagine a lobby in which you have to take your shoes off to cross from the elevators to the offices on the other side. It’d be a lot more convenient to take a path through the lobby in which you could keep your shoes on, right?

The minaret, or as I like to think of it, 64 feet of wasted airspace.  At least Sather Tower on the UC Berkeley campus doubles as a virtually-fireproof vault for important papers and dinosaur bones, what purpose does this thing serve?  The new annex, though, is very nice, I was impressed by the tile selection and placement.  That is money well-spent.  As you can tell by the picture, the finishing touches still need to be placed on the exterior.

Date Visited: August 13, 2011

3003 Scott Blvd.
Santa Clara, CA 95054

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Shaikh Jibreel is my only AAA-rated imam. All others are AA+ at best.

Size of congregation: hundreds

Capacity of center: 1,000 without violating any fire codes, maybe a little more

Parking: Lot and street. Muslims insist on parking in the neighboring companies’ lots, which upsets me very much. There’s nothing wrong with parking on the street a little farther away if it’ll mean you’re not breaking the law on your way to prayer. The parking issue is so bad the mosque leadership has a blowup of a letter hanging on the wall, in which a property owner complained that so many Muslims had parked illegally in her lot that a potential tenant had no space to park when they came to check out an office. Absolutely ridiculous. Tell you what, if the MCA fined every Muslim who parked illegally they’d be able to reach their Ramadan fundraising goal of $1.55 million like that.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: Former Hewlitt-Packard R&D lab, if they saw it now they’d be shocked to see what the Moslems have done with the space. It’s changed that much.

Friendliness towards women: Definitely gotten better over the years, probably as the mosque leadership matured and was influenced more by the American-born generation.

Friendliness of congregation: It’s a huge mosque, so it is what you make of it. You can absolutely be that guy who strikes up random conversations with folks, or you could be left alone because the hall is large enough for you to blend into the background.

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