Monday, August 8, 2011

North Marin Islamic Center (Novato)

There’s a great deal of animosity in Richmond towards Marin County. A few weeks back, at the LBNL town hall meeting where both the city and national lab came out to sell themselves to each other, City Manager Bill Lindsay was describing the merits of the proposed site. He mentioned that the second campus of LBNL would be fifteen minutes from Marin County, and someone in the audience hissed at the mere mention “Marin County.” I almost burst into laughter, but didn’t, because I was sitting in the first row, in case one of the things LBNL was looking for was the presence of Pakistanis in their second home.

This is tangential, but I won’t say whether or not I’m for the LBNL second campus being located in Richmond. I have no delusions about what goes on in the lab. I’ve held the proof in my hand that the national lab is in direct violation of the City of Berkeley’s self-designation as a nuclear-free zone. I believe any city would be lucky to host a national laboratory, but I’ve only been in Richmond for a year and it’s really not for me to say whether it’s good for the city.

To get back to my point, the animosity any residents of West Contra Costa may feel towards Marin County does not translate into the Muslim community. Artificial borders are meaningless in Islam; mosques are houses of God no matter where you go or how they look and the charming man I befriended had a great deal of knowledge of a lot of masajid “across the bridge.”

I arrived very early for two reasons: I didn’t know when they’d be starting Isha prayers and since I don’t know too much about Marin County I was hoping to run into someone who could tell me more. It turns out the mosques in Marin, despite the County’s affluent reputation, pretty much all started out of someone’s garage. It’s this humbleness which grounds the Muslim communities here.

The congregation is friendly, and that’s an understatement. Since I was the second one there, I had the chance to greet everyone who came after me. People wanted to know my name, where I was from, how I was doing, whether I’d already had dinner, the list went on. My host told me that the mosque’s fridge was my fridge; he pulled out watermelon and orange juice and insisted that I have some. Arab hospitality can’t be beat.

The most touching moment of the night came when it was almost time for prayer. A boy, who couldn’t have been older than 8 or 9, gave the call to prayer. He was good, too! His voice wasn’t quivering, he didn’t mess up any of the words and he seemed thrilled to do it. Too often I’ve seen masajid ignore their youth till they’re smoking dope in the mosque parking lot. At least this mosque is providing this future Muslim leader with positive role models.

Casting off the rose-colored glasses for a minute, this mosque has problems which are almost universal. The facilities are clearly inadequate; there was enough space for all of us to pray comfortably, but there was only one toilet to be shared by the males and females. How awkward must those wudu lines be? The second problem, of course, are the children, not necessarily them, of course, but the fact that the mosque has no capacity to keep them entertained. They were quiet during Isha and the first four rakats of taraweeh, but then they started getting restless, and given that this mosque is in the middle of a business park, they really couldn’t go outside. It’s a problem they haven’t quite solved yet, but the masjid leadership seems to be on top of it.

The mosque is looking to expand, mostly because they want to and because they probably realize the same problems I just listed. They started out in a space about as big as my living room, and the landlord liked them so much he gave them an adjoining office for a very low rate, which more than doubled their capacity. They’ve got their sights set on a bigger place because they’re forward-thinking; they recognize that Novato, though remote, is home to a growing Muslim population and it’s unreasonable to expect Muslims to go all the way to Mill Valley to pray. Yes, I said “all the way” to Mill Valley; my parents’ home in Santa Clara was a 3-minute drive to the mosque, isn’t it reasonable for every Muslim to have that luxury?

The mosque, however, isn’t self-centered. You can tell a lot about a mosque by looking at its bulletin board and this one had an ad for a fundraising dinner for a Fremont mosque. Despite their own community’s needs, they were still encouraging congregants to make the trek down to Fremont to help develop another masjid. It reminds me of all the times I saw ads for fundraisers for mosques as far away as Sacramento. Artificial borders really don’t mean anything to the Muslim community; I was reminded tonight that no mosque is or should be exiting in a bubble.

One final note: move aside, Belmont, my favorite mosque is now Novato.

Do you see the mosque?  Neither did I during my first two drive-bys.

Date Visited: August 8, 2011

154 Hamilton Dr.
Novato, 94949

Tag-team taraweeh: Yes. Desis, stand up! In this mostly Arab mosque, the imams were desi.

Qirat: Good, standard Desi flair

Size of congregation: ~15

Capacity of center: ~75

Parking: Off-street and street

Mihrab: No

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Enough for the congregation

Building: A couple of converted offices nestled in the middle of a business park. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re not going to find this mosque. I only knew I was in the right place when I first arrived when I saw a taxi parked outside (I’m totally not stereotyping)

Friendliness towards women: Their hall’s size was about half of the men’s hall, which seemed reasonable since none of them showed up.

Friendliness of congregation: Incredible. I don’t want to overstate it, so I’ll leave it at that.

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