Thursday, August 18, 2011

San Ramon Valley Islamic Center

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was an exodus of Muslims from the South Bay. Faced with rising home prices (“$300,000 for a 3 bedroom house?? We’re out of here!”)* many families fled for the Planned Communities, er, Cities of San Ramon, Pleasanton and Danville. At the time, my parents were considering purchasing their first home, and almost made the move to the outer limits of the East Bay themselves. The biggest reason they didn’t was they didn’t want to leave the South Bay and its relative plethora of established masajid. Judging by what I saw today, the San Ramonians have done all right in terms of establishing and developing a mosque.

From time to time, especially as I observe the decline of Santa Clara as a livable city, I do imagine what could have been had we moved to San Ramon or Pleasanton. I probably would have been in this video. As an aside, three of the characters in this video are Berkeley grads, one of whom attends Georgetown Law, another is completing an MD/PhD program at UCSF and the third has has one of the most awesome last names known to man: FireBoatMan. Such are the activities of the most accomplished young men of this generation.

I didn’t link to the video to make it seem as if all the young Muslim men in San Ramon are goofballs who wear JabbaWockeeZ masks in the prayer hall and like to ghost ride their mothers’ minivans in the mosque parking lot (although obviously, they are and they do). My point is that they’ve formed a very tight-knit brotherhood, and that brotherhood is apparent amongst boys of all ages in this community. Even the elememtary-school children have formed packs of young scholars who tonight were excited to be at the masjid tonight to learn a tad more about their own faith.

The most impressive thing about tonight was that the iftar and small lecture following it was organized by the young men and women of the community. I took a look around at the volunteers who were running to show and it seemed to me few, if any, were older than 25 years old. It was heartening to see the young taking the lead because at larger mosques they tend to be marginalized by a rapidly-aging group of old men who can’t seem to let go. Many of the largest mosques in the area were established in the 1980s, which, as many can’t seem to grasp, was more than 20 years ago. I’m glad to see that this community recognizes that they must train the youth to be leaders or else risk the mosque dying with the old guard.

The lecture was by one William (Suhaib) Webb, arguably one of the most famous American clerics in the US, if not the world. In a nutshell, he’s a DJ turned Islamic scholar. He was educated at Al-Azhar University in Cairo thanks in large part to a grant from the Muslim American Society (MAS), i.e. the ikhwan, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood. Thanks to MAS, Minister Webb has become well-versed in Sharia Law and has returned to the United States to teach it to the American Muslim community. It’s the emotions evoked after reading sentences like that which will drive the Palin/Bachmann ticket straight into the White House.

During the lecture I was quite pleased to see the enraptured faces of the elementary school youth as they literally circled around Minister Webb. I cannot remember being that passionate about my faith at that age and it’s wonderful that they have the presence of mind to understand who he was and what he was saying was important. Back in my day, youth at MCA would most likely be concocting ways to ditch the lecture for a quick game of basketball. Whatever they’re doing with the young in San Ramon, I approve.

A few days ago, I announced that I had chosen Novato as my new favorite mosque, which to that point had been Belmont. After intense lobbying from my Belmont insider, I reversed my decision. Belmont is still my #1 mosque, but I have to say their hold on the top spot was severely weakened after what I saw tonight. The only thing Belmont has on this community is diversity. San Ramon is wall-to-wall brown with a smattering of “other.” If San Ramon diversifies, however, Belmont will have to step up their game to retain their top spot.

* Housing prices in the South Bay have since skyrocketed. You’d be lucky to find a 3 bedroom $300,000 condo in the South Bay, let alone a house.

Date Visited: August 17, 2011

2232 Camino Ramon
San Ramon, CA 94583

Tag-team taraweeh: Yes

Qirat: Slightly better than average

Size of congregation: 100-200

Capacity of center: On a scale of 0 to MCA, I’d say a little less than 0.5 MCA

Parking: Lot

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Strangely, no

Shoe shelves: The shoe situation was interesting. You are not allowed to cross the threshold of this masjid with your shoes on; in that sense it’s very much like the masajid “back home.” You must carry your shoes to the heart of the building, where they’ve built a good number of shoe shelves, but unfortunately not enough to sustain the community (lots of folks were sharing shoe shelves). What I found most impressive, however, is the community is disciplined enough to not take their shoes off outside and leave them on the sidewalk. Given that this is a business park that would look horribly out of place and I commend the community for having the presence of mind to not do that.

Building: This mosque is located smack-dab in the middle of a business park, but the only business in which the congregation is involved is increasing their stock in the eyes of Allah and marketing their obvious love for the Prophet. My San Ramon insider informed me that they recently doubled the capacity of the center by taking over a neighboring office space. Unfortunately, while they may have a nifty new community hall, they didn’t expand the size of the prayer halls and I’m afraid they’ll fall short in a few years because Muslims, strangely enough, don’t stop having children.

Friendliness towards women: This masjid is a model for how women should be welcomed at the mosque. The women’s section is innovative and it’s honestly set up in a way that my own mother was lobbying for back in MCA. Instead of locking the women behind a one-way mirror, they’ve chosen to make arches in the wall, thus allowing women a clear sight line of everything in the men’s prayer hall. Women who prefer privacy have the option of setting up screens. I must point out, however, that the screens are effectively useless as anyone standing on the sidewalk outside can look directly through the windows into the women’s section. Being the modest man that I am, I did lower my gaze, but you can’t expect everyone walking past in a business park to do the same.

Friendliness of congregation: The congregation is definitely composed of a friendly bunch of individuals. Everyone was very respectful of each other and the chaos one sometimes sees at free iftars was non-existent at this one.

The wall between the men's and women's section.  No women were photographed in the making of this blog post.


  1. thanks for coming out last night

  2. enjoy reading these, zuhair. glad you enjoyed srvic.