Saturday, August 13, 2011

South Bay Islamic Association (San Jose)

The first thing I noticed as I strolled around this mosque’s lobby was the wall of accolades they’ve set up in the corner. On it were letters and plaques recognizing SBIA for the services it has provided to the community over the years. Most striking was a certificate from the City of Milpitas thanking SBIA for organizing their annual Eid festival at the end of Ramadan. That’s when you know the organization’s hit the big time: when its event is so successful local cities are taking notice even though said cities have mosques of their own. In its 25-year anniversary plaque, the City of San Jose rattled off a list of activities which have positively impacted its residents. SBIA is truly an institution entwined with the community and I encourage you to visit it during its open house on August 21st.

The mosque is led by the charismatic Imam Tahir Anwar, known as IT, TA, Imam Tahir or simply Imam, depending on who you ask. He is a source of pride but also one of vexation to the community. He is a source of pride because he has embraced his role as the face of the organization and sits on committees which directly impact how the population at large views Muslims. He is a source of vexation to parents because he’s living proof that one doesn’t need a high school diploma to be successful, a fact lazy children attempt to exploit to avoid studying. Of course I’m being facetious, don’t take anything out of context, I’d still like to be able to ask him to officiate at my wedding.

I like to tell a story about Imam Tahir when it comes to Ramadan, but only because it had a profound impact on the kind of Muslim I am today. A while ago, when I was a wee tot who’d only experienced taraweeh at MCA, my father took me to SBIA on the night of the 27th, which was infamous for the night MCA took its congregation hostage till they’d reached their fundraising target. This was in the heyday of the dot com era, so I believe the target for the night was around a million dollars.

Regardless of what the target was, the fundraising staff was notoriously relentless, so my father opted to take the family to SBIA so we could actually pray instead of being harangued for cash. The night of the 27th is when SBIA finishes the Quran, and it was the first time Imam Tahir completed the Quran during taraweeh, or so I was told (I apologize if that wasn’t the case). During the witr dua, he wept openly, an act which caught me by surprise and something I asked my parents about almost as soon as I could. They explained that the Imam’s heart was still so soft he was moved to tears by the Quran, something which doesn’t happen with a lot of Muslims because we either don’t care enough or don’t have that connection with the Holy Book. It’s an image I’ve carried in my heart all these years and every time I step into SBIA I think back to that day and realize how much further I have to go before I can say I have a satisfactory connection with the Quran.

One reason why that image remains so vivid in my mind is that it seems like the mosque hasn’t changed a bit since I was a child. It’s still the same old building with the same architecture and some relatively minor interior changes, which is in stark contrast to MCA, which has made so many changes to its center hardly anyone from fifteen years ago would recognize it from the inside anymore.

I’ve always liked SBIA because of the open nature of its congregation. It was because of mosques like SBIA and MCA that I grew up thinking it was a given that men brought their wives and families to the mosque, and that women were given an equitable space to pray. Many hours of traversing the Bay Area visiting mosques have sadly shown that that’s not the case at all. Seriously, if you want to see a well-run mosque, visit them during their open house.

Taraweeh here is obviously different from MCA’s because of the strong hanafi influence (MCA is more of a pick-and-choose kind of mosque when it comes to the Islamic schools of law. I’ll explain tomorrow). There are duas plastered on the walls which would make a salafi shudder, and they’re prayers I’ve really only heard being said at hanafi mosques. There’s no harm in saying extra prayers, of course, but there are those in the Muslim community who outright attack SBIA for doing things they claim the Prophet never did. Does it really matter if we’re doing things which the Prophet never did? As Imam Tahir patiently explained at an event a couple weeks before Ramadan, there is nothing wrong with doing something from which there is only benefit, and no harm. Who cares how the taraweeh is run as long as whatever’s being done is bringing the congregation closer to God?

One of the two main entrances to the mosque.  This is technically the back entrance, but during major prayers it's as widely used as the front entrance.

Date Visited: August 12, 2011

325 North 3rd St.
San Jose, CA 95112

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Awesome. I always like how IT kicks it into overdrive for taraweeh, too.

Size of congregation: 150

Capacity of center: I think they could fit 300 people in there if they really wanted to and utilized the basement.

Parking: Street, off-street shared with a medical center and the Salvation Army

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: I believe the building used to belong to a veteran’s group. It’s a one-story structure with a basement containing a kitchen, an open area and the restrooms.

Friendliness towards women: Women are more than welcome to attend. They have full sight lines of the mihrab thanks to the magic of sizeable one-way mirrors. Men and women use the same doors to enter the building. Lots of women were coming to the masjid unaccompanied by males, which I have to say wouldn’t happen at some of the mosques I’ve visited.

Friendliness of congregation: I wanted to keep a low profile tonight, but I know the community is welcoming. Anyone is welcome to attend the community iftars.


  1. Glad to see this Zuhair! I never knew you were doing about this till my mom showed me an article about this in the Mercury News today. Nice man, keep it up insha'Allah!

  2. That's really cool that you saw it, what section is it in?