Friday, August 5, 2011

University of California, Berkeley

“Asalamu alaikum, brother. Are you new here?”

I grinned. It was ironic that my reputation had preceded me at Stanford, but not at my own alma mater.

I began my visit to Berkeley by stopping by the Berkeley Masjid, unfortunately nicknamed and referred to as BM. This place can’t be completed fast enough, as the MSA is in desperate need of a mosque. I’ll delineate the reasons why as I write them in the post.

The evening began with an outdoor maghrib prayer on Sproul Plaza (Reason 1). Temperatures were slowly sinking below 60 degrees, it was cloudy and there was a chance of mist. They weren’t the ideal conditions for an outdoor prayer, but we made the best of it. I was able to connect with a fantastic set of brothers who were all in Berkeley for a variety of reasons, but were all incredibly friendly, and we had a great chat on our way to and during dinner.

In case you’re wondering, no, I did not steal food from the mouths of babes; I paid my way so the cost of my meal would not have to come out of the MSA’s coffers. We ballin’ nonprofiteers can afford such expenses because of course we’re making more money than a student holding down a part-time work-study job. Of course…

What’s hilarious about MSA iftars is most people appear right around the time the prayer’s wrapped up and tend to vanish right before the next prayer. The ninja-Muslims did not disappoint; I had been pleasantly surprised to see how many Muslims were at maghrib, but I was downright stunned to see how many of them had packed into the restaurant. Word had gotten out about the free all-you-can-eat buffet at Naan ‘N’ Curry and the Muslims were not going to pass up this opportunity. If anything, the night demonstrated the true generosity of the proprietor; while obviously he and the MSA had a financial arrangement, he must have lost money on the deal because essentially we were kicking out paying customers to have at his buffet, which he kept replenishing, bless his heart.

Before dinner, I’d asked my new friend where taraweeh was. I’d looked on the MSA Facebook page (more regularly updated than the actual website, might I add) and seen that it was at 200 Wheeler. No, it was at 100 Wheeler. He paused. Actually, it was in whatever empty room they could find in Wheeler (Reason 2). This was my first red flag that the night wasn’t going to turn out like planned.

Around 10 o’clock I dutifully headed towards campus to pray in Wheeler Hall. A hullaballoo greeted me. A vexed janitor approached me, probably because I looked like a man amongst boys. He informed me that he was supposed to lock the doors at 10 and no one without a key is allowed in afterwards. That was my second red flag. Not only were the Muslims praying in random rooms on campus, they didn’t have a permit from the university to do so (Reason 3). It’s highly irresponsible behavior, especially given the fact that recently (mostly non-Muslim) students have no less than twice organized sit-ins in Wheeler to protest budget cuts in the most selfish manner they could think of. Frankly, it’s bad dawah; we were making this poor man’s life harder by not following the rules, which led me to wonder: does a prayer count if its location was obtained illegally?

Someone is probably staring at the screen right now and thinking, hey, my tax dollars and tuition pay for this building, it better be available when I want it to be available. Sure, that may be true, but your tax dollars also pay for parks, and you’re not allowed to be there past sunset. My advice to the CalMSA is to do this right; speak to the university and secure a space.

I’m not saying this because I disliked the fact that we prayed in a Wheeler hallway, because that was fine by me. I’ve made prayer spaces out of parking lots, grass fields, even the area behind the porta potties behind Memorial Stadium. It’s just that essentially every time the MSA trespasses in Wheeler Hall (calling it like it is) they’re damaging the perception of Muslims in at least one person’s eyes. The CalMSA I grew up with always secured permits for everything they did on-campus; this fly-by-night-ism would have led to sharp rebukes from me and others.

During August, though I doubt it, maybe the office that regulates room usage shut down, I don’t know. Find other options. There’s a plethora of churches and, dare I say, synagogues, around campus which have halls which the Muslims could use. If little mosques on prairies can hold prayers in churches, so can you all.

If anything, their current practices are not sustainable. The MSA is just lucky that Wheeler Hall was empty enough for us to take over first-floor hallway. UC Berkeley hosts many programs during the summer, and I’m sure many of them operate at night, maybe past 10 at times. What would we have done had Wheeler Hall been occupied? No, the MSA needs a regular place to pray and that is why BM cannot be built fast enough.

Berkeley Masjid, looking towards the Berkeley Hills.  Sheesh, when this place opens it'll be one of the prettiest masajid in the Bay Area if only because of that view.

Date Visited: August 4, 2011

University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720

Tag-team taraweeh: Yes

Qirat: Good, but slow and meticulous.

Size of congregation: ~30

Capacity of center: Ha, center. Ha, capacity. What’s the capacity of a hallway?

Parking: Street

Mihrab: No

Minbar: No

Shoe shelves: Who needs them when you have the floor?

Building: Wheeler Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus and home to some very fun staircases that don’t lead to every floor because that would be too logical.

Friendliness towards women: It’s a university MSA, of course high. I will note, however, that unlike Stanford, the CalMSA has never had, to the best of my knowledge, a female leader.

Friendliness of congregation: High

[Ed. Note: my Berkeley insiders--yes, I'm so far-removed I need insiders--informed me that in 2011-2012 the MSA will have a female president.  How didn't I know?  Because neither their website nor Facebook page has been updated with the new officers' names.  I know the website is notoriously difficult to update, but the Facebook page, come on, guys.]


  1. The MSA will be having a female president this year.

    "which led me to wonder: does a prayer count if its location was obtained illegally?"
    Hanafi: Yes.
    Shaafi'ee: No.

  2. Thanks for the feedback! We're doing our best as a board in transition (as an MSA, we don't usually do anything during the summer actually - at least in the years I've been here), but your comments about tarawih are noted and appreciated. We only have a few more days of iftar/tarawih but we'll see what we can pull together iA. JAK for the constructive criticism.

    -Zienab (the mysterious female president ;D)