Friday, August 26, 2011

Walnut Creek Islamic Center

Welcome to Walnut Creek, one of the more well-to-do ones communities the other side of the Oakland hills. You can sense the wealth by looking at the street on which this mosque is located: there are very few streetlamps and no sidewalks, both characteristics of city planning designed to keep the poors away. Or, city planning that harkens back to Walnut Creek’s rural days, what do I know?

The masjid’s website displays an earnestness to connect with the community at large, but I can tell you they have a lot of work to do. I knew I was looking for a converted church, so I pulled into the first church-like structure I saw on the street. I asked the handful of old white men hanging out in the parking lot where the mosque was, and they directed me to their gymnasium, where all I found were the night janitors doing their thing. Mosque does not mean cleaning crew, gentlemen.

It turns out I was at the wrong address and soon I’d arrived at the right building. It’s a good-sized structure, but it’s right in the middle of the aforementioned residential neighborhood, which will be a problem. See, good God-fearing Christians only attend the church en masse on one day, but good God-fearing Muslims attend it five times a day, every day. The amount of noise the Muslim congregations make is disgraceful; no amount of neighborhood barbecues to foster goodwill can make up for the hours of sleep the neighbors lose, especially during the summers. It’s because of that I strongly believe if Muslims are going to buy property, they should go commercial, because then at least they’re not preventing children from getting a good night’s sleep (an actual complaint in Santa Clara, mind you).

This masjid seems like an awesome place to hang out in fair weather, though, because of the courtyard in the middle of the “compound,” as they call it. I arrived after everyone had finished eating, of course, but folks were still enjoying the relatively warm weather, and lots of kids were scurrying around. Better they be at the masjid than at home playing video games, right?

Well, not exactly. I was looking around the center and in one of the rooms I noticed a group of children huddled around an Xbox, which had somehow made its way into the masjid. I can assure you I’ve never seen a video game system being played with at the masjid, but hey, to each community their own.

This community really isn’t very different from most of the ones I’ve discovered in my travels (travails?). There is a list of guidelines on the wall for the congregation to follow. Granted, each of the ten guidelines is in 12-point font and is composed of 1-2 compound sentences, so I’m not sure how much the people adhere to them. After all, even God only gave Moses 10 commandments of 10 words or less.

This is a very diverse community, and they’re thrilled to be in a new space better suited to their needs. The lingua franca is English, which is probably what prevented this community from becoming homogenous. The lecture after the fourth rakat of taraweeh was given by an African man who spoke to the congregation in English. It’s this inclusiveness which gives me no reason to doubt that this community will flourish. This community’s success has also attracted attention of others looking for a little financial support.

In one of my interviews I said that growing up, I used to see fundraising flyers from far-flung mosques, hoping for support from us, the relatively wealthy community. Well, Walnut Creek had a whole stack of fundraising brochures from the Bosnian community…in Boston. The Santa Clara Bosnians need to step up their game; Bostonians are dipping their hands into a piggy bank in their own backyard!

The main entrance of the former church, which is not the main entrance of the mosque.

Date Visited: August 25, 2011

2449 Buena Vista Avenue
Walnut Creek, CA 94597

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Average

Size of congregation: ~40 men, ~10 women

Capacity of center: 150 if they used their space more efficiently, way more if they needed to ever spill out into the courtyard.

Parking: There’s a lot which can hold a bit more than 20 cars, and of course there’s street parking. The problem is, it’s a residential neighborhood, and it’s not one of those residential neighborhoods where people have to fight for parking anyways (see: Berkeley) so folks probably do mind the increased traffic five times a day.

Mihrab: Yes.

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: All along the wall in the courtyard, plenty for tonight.

Building: Let us have a moment of silence for the Korean church that used to be here. I have no idea of why this building changed hands, but I hope it’s not because the Korean church had to close its doors. Rather, I hope it’s because they had to move because they needed a larger space for their congregation. I have a lot of respect for Korean Baptists; a Korean church is on the way from our house in Santa Clara to the masjid and every time my father and I used to leave for the mosque at dawn to pray fajr we’d always seen at least a couple congregants' cars parked outside the church. It’s a broad generalization, but the Korean Baptists are a very devout people and it would be a shame if they had to sell the building because they couldn’t afford it anymore.

Friendliness towards women: Guideline #2 reads, “Women are expected to wear a headscarf in the prayer area and are encouraged to maintain it elsewhere with the compound.” At ICCNC, the youth group leader related a story of when she was at Masjid al-Iman in Oakland and a woman walked in wearing relatively scandalous clothing. At other mosques, she said, the woman would have been forced to cover herself, if not asked to leave. This masjid isn’t quite as open as that place, but I’d say they’ve struck a middle ground that shouldn’t ruffle too many conservative feathers. I personally would lean towards having no hijab requirement at all, because it’s unfair to assume all women congregants are even ready/willing to put it on in the first place.

Friendliness of congregation: Everyone seemed very nice. The diversity of the crowd really helps when it comes to starting conversations or even just saying hello.

1 comment:

  1. Zuhair,
    Thank you for this post. I started frequenting this center since Ramadan started. I lived in Richmond before. I was happy to read your post. I like the way you think and encourage you to continue with your reviews of the Islamic centers around the Bay Area.
    Ramadan Mubarak and Eid Mubarak to you.