Saturday, August 18, 2012

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (Boston, Suffolk County, MA)

Subtitle: The House that William Webb Built
Sub-Subtitle: A Night at the Roxbury (Neighborhood of Boston)

I can't lie, I was excited last night. Not only was I kicking off an Eid weekend in Boston, but I was going to see an old acquaintance.

Imam William "Waxmaster Will" Suhaib Webb (IWWWSW for short) used to be the resident imam of the Muslim Community Association of the San Francisco Bay Area (MCASFBA). When IWWWSW announced last Ramadan that he was leaving MCASFBA for Boston, there was pandemonium. Panic ran through the halls of MCA. Folks started online petitions in a futile attempt to change something that was a done deal. The community bemoaned the loss of this Azhari scholar, and still more wondered how on earth their suburban children were going to keep off the streets without a strong male presence like Imam Suhaib's.

Spoiler alert: MCA has not burned down to the ground and it's my assessment that the Boston community needs him more. But I should back up.

I arrived at the masjid as the first rakat was starting. The imam's voice sounded exceedingly familiar. Could it be? Yes! Taraweeh was being led by Imam Suhaib! I wanted to shake the kids who were taraweeh-dodging outside. You have no idea what a treat this was for me. In all his years in the Bay Area I never once experienced Imam Suhaib leading taraweeh.

Imam Suhaib broke after 4 rakats to give a short lecture. It was the topic of the lecture which truly drove home for me how different the Muslim community is here in Boston. Previously, the only Muslims with whom I'd interacted were college students at MIT and Harvard, and that's no way to get the pulse of the city ("I'm a doctor's daughter, isn't everyone?"). The lecture was a short piece on Eid geared towards new Muslims. Folks at MCA, generally being well-educated Arabs or Desis, may have been bored with such a basic topic. However, the imam was only addressing the needs of his community.

And he's doing a fine job of it. The Imam was sure to address to converts in the crowd, taking his time to explain the significance the holiday and the obligation Muslims had to take the converts in so they wouldn't have to spend Eid alone. Additionally, he made mention of  special lunch at 2:00 just for the converts of the community. It's fabulous to see communities taking care if their most vulnerable congregants.

Following taraweeh, my brother and I approached Imam Suhaib to say our salams. "I'm in California!" he exclaimed after seeing my brother. "Oh my God, I am in California!" he said when he turned and saw me. And for a few fleeting minutes, while hearing him speak, so was I.

As Ramadan ends, all Muslims in Boston should be counting their blessings. And they should count Imam Suhaib as one of them.

Date Visited: August 17, 2012

Location:
100 Malcolm X Boulevard
Boston, MA 02120

Tag-team Taraweeh: Nope

Qirat: Excellent.

Size of congregation: 150-200

Capacity of center: 500

Parking: Small underground lot, but there was lots of street parking

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yea

Shoe shelves: Plenty

Building: Built as a collaboration between the Islamic Society of Boston and the Muslim American Society. Together, they aMASsed a great deal of wealth ($15 million) and developed an enorMAS structure. I'd say the prayer hall sizes are comparable to those at MCA.

Friendliness to women: Women have their own facilities here, and are treated equitably by the masjid leadership.

Friendliness of congregation: Somalis are the single biggest ethnic group at this masjid, but they are nonexistent in the masjid leadership. I found that to be a little disconcerting. The masjid is run by MAS; you really can't escape their logo on any masjid literature. Some would say that's a good thing, others a bad thing. What makes this congregation friendly is Imam Suhaib. With a leader like him, you know this masjid is open to everyone.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Ta'leef Collective (Fremont, Alameda County, CA)

My cousin and I arrived at Ta'leef around maghrib because word around the Bay is they host a potluck iftar every Thursday during Ramadan. In that sense this institution is amazing; there were people there from all over the Bay Area last night. Not many community centers here can say that they have hundreds of people from miles around show up just for iftar. There was no special program last night; it was just a group of young-ish Muslims getting together to share a meal in a nonjudgmental arena.

In that sense, it seemed very much like the average college Muslim student organization iftar. You had all kinds of Muslims in attendance: guys with ponytails, tattoos, kufis; girls with ponytails, tattoos (I'm guessing), hijabs. It was surreal seeing this crowd mixed together during iftar after having been to so many masjid iftars, but of course, this isn't a masjid.

That much was apparent when it was time to pray. Rather than shut down all activity in order to pray, someone merely informed the crowd that they were praying maghrib in the next room and invited those who wanted to pray to join them. Nobody was made to feel as if they had to pray, but conversely religious people didn't feel awkward for taking time out to pray. Oftentimes at mixed events religious people turn into THOSE people, the people who miss out on activities because they have to pray.

Ta'leef does walk a fine line, though, between the liberal and conservative viewpoints. The line to get food was segregated, but men and women were free to sit wherever. This appeased those who want to keep their distance from the opposite gender but also, as an example, let husbands and wives sit next to each other.

This is not the only place in the Bay Area which hosts events that are as free from judgement, but it is one of the few which does it on a regular basis. It also definitely serves a niche of Muslims which many masjids in the Bay Area have failed to serve.

What was also interesting was a lot of people were using this as a stop on their way to MCA, which was finishing the Quran last night in taraweeh. It's very telling that this group chose to cone here for iftar and the drive the 15-20 miles to MCA instead of doing iftar at MCA. MCA just has that reputation of not being as welcoming to all Muslims, and there are definitely many congregants who would flip out if they saw men and women eating iftar together.

Date Visited: August 16, 2012

Location:
43170 Osgood Avenue
Fremont, CA 94539

Tag-team Taraweeh: N/A

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: 100+

Capacity of center: Seemed close to capacity last night

Parking: Lot, which they share with other businesses and a masjid

Mihrab: No

Minbar: No

Shoe shelves: Yes, but limited

Building: Structure in an office park

Friendliness to women: Any kind of woman can walk in here and she will be welcome. I hope the day never comes when I have to retract that statement.

Friendliness of congregation: Admittedly, this place can be a little intimidating if you're by yourself and don't know anyone. However, the people here are genuinely nice and it's easy to meet new people.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bayview Islamic Unity Center (San Francisco, San Francisco County, CA)

Ever seen Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood?  It provides a fascinating glimpse into 1970s San Francisco.  I was enraptured by how much San Francisco has changed since then…but also by the ways in which it has not.  For example, North Beach is still the crack spot if you’re looking to be entreated by scumbags to visit theaters to view performances by girls who have made incredibly poor life decisions.  Additionally, in the movie, the serial murderer foolish enough to upset the titular character kills someone in, as the movie describes it, “the black neighborhood.”

Said black neighborhood is Bayview-Hunter’s Point.  It suffers from a staggering amount of poverty and is probably San Francisco’s most dangerous neighborhood.  It’s ironic, really, because it’s in the shadow of Candlestick Park, home of the San Francisco 49ers.  For eight days a year, thousands of people stream in and out of the neighborhood, oblivious to the misery and danger which surrounds them as they chow down on $10 hot dogs.

In any case, I chose to visit a small, off-the-radar mosque in this neighborhood.  According to my preliminary research, this masjid is a Sufi masjid run by Desis, which is funny because the neighborhood to this day is still mostly black or Latino.

It’s a shame this neighborhood has such a bad rap, really.  The streets are wide, the land is relatively flat, and the houses looked to be a decent size.  Sure, from the freeway you have to drive through some sketchy industrial blocks, but what city doesn’t have a sketchy industrial neighborhood?  I didn’t slip into a false sense of security, though, and didn’t stop looking for parking till I found a spot within sight of the masjid.

The masjid looks very festive and welcoming from the outside.  Bright lights illuminate a large banner, and while there were iron bars on the windows, the door was open, thus making the masjid seem welcoming.  There was a flurry of activity going on, and children were even playing near the entrance without fear of what lay beyond the threshold.

When I arrived, minutes before Isha, the community was cleaning up after iftar.  When I’d called earlier, the gentleman I spoke to invited me to iftar, but I declined, because what was I going to do in Bayview, of all places, after iftar?

Gender segregation in this community is interesting.  Men and women use the same entrance, and women walk through the men’s section to get to their own, which is shielded by cubicle walls.  However, during prayers, the community sets up a wall of sheets so women can walk to their section without being seen by any men.  Thank God that we men don’t have to be distracted by the horrid sight of women while praying…

It being a Sufi masjid, there was naturally quite a bit of dhikr and remembrance of Allah and the Prophet.  Again, I saw some practices which made me a little out-of-place, but enough of last night was familiar enough for it to not be a wash.

Taraweeh last night was express-lane taraweeh: 10 ayats or less.  I gathered that the congregation had already finished the Quran the night before because the imam was not going in order when reciting surahs during prayer.  Despite that, taraweeh still took a fair amount of time because of the dhikr involved.

I bounced after witr because I had zero interest in doing dhikr in the dark and I can’t lie, I was a little worried about the health of my car.  However, I found my car unmolested and was soon on my way back to the East Bay.  It could be that all of the crime in Bayview-Hunter’s Point is compressed into a couple city blocks, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone spending the time to find out if that’s true.


Date Visited: August 15, 2012

Location:

1411 Thomas Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94124

Tag-team taraweeh: Nope


Qirat: Good


Size of congregation: 30-40


Capacity of center: 50-60


Parking: Street, and I saw lots of double-parking in front of the masjid.  Meter maids don't come here, I reckon.


Mihrab: No


Minbar: Yes


Shoe shelves: Yes


Building: A converted house on a residential block.  The windows and doors here are armed to the teeth to prevent break-ins, as are most of the buildings on the block.


Friendliness towards women: Women have their own section, and judging by the number of kids running around, this is a family masjid.


Friendliness of congregation: Sufis are nice folks.  Never met one I didn't like.




The building.  It was a stark contrast to dark houses which lined the streets around it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Masjid Al-Iman (Oakland, Alameda County, CA)

I arrived at this masjid around 9:30, or around when the time for Isha begins.  Ain't nobody was there except a handful of friendly sufis, who offered me tea and engaged me in conversation.  People began trickling in around 9:45, people bearing lots of food items.  Last night was the night of the 27th of Ramadan, the night when Muslims (except for Shia Bhai) believe is most likely the night the first verses of the Quran were revealed.  The mood was celebratory and everyone seemed to be in a good mood.

This mosque isn't open regularly; the imam lives in El Sobrante and it's too difficult for him to come down here.  However, they have been praying taraweeh here every night, and striving to complete the Quran in recitation.  The imam was going to complete the Quran last night, which is another reason why everyone was in such a jovial mood.

Thanks to my earliness, I was able to observe the community in their natural habitat.  Mosques don't get much more Sufi than this, I tell you what (weren't no coffin in the corner, though).  The gender interaction was so high a conservative could afford to send his son to college with only his astaghfirullah jar (in which he deposits a quarter every time he says astaghfirullah).  Women are an active part of this community, and they weren't afraid to steer the direction of the dhikr from the back of the room.  An older woman was also not afraid of lighting incense and going from person-to-person blowing the smoke all over them.  Good thing I don't live with my parents or else I'd have a hard time explaining why I smell like hookah coming back from "the masjid."

Folks who know me know I'm not a dhikr-stickler.  I just wasn't raised doing it, so some of it just seems bizarre to me.  For example, last night, I, for the first time ever, engaged in salat-ut-tasbeeh, where the congregation does salat but also tasbeeh during the salat.  There was also singing dhikr, where the congregation sang songs praising Allah and the Prophet.  Of all the nights for me to forget my geetar at home...

This is a special masjid, and it was a special night.  I want to thank the community for letting me sharing it with them, especially the Old Boyz who decided that witr and dhikr would be Better with the Lights Off.

The congregation gearing up to pray rakats 9-20 of taraweeh.  The women were to the right of this picture.  I didn't take their picture because only a scumbag would take a picture of non-mahram hijabis.

Date Visited: August 14, 2012

Location:
5625 Shattuck Avenue
Oakland, CA 94608

Tag-team taraweeh: No, the imam led all 20, and most of the dhikr

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: 20-30

Capacity of center: 50

Parking: Street. The lot in the back was locked.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes, two!

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: A small storefront facility on Shattuck not far from the Berkeley border.  If you're not looking for it, you'd never notice it.

Friendliness towards women: Extremely friendly towards women.  We need more mosques like this one.

Friendliness of congregation: Sufis are the friendliest and most genial people I've ever met.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Masjidul Waritheen (Oakland, Alameda County, CA)

The Raiders lost last night, and it made me a little nervous because you never know how Raider fans will react to a loss, even if it's the preseason.

Thankfully, nothing happened, and not near this masjid on 47th Avenue.  I arrived well after dark minutes before isha time and was a little lost because it seemed that the masjid was closed.  The building desolate, but the doors were open, and I could hear activity going on upstairs in the school area.  While I was mulling what to do, I heard Arabic being recited across the street.  The community prays taraweeh in the center across the street, and not the former church building.

This is an African-American community, which meant quite a few people in the congregation were either new to Islam, or learning more about their faith.  Following Isha there was a short lecture on one of the lesser known companions of the Prophet, but the imam made sure to create parallels between his story and the community.  It was fitting that the time period was the early days of Islam, because then the imam made a comparison between the early Muslims and Muslims living in a predominantly non-Muslim community like Oakland.

Taraweeh was short and sweet, with dhikr after every four rakats.  Following taraweeh, the community once again engaged in dhikr, and all the prayers were wrapped up by 10:15.

The thought crossed my mind that when I retire from doing this 30 mosques project, I should just attend an African-American masjid every night, because they do everything so much quicker, which appeals to the 9-5er in me.  However, the more I think about it, the less I think I would be encouraged to do so.  Ramadan is all about pushing yourself to the limit, which of course the congregation was doing last night.  However, for a person like me, raised reciting Arabic, reading the Quran and praying taraweeh from the early age of 7, it wasn't as spiritually challenging because I'm used to praying taraweeh for 60 minutes or more.  While obviously it wouldn't be haram for me to spend Ramadan in an African-American masjid, I have a feeling it would be disliked because I'd gain so much more from a more established masjid geared towards folks with a more comprehensive understanding of Islam.  It's something for me to chew on.

The main building of the masjid.  This is also where the school is housed.


Date Visited: August 13, 2012

Location:
1652 47th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94601

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: 15-20

Capacity of center: 50-75

Parking: Street

Mihrab: No

Minbar: No

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: The main building is a converted church.  The room in which they pray is a community center across the street.  It's also where they hold jummah prayers.

Friendliness towards women: Women have an active role in this community.

Friendliness of congregation: Everyone was very friendly and welcoming.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Masjid Al-Salam (Oakland, Alameda County, CA)

As I was parking my car last night, a cruiser sped down 7th Street in the opposite direction, siren screaming and lights ablaze.  It stopped a block away from the masjid and police officers got out to take care of something (or someone).  If I were an Oakland native, I would have gotten out my phone to record the incident, because sometimes the Oakland Police Department is a little overzealous when protecting and serving the people and needs YouTube to keep it honest.

Welcome to West Oakland.  The masjid is a shot-putter's throw away from the Port of Oakland.  It ain't the nicest area.  However, the congregation has developed a foolproof method of keeping their masjid safe:

Oh, you've double-parked on city streets when going to pray?  That's cute.  Homies here quadruple-park.

Some of the kids I saw are from West Oakland, born and raised.  Last night, they were on the playground where they spend most of their days.  They were chillin' out maxin' relaxin' all cool, shootin' some b-ball outside of the school (which the mosque is on Sundays).

To keep these kids safe from guys up to no good, the congregation uses their vehicles to serve as a protective barrier between the outside and the cul-de-sac on which this mosque is located.  They also do this because many do not have relatives in Bel Air to whom they could send their boys if they get into one little fight.

The masjid is predominantly Arab.  I do believe I was the only Desi in the congregation last night.  This also was clearly not a Hanafi mosque, given the loud chorus of "ameen" which followed the recitation of Surah Fatiha.  Such a practice would be frowned upon in a Desi masjid, who believe congregants should be seen and not heard.

I'm always surprised by the size of the congregation here.  Seriously, you don't think "Arab" when you think "Oakland."  Judging by the quality and luxuriousness of some cars I saw parked on the street, I'm willing to bet a lot of the congregation doesn't live in Oakland, let alone West Oakland.  Drawn by cheap property values, they have come to this neighborhood to leave their mark.

I do believe it's their positive mark on the neighborhood that the police lets them get away with blockading an entire city block with their cars.  If this masjid wasn't respected in this community, you can bet Oakland meter maids would have a field day every night of Ramadan.  No, they take care of Oakland, so Oakland takes care of them.

Date Visited: August 12, 2012

Location:
1005 7th Street
Oakland, CA

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good, one of the better ones I've heard.  A little too high-pitched to be crowned the king of the Bay Area, though.

Size of congregation: 50-60

Capacity of center: 75-100

Parking: All street.  For God's sake, do not park in the cul-de-sac or else you'll be blocked in worse than at a Gujarti mosque in Mill Valley.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yeah.  They've built a nice little lectern.

Shoe shelves: Yes, not enough.  Someone put his shoes on top of my flippy-floppies, which is gross, because nobody knows what the heck you've walked on when you've walked on the sidewalks of Oakland.

Building: Two-story affair located on one of the major avenue in Oakland.  Minutes from the West Oakland BART station.

Friendliness towards women: Women have their own space to pray.

Friendliness of congregation: If you're Arab, you'll feel more welcome than I did last night.  That said, it's open to everyone.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Islamic Center of Mill Valley (Mill Valley, Marin County, CA)

I felt like pioneering today, so I went down to the Richmond Yacht Club with my 215 horses and informed the harbor master that I wanted to ford across the Bay to Marin County.  He looked confused, so I tried to assure him that in elementary school I'd gained a lot of experience fording rivers on the Oregon Trail (although I did lose a lot of oxen on the way).  He told me to get out of his office.

Faced with no other options, I resigned myself to paying the Poor Tax all Richmond residents must pay for the honor and privilege of visiting Marin County (read: paid the San Rafael Bridge toll).

I've been to the masjid twice before, so I decided to mix things up by breaking my fast with them.  Previously, I'd only done taraweeh here, but I figured arriving at sunset would allow me to get better acquainted with this community, which is composed primarily (exclusively?) of Gujaratis.

The Gujarati people are the Jay-Z, Rihanna and Kanye West of Mill Valley.  Yeah, they run this town.  They are also notoriously insular.  I should know; my brother married one of them.  Don't get me wrong, his in-laws like him all right; they'd just like him better if our last name was Patel and our father ran a small business.  Given that, I put on my Gujarati disguise (Desi features, brown skin, brown eyes, black hair) and hoped I wouldn't out myself.

I arrived at the masjid a few minutes before maghrib and discovered there was a lecture in progress.  Had I know there was a lecture, I definitely would have arrived earlier for research's sake.  I caught the tail end of the lecture, which was focused on the stories of the earliest Muslims.  The imam was breaking down the stories in a way which was accessible to the teenage Muslims.  As an example, instead of saying that a Muslim was engaged in a pre-marital affair with a woman in his jahiliyya days (days of ignorance), he was "dating" his "girlfriend" during his "J-days."

I was struck by his association of dating with jahiliyya.  See, growing up, I knew there was a correlation (causation, really) between the number of girlfriends I had and the number of thrashings I would receive at the hands of my mother.  That said, she never associated dating with jahiliyya, a term reserved for pre-Islamic era in Arabia (burying baby daughters, female circumcision, all that comes from jahiliyya).  But hey, whatever keeps our teenage boys away from their kryptonite (teenage girls).

Iftar was very nice.  I arrived with the assumption that they would afford this wary (and a tad weary) traveler a couple dates and a cup of water, but they did that and more.  The homecooked spread was very nice, and I appreciate that they invited me to help myself to seconds.  I declined, of course, since every bite I took would be taking food away from the mouths of babes (the little Gujus here were all over the food tonight).

I returned for isha prayer and taraweeh about an hour after maghrib.  I made sure to park in a spot which would likely not be blocked in by double-parkers (pro tip: park right next to the entrance), even though I intended to stay till the end of the night anyways.

Isha and taraweeh were interesting because there were three huffaz sharing the load.  Isha was led by the eldest imam, and then the youngest assumed the starting duties for taraweeh.  He tagged out about halfway through, and then the third imam finished taraweeh.  The young imam then tagged back in to lead witr prayer.  Fascinatingly, the youngest imam was also the slowest and most methodical.  I don't know why that surprised me, but it did.

The congregation is more disciplined than a lot of Hanafi masjids I've visited.  Some Desis at Hanafi masjids have been infected by the notion that they can get away with praying 8 rakats of taraweeh even though they, as Hanafis, are supposed to pray 20.  There was none of that here.  Major props for maintaining the tenets of the Hanafi school of law.

All things said and done, if you visit this masjid, there won't be any surprises waiting for you.  This isn't a dhikr-heavy sufi masjid, a dhikr-heavy Turkish masjid, or a dhikr-heavy Bosnian masjid.  Point being, it's not a dhikr-heavy masjid so if you grew up praying in a mixed masjid with standard rituals, you'll fit right in here.

Till next year, Mill Valley.  Stay beautiful, Guju Nation.

Date Visited: August 11, 2012

Location:
62 Shell Road
Mill Valley, CA 94941

Tag-team taraweeh: Yes

Qirat: Hard to say which one was the best.  I'll have to go with the reliever, though the starter/closer did a fine job.

Size of congregation: 40-50

Capacity of center: 100-150

Parking: They have a decent-sized parking lot, but you can also park on the street.  Fair warning, though, it's located on a very small residential street, so parking can be a problem.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes, but nobody uses them, ha.

Building: A decent-sized facility with prayer halls, a small community center and, of course, wudu stations.  However, is all of it a masjid?  That's the question I was asking myself today when I saw those in itikaf eating iftar separately in the masjid instead out in the community center.  See, those in itikaf are technically not supposed to leave the masjid.  My attitude is, you have to cross the community center to use the restroom, so why not declare the entire facility a masjid and make it halal for those in itikaf to leave the prayer hall?  Personal preference, I suppose.

Friendliness towards women: Women have their own place to pray in the back.  Unsure of how community iftars work, if they even have them.

Friendliness of congregation: You have to pass a written test in Gujarati to enter the masjid.  No, just kidding.  They are welcoming to all, and they don't care too much about what you're wearing.  I will say, however, they highly encourage congregants to wear skullcaps, even if they're wearing jeans.  In case anyone forgets their skullcap, they have a bin with extras for people to borrow.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Islamic Center of Alameda (Alameda, Alameda County, CA)

This is a relatively small mosque located in a relatively small city of the Bay Area.  However, the mosque may be small, but the community is rapidly growing.  On Sunday, the same night I attended Lighthouse Masjid, or Imam Zaid's masjid, this mosque had a fundraiser which featured Imam Zaid, amongst other luminaries.  It's pretty clear that while this space may be cramped, the community is taking steps to expand its facilities.

Unfortunately, on the island of Alameda there is very little room to expand, if any.  At this point, there's no chance there's an empty parcel of land here so they'll have to redevelop an existing property.  They have already expanded over to the next block; the masjid is on one corner and a community center is just opposite, leaving them with plenty of room for spillover and community events.  It'll be interesting to see where this mosque is in five years.  I do hope they have expanded their facilities, because as of right now, they're woefully inadequate.

The imam who leads taraweeh here is very talented.  It's easy to get lost in his sonorous recitation, which you can hear from the sidewalk.  For the neighbors' benefit, however, they didn't have any speakers outside.  It is located in a relatively quiet part of Alameda, and it's good to see that they're being considerate.  Seriously, though, very nice recitation.

The crowd was substantial, but it wasn't as crowded as I remember it being in years past.  The parking lot was jammed; if you come here for taraweeh and decide to park here, you'd better plan on staying till the end, because chances are someone will block you in.  I can't decide if it's better for Muslims to double or triple park in the masjid parking lot or take away street parking slots from local residents.  You annoy someone either way, but I suppose it's better than Muslims be annoyed than innocent neighbors.


Date Visited: August 10, 2012

Location:
901 Santa Clara Avenue
Alameda, CA 94501

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Great!

Size of congregation: 30-40

Capacity of center: 75-80 if you spilled over to the community center

Parking: Limited off-street parking

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: No

Building: Tiny one-story facility, with a community center across the street.  The community center used to be a liquor store, judging by the style of the sign hanging outside the door.

Friendliness towards women: Women have adequate facilities in which to pray

Friendliness of congregation: This is a very diverse community, anyone is welcome to pray here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bay Area Cultural Connections/Pacifica Institute (Albany, Alameda County, CA)

I must note here is that this is not a mosque.  That said, they do engage in the standard Ramadan activities you would find at any mosque: iftar, maghrib, isha, taraweeh and witr.  You just have to be ready for a slightly different take on all these activities.

Because it’s not a mosque, you best have an invitation to come, or else you’ll be THAT guy, the one standing around looking like a chump while everyone chatters around you in Turkish.  More embarrassingly, you could be a chump who looks Turkish enough for people to start speaking at you.  Not that any of this happened to me, of course…

The first thing I learned is all things Ramadan in the Turkish community are regulated by a central authority.  This eliminates much of the acrimony that pollutes many mosques (“Ramadan begins on The Dark Knight Rises Eve!” “No, it begins on The Dark Knight Rises Day!”)  Here, Ramadan began when the Turkish authority said Ramadan began.

Curiously, though, this authority also has a different method for calculating prayer times.  I arrived at around 8:05, expecting to break my fast around 8:09.  8:10 came and went, and the men had still not broken their fast because according to the Turkish calculations, maghrib does not begin at sunset.  Being a guest, I again didn’t want to be THAT guy, who breaks his fast before the congregation has.  Similarly, isha prayers here start at 10:15 even though the vast majority of mosques have now started praying at 9:45.

The evening began with iftar, obviously, but it was interesting to see that the community didn’t immediately rush to pray before sitting down to dinner.  No, everyone had dinner first, relaxed a bit, and then prayed maghrib as a congregation.  Makes sense, in all honestly, technically, you have till isha time to pray maghrib so why would you rush?  Relax, enjoy your food, have good conversations in Turkish, just as God intended.  Lousy Arabs and Desis could learn something from this.

Prayers here are heavy on dhikr.  All the dhikr is done in Arabic, obviously, but it was still kind of a trip to see how much they emphasize it.  There’s no bolting after prayers here; you have to do dhikr first (unless you want to be THAT guy).

Taraweeh here is the Hanafi-20, but it was interesting because all the surahs recited were from the 30th juz, i.e. the short surahs.  So, despite starting at 10:15, taraweeh and witr prayers were done by 11.  I’m unclear as to the reason why they don’t do the longer taraweeh prayers, but it’s probably because come on, man, people have work in the morning and it’s a burden to keep taraweeh going till midnight.

I had the opportunity last night to learn a bit more about Ramadan in Turkey and what it’s like compared to here.  You see, the buddies I met when studying abroad in Ankara in 2007 are having a reunion right now in Istanbul.  I desperately wanted to go, but couldn’t pull myself away from work long enough to make the trip worthwhile.  Speaking to the gentlemen last night and experiencing all that I did was the next best thing to spending a night in Istanbul during Ramadan.  Man, I do wish I could have gone to Istanbul, though, could have knocked out this 30 Mosques project in a day or less…

If you’re in the area and are looking to learn about a different way to celebrate Ramadan, give them a holler.  They’ll be more than happy to have you.  If there’s anything I learned in my time in Turkey, there’s nothing quite like Turkish hospitality.  You could go to the poorest village in Turkey during Ramadan and people will still take you in if you need to break your fast.  You could eat them out of house and home and they’ll just smile because to the Turks it’s an honor to have a guest.  Of course, I would never do that, especially after having been sternly warned by Imam Zaid to not abuse the generosity of a believer, but there’s nothing quite like being the guest in a Turkish home.

Word of advice, though, if you're looking for an icebreaker, don't start by mentioning Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe or Galatasaray.  Just trust me.  It'd be like going to Chicago trying to talk about the White Sox with a Cubs fan...except I've never heard of a White Sox fan chucking flares onto Wrigley Field because they hate the Cubs just that much.

Foosball table inside the building.  Many an Istanbul Derby football match has been replayed on this table.

Look for this sign from San Pablo Avenue.


Date Visited: August 9, 2012

Location:
979 San Pablo Avenue, Suite 200
Albany, CA 94706

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good.

Size of congregation: 10-15

Capacity of center: 40-50

Parking: They share a lot with two other businesses.  Don't park inside, there's plenty of street parking on the Lincoln Highway.

Mihrab: No

Minbar: No

Shoe shelves: No

Building: Commercial space on one of Albany's major thoroughfares.  Fun fact: if you keep driving on this road, eventually you'll hit New York City.

Friendliness towards women: Women are welcome here and teach some of the courses at the Pacifica Institute.

Friendliness of congregation: Love how nice the people were last night.  Seriously made me miss Turkey.  Coming here is a great substitute, though.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Islamic Center of Fairfield (Fairfield, Solano County, CA)

You wouldn't know it, but there's quite a few reasons to visit Fairfield:

1) You're a Budweiser and/or Jelly Belly jellybean fan and want to visit their factories
2) You're on the way to Sacramento and can't wait till you get there to grab some In-N-Out Burger
3) You're a true road warrior and are taking the Lincoln Highway to New York City
4) You're a fan of Cold War relics and want to check out Travis Air Force Base
5) You're on a 30 Mosques trek and are running out of mosques to visit in the Bay Area

Fairfield is a bustling city because it's become quite the bedroom city for San Francisco.  One of the most heavily trafficked bus lines is the one between Solano County and the city.  Personally?  I don't think a marginally bigger and cheaper house is worth being stuck in traffic for two hours, but hey, to each their own. Although...one advantage of commuting from Fairfield to San Francisco is technically you travel so far you don't have to fast.  Crafty Fairfield Muslims have it all figured out.

Said Muslims have also built themselves a nice, large mosque.  It's not just a musallah; in addition to having prayer halls, they have space to spread out for community events and such.

I'm getting  a little ahead of myself, though.  To enter to the mosque, you must first have to get through the iron gates which surround the mosque.  The gates at night are also guarded by a security volunteer who I'm guessing is there to stop undesirables from entering the masjid.  Once you're inside the lot, be sure to go through the correct door or else you'll have a lot of trouble finding the restrooms.  Upstairs, you'll find the aforementioned community room.  Sequestered on the far side of the building, where no non-custodial man may tread, you'll find the women's prayer hall.

Taraweeh here begins with a mosque leader translating the chapters of the Quran the imam is about to lead.  It's a nice touch; most people can't understand the Arabic recitation and it's good to see a community which strives to better understand their faith.

Fair warning, though: taraweeh here is long.  For a non-local like me, and even some locals in the congregation, 4 rakat was the limit.

The building inside the compound.

Date Visited: August 8, 2012

Location:
1945 Kidder Avenue
Fairfield, CA 94533

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Good.

Size of congregation: 30-40

Capacity of center: 100-150

Parking: There's a lot inside the gates and also street parking.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Not enough.  Signs were posted to keep shoes on the racks, but what can people do when you run out of rack space?

Building: Looks like converted housing to me.  Definitely looks like an apartment building from the outside.

Friendliness towards women: Women have their own facilities here.  They are welcome to pray at this masjid.

Friendliness of congregation: The congregation is diverse and therefore welcoming to all ethnicities.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

American Muslim Society (Napa, Napa County, CA)

Small mosque, small post.

You best keep your eyes peeled when you're looking for this mosque.  Fortunately, you'll have kept your eyes peeled as soon as you got off the freeway because the highways leading to Napa are very scenic.  Sure, vineyards may be instruments of haram, but they sure are nice to look at.  After the second coming of Christ and the world becomes Muslim, I'm sure he'll make this the largest juice-producing part of the state.

Actually, the first thing I noticed was how developed the city of Napa was.  I don't think I'd ever been here, or if I had, I was too young and too bored to pay attention.  The development and the fact that there's only a four-lane highway leading here (interstate's that-a-ways, son) means it takes quite a while to get here despite being a relatively short distance from Richmond.

I should be thankful that it was so developed.  At the podunk towns in California you're lucky if you can get anything to eat after 9 because small-towners need to go to bed or something ridiculous like that.  No, I have the massive amounts of tourism to thank for that; all the visitors who come from all over the world have helped develop this town into quite the bustling city.

Ah yes, tourism is the lifeblood of this town, and it's the industry of choice for the Muslims here.  There were a handful of Muslims in the masjid, but no less than two livery vehicles parked outside the masjid.  If the Great Recession hit the South Bay hard, it hit these guys even harder.

The community seems to be doing fine, though.  Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming.  Their facility is small, but they've done their best to transform this tiny warehouse into a comfortable place to pray. Pairsian carpets line the floor, somewhat blemished by the tape they've laid down to create prayer lines.  Decorative ceramic pieces also hang on the walls; if you ignored the concrete blocks which compose of the walls, you'd think you were in someone's living room.

Ain't no hafizes here.  The community takes turns leading taraweeh by using a Quran.  Despite there being no huffaz in the area, they are still striving to finish the Quran at night by reading a juz or more a night.  Much respect to them for trying to achieve this.

The only entrance to the mosque. Evidence of living-room-ness can be seen from the outside.

Date Visited: August 8, 2012

Location:
3149 California Boulevard #B
Napa, CA 94558

Tag-team taraweeh: No, but the congregants trade off on taraweeh duties

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: 8-10

Capacity of center: 15-20

Parking: There is lot parking, but it's cramped.

Mihrab: No

Minbar: No

Shoe shelves: Small one at the front

Building: A unit in a small warehouse complex

Friendliness towards women: There is a woman's section delineated by curtains behind the main section.  However, there were no women there last night, and there's only one restroom.  Additionally, the only sink in which to do wudu is on the wrong side of the bathroom door.  It is nestled in a small passage, so there's probably enough privacy for a woman to do wudu, but hijabis, it may be best to do your voodoo before you come.

Friendliness of congregation: Extremely friendly.  They were wondering what this big shot from Santa Clara was doing in their neck of the vineyards.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Islamic Center of Fremont (Fremont, Alameda County, CA)

Point Richmond, a neighborhood of Richmond, is where I live and work (play? No).  It's one of the oldest neighborhoods of Richmond and developed a symbiotic relationship with the refinery founded by Standard Oil in 1902.  Folks who worked at the refinery lived in Point Richmond and even today a great number of Chevron employees will crowd Point Richmond's restaurants during lunch.

Chevron does its best to be a good neighbor by implementing a variety of safety measures designed to protect residents of Richmond.  One of those is their warning siren, which is tested on the first Wednesday of every month at 11:00 AM.  It started going off at around 6:15 PM last night.  The first thing I did was check the clock.  No, it's not 11 AM.  I check the date.  No, it's not Wednesday.  Something was very wrong.

I immediately checked Twitter and found out that there was a fire at the refinery.  I didn't even wait for details; I packed my things and in 5 minutes and 10 seconds I was out of there.  I spent the extra 10 seconds taking the picture below.  Yes, the refinery is less than a 10-minute walk from my apartment.

Hope no one uses TJ triangulation technology to figure out exactly where in Point Richmond I live.

I didn't know what was burning but I wasn't going to wait around to find out.  Shelter-in-place warning be damned, I was not going to spend the night a mile away from what could be an oil fire.

Two things.  First, Point Richmond was very lucky in that the wind was blowing east, thus sparing the neighborhood from the brunt of the fire, though I noticed today ash was sprinkled on all the cars left here overnight.  Second, I'm blessed to have a car and the means to get out of Richmond at will.  My thoughts are with those Richmond residents who had to breath ash all night.

I scrambled south to spend the night with my aunt.  We had iftar, but my nerves were still a little shot, so I decided to pray taraweeh to relax.

I tell you what, if you're trying to get your mind off a refinery fire and the poison it's potentially seeping into your apartment, you can't go wrong with praying taraweeh at ICF.  Forget all the negatives about ICF which people may or may not tell you.  The recitation there is superb, and it was just the thing I needed to take my mind off the refinery.  ICF hafiz school, keep doing what you do.  We need more gifted imams to help congregations take their minds off of worldly problems or help them put those worldly problems into perspective.

ICF is in a unique location because it is at the epicenter of the Desi community in the Bay Area.  Walk through this part of Fremont and a good chunk of the people you'll see will be of South Asian descent.  There's plenty of diversity, sure, but ICF is one of the few masjids located such that you can pray, have dinner and grab groceries without moving your car.  There are Muslim-owned businesses a-plenty in this neighborhood of Fremont.  If you're missing the motherland, you can't go wrong with spending an evening in Irvington.

Date Visited:

Location:
4039 Irvington Avenue
Fremont, CA 94538

Tag-team taraweeh: Yes

Qirat: Very good.  They train huffaz well here.

Size of congregation: 100-200

Capacity of center: 200 or more, they had uncles praying outside in the parking lot.

Parking: The masjid has a lot and they provide congregants with a handy map of where they can and can't park in the neighborhood.  They have partnerships with Muslims businesses and local churches to use their lots at certain times.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: One-story affair which seems a little cramped given the size of the community.  Praying outside only works in the summertime, you know?  Good thing they have about 10 years before Ramadan moves back into the rainy season.

Friendliness towards women: Women have their own space to pray, but it's a separate room entirely.  I have no idea of how large it is, but judging from the noise emanating from it it seemed a little cramped.

Friendliness of congregation: Lots of nice people go here.  This masjid is open to all.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lighthouse Mosque (Oakland, Alameda County, CA)


I’m a huge fan of this masjid.  It’s small, intimate, the people are ever-so-friendly--it truly is a community mosque.  It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but step inside and you’ll feel the warmth.

This mosque is located in a neighborhood which has seen better days.  It’s practically buttressed against a freeway and the buildings which surround it are shabby.  The sidewalks are cracked, the streets are lined with tar because the city won’t repave them and most of the vegetation growing in the neighborhood is wild and unkempt.

Despite this, Imam Zaid has built a masjid which is extremely popular with the locals and non-locals alike.  Folks drive here from miles around, eschewing the convenience of a local mosque to share in the collective experience that is praying at Lighthouse Mosque.

Isha prayer last night started at 9:45, a little less than 90 minutes after sunset.  These days, one of the eternal debates in Ramadan is whether mosques should give their congregants enough time to eat after a long day of fasting or allow their congregants to get home to sleep a little earlier after a long night of taraweeh.  Start earlier, get home earlier.  Start later, and you don’t have to scarf down dinner to get to the masjid on time.  It’s a debate that is unlikely to be concluded anytime soon, and both sides have merit.

Isha and taraweeh were led last night by a young man who did a fine job.  He appeared to be a budding hafiz whose knowledge of the Quran isn’t as concrete as that of a grizzled veteran.  I tip my hat to his backup, a non-hafiz in the congregation who was following along in his own copy of the Quran.  The backup, despite not being a hafiz, still needed the laser-sharp focus of a hafiz to catch mistakes and help out the imam when he was stuck.

One of the nicest aspects of taraweeh here is that after 8 rakats, Imam Zaid Shakir gives a short lecture on an aspect of Islam.  Last night, he used a book on hadith as a guide to educate (or remind) the congregation about the importance of generosity, especially in Ramadan.  It was fabulous, and I was awed by the fact that I was literally sitting at the feet of a man who can pack a convention center when speaking at a conference.  If you want some personal time with Imam Zaid, come to Lighthouse.

But don’t you all come at once!  The masjid is admittedly very small and it was probably at fire-code capacity last night.  I’m unsure of whether or not they plan on purchasing or renting a larger facility, though I doubt it.  I’ve been coming here on-and-off for the past 5 years and over time they’ve made major improvements to the mosque.  Given how much money they’ve invested on interior design, I doubt this masjid is going anywhere.


Date Visited: August 5, 2012

Location:
4606 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way
Oakland, CA 94609

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Very nice

Size of congregation: 25-30

Capacity of center: 30-40

Parking: Only street.  Fair warning, this is Club territory.

Mihrab: No

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes

Building: A former retail location located on a relatively quiet section of one of Oakland's major thoroughfares.

Friendliness towards women: Women are welcome here and encouraged to participate in the programs.

Friendliness of congregation: There's very few mosques in the Yay with a nicer congregation.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Muslim Community Association (Santa Clara, Santa Clara County, CA)

Santa Clara has long been home to an organization which had aspirations to expand their operations in the city.  They formulated a plan and presented it to the city council.  Despite a small but vocal opposition, they were successful in their cause and began building a behemoth-sized facility.

I'm speaking, of course, of the San Francisco 49ers, whose billionaire owners have put Santa Clara taxpayers on the hook for paying off an $850 million dollar loan and have taken $30 million from the County, $30 million which could have been used to educate our children but hey, football 8 days a year is more important.  In exchange, the San Francisco 49ers will be changing their name to the Santa Clara 49ers.  Wait, they won't?  The San Francisco 49ers of Santa Clara, then.  No?  Wow, the taxpayers are getting a raw deal, aren't they?

I bring this up because the main issue surrounding the stadium was the financing (along with the noise, traffic and shootings which come with NFL games).  Mosques, especially large ones like MCA, face similar quandaries when it comes raising money for their programs and facilities.  MCA, being a Muslim-focused organization, isn't eligible to apply to the vast majority of foundations in the United States for funding.  They can't apply for funding from abroad in a post-9/11 world because who knows what kind of terror connections the government will find.  They're then forced to rely on individual fundraising to meet their goals, which has been tough since the Great Recession hit.

The Silicon Valley boomtimes, however, are back, somewhat.  The MCA is seeking $1 million dollars to purchase a facility to expand its Islamic school and build a youth and senior center.  It's a noble cause and it's something the community sorely needs.  I say the boomtimes are back (somewhat) because they began the fund-a-need at $100,000 and it took someone all of 10 seconds to commit it.  My jaw dropped; I've been fundraising in Richmond for too long, clearly.  There were comparatively very few mid-range donations ($10,000-$50,000) but they still ended up with $300,000 in pledges.

The bid of the night, however, came from one Waxmaster Will.  Verily, he exalted the Almighty, led by example and gave unto the cause from his own wealth.  And it was good.

Due to the fundraising, taraweeh started rather late.  The ball didn't get rolling till around 11, but it was sublime as per usual.  I've been around the Bay more than a few times at this point and I still maintain that this is the best taraweeh here.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not denigrating the teenage huffaz who sprout from the local Quran schools.  There's just something about the timber and deepness of Sheikh Jibreel's voice that the youngsters can't match because their voices haven't completely dropped yet.

One wonders if they're using Muslim labor to put the finishing touches on the expansion. It's good to give Muslims business, but doing construction work during Ramadan in the summertime must be extremely hard.


Date Visited: August 4, 2012

Location:
3003 Scott Boulevard
Santa Clara, 95054

Tag-team taraweeh: Nope.

Qirat: Lovely.

Size of congregation: In the hundreds

Capacity of center: In the thousands

Parking: The masjid has a good-sized parking lot, but there's also plenty of street parking.  Lousy Muslims also park illegally in the neighbors' parking lots.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Not enough if the center is at capacity.

Building: Old Hewlitt-Packard R&D facility.  The masjid has its eye on a facility next door to expand the school and build a new senior and youth center.

Friendliness towards women: Women dominate the volunteer corps here.  There hasn't been a female president here yet, but I'm sure there will be in the next 10 years.

Friendliness of congregation: It's really rather quite large, so it can be a little intimidating.  In this sea of strangers, though, you'll find plenty of friendly faces.

For more on MCA, read my previous years' posts.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Masjid Al-Rahman (Richmond, Contra Costa County, CA)

Not too many people know too much about Richmond, and what little they do know comes from the major news outlets.  More than a few Bay Area natives don't even know where it is.  Self-centered San Franciscans assume I'm referring to the Richmond District of the city when I say I live and work in Richmond.  Others snicker at the fact that the city has one councilmember named Butt and another named Booze.

The word most commonly associated with Richmond is crime, perhaps murder, given that in 2010 it was considered the third-most dangerous city in America.  However, the crime rate is down, and things are on an upswing here.  The city will soon be home to the second campus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and many green tech companies are headquartered here.  Chevron's investing more money into the community than it ever has, and the much-maligned local school district is also showing signs of improvement.

That said, the city has problems, and I don't mean to sugarcoat them.  If you take a look at the crime map, you'll definitely see some activities you won't see in the wealthier cities of Contra Costa County.  This masjid isn't located in the worst neighborhood in Richmond, but it also isn't located in the best, either.

This is why it troubled me to see youth goofing off around the masjid last night.  While messing around is never desirable in any masjid, it is obviously a lot safer to do so in a suburban masjid.  You don't want your kid to be outside when there could be criminals lurking in the dark.  There's a very good reason why all the houses on the street are dark at night and nobody lets their children play in the yards after sunset.  Also, not to be too morbid, but one of the reasons why some Richmond streets have speed bumps is to prevent drive-bys.  For those reasons, the people who bring their kids to the masjid need to corral them and make sure they're either praying next to them or engaged in some activity INSIDE the mosque.  To the best of my knowledge, no Muslim has been harmed going to-and-from the masjid, but that's not a good reason to not take preventative measures and teach the kids discipline.

The community does do a lot for the kids, though.  One of the main expenses for the masjid is their Sunday school, which might be smaller than the one in say, San Francisco, but it's become an institution in the community.  That's how I know the Muslims here have their heads on straight.  If you want to establish an Islamic presence, the first thing you build is a masjid (check) and the second thing you build is a school (check).

I don't spend too much time at the masjid during Ramadan because since I moved here I've been 30Mosqueing, but I always try to grab iftar here when I can.  I haven't had the chance to have dinner here yet, but the people I meet at iftar are some of the most genuine and generous men I have ever met.  The Ramadan spirit shines through strongly here.

Congregation praying.  Absent: youth having a water fight in the restroom, which has a door exiting into the parking lot.  That's not unsafe at all.

Date Visited: August 3, 2012

Location:
1110 36th Street
Richmond, CA 94804

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Very good.  I was mighty impressed.

Size of congregation: 75-100

Capacity of center: 100-150

Parking: A tiny lot, but mostly street.  Fair warnings, many cars have been broken into over the past six months, according to the City of Richmond's crime map.

Mihrab: No

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Ample

Building: A decent-sized center located very close to the interstate.  Good location for that reason.

Friendliness towards women: Women have their own prayer space and entrance.  It's welcoming towards women.

Friendliness of congregation: Very good people.  Everyone seems very convivial whenever I come here.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Al-Medina Education Center (Newark, Alameda County, CA)

Huffaz grow on trees in Fremont.  The masjid here in Newark has plucked 3-4 of them from their native habitat in Fremont to lead taraweeh.  It's a win-win: the huffaz naturally want to lead taraweeh because it allows them to enjoy the fruits of their labor and the community's giving young huffaz a chance to blossom.  It's also of course the community's hope that the huffaz plant themselves in the area and grow roots.

The produce...er, huffaz (got lost in my own agriculture metaphors) have a swagger that can only come after memorizing 6,200 verses of a book written in a non-native language.  The section of the front row in front of the mihrab is reserved for them; their groupies block off the area so nobody else can pray in this prime real estate.  The huffaz are practically children, but it's clear they're command a lot of respect in this community.  You of course have to respect them for taking time away from their families to come out to this masjid to lead taraweeh.

At first glance, this appears to be a Desi masjid, given the ethnicity of the huffaz and and the crowd in the room.  However, this masjid is actively working to shatter the stereotype of being an ethnic masjid, a stereotype born of the fact that most mosques in this part of the East Bay were founded on ethnic lines.  This mosque is actively trying to merge ethnic groups and welcome new Muslims into the fold, an important mission given the fact that few mosques have the capacity to properly educate new Muslims about Islam.

This has drawn the ire of some of the older uncles in the community, especially since the masjid leadership tries to describe themselves as progressive.  When the old aunties and uncies of any Muslim community hear the word progressive in conjunction with Islam, visions of gay Muslims and female imams dance in their heads.  Gay Muslims and female imams, of course, will have a hard time being accepted by mainstream Muslims, if they ever are (just a plain fact, no personal opinion here).  However, by describing themselves as progressive, the leadership here only means to indicate that they are open to all Muslims and are willing to give females a say in masjid operations, something lacking in many ethnic mosques.


Date Visited: August 2, 2012

Location:
5445 Central Avenue
Newark, CA 94560

Tag-team taraweeh: In full swing tonight.  The starter lead the first 8 rakat, and then a reliever took over because the starter's ayat count was getting too high.  The reliever struggled a bit, but with help from the bullpen he was able to pull through.  The closer was the best.

Qirat: As mentioned earlier, the closer's recitation was the best.  All of them had very good recitation, however.

Size of congregation: 50-ish, dropped down to 25 after 8 rakats

Capacity of center: 100-200 if you crammed folks in there

Parking: Lot and street

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Some

Building: Located towards the back of a light industrial/commercial park.  It looked like they've taken over two units in the building.  Space wasn't too much of an issue tonight, but they are doing Eid prayers somewhere else, which means their community is larger than their mosque.

Friendliness towards women: Female leadership is welcome and encouraged.  Women have an equitable prayer space.

Friendliness of congregation: Quite high.  Unlike a lot of ethnic mosques in the East Bay I felt at home here (kind of hard to feel at home when someone starts speaking in Dari, stops, looks at you resentfully, and starts speaking in English for your benefit).

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Masjid Tasbeeh (Oakland, Alameda County, CA)

My friends ask me (sometimes with mild concern) how I find some of the mosques I do.  I have my sources, but sometimes my sources aren't reliable and I'm genuinely concerned I'll arrive at an address to find a non-existent masjid.  This isn't a big deal if I'm in suburbia, but it is something to ponder when traveling to urbia, as I did last night.

I rolled with a friend last night for (mostly psychic) protection.  Figured it'd be better for two brown men to be looking for a masjid in East Oakland instead of just one.  We parked our cars and my friend warned me I was footing the bill if his was broken into.  Based on the ferocious bars on all the storefront windows, it looked like his fears were somewhat justified.

Thankfully, we found the address, and there were Muslims inside.  They looked at us with suspicion.  Crap, I thought, they think we're G-men!

"Assalamu alaikum"
"Walaikum assalam"

Damn, they still think we're FBI agents!  I had to ask something an informant probably wouldn't ask.

"Do you pray taraweeh here?"

Dynamite.  No informant would possibly make that their first question.

It turns out they don't pray taraweeh here, citing a lack of a hafiz.  They did, amusingly, invite me to lead taraweeh if I wanted to.  Only two people have ever experience a Zuhair-Saadat-led taraweeh, and I wasn't about to put these nice people through that, so I declined.

The community is actually very nice.  They were obviously very surprised to see two Pakistani men randomly show up to pray in this neighborhood, but they welcomed us and told me on my way out that I needed to come for iftar soon.

The lack of taraweeh did mean this was an extremely short visit, but it was nice regardless.  The streets of Oakland are a little rough, to say the least, and it was nice to be in an oasis of comfort and dignity.  I want to say this was the only storefront on the entire block with its lights on, which isn't too surprising given the high crime rate here.  Obviously, I don't know this community well at all, but it seems as if they'd welcome almost anyone who stopped by.

The inside of the masjid. Quite inviting, as you can see.

The outside of the masjid.  Quite uninviting, as you can see.


Date Visited: August 1, 2012

Location:
5403 Bancroft Avenue
Oakland, CA 94601

Tag-team taraweeh:  N/A

Qirat: Very good.  The imam clearly went to school to learn how to recite the Quran, or definitely has taken lessons.

Size of congregation: 8-10

Capacity of center: 15-20

Parking: Street

Mihrab: No

Minbar: No

Shoe shelves: There was a shoe organizer hanging from a bookshelf.  Most people use the floor for convenience's sake.

Building: A storefront property in East Oakland

Friendliness towards women: While there was only one woman there last night, I'm sure this masjid is open and friendly towards women.

Friendliness of congregation: Very high, once they got over the surprise of seeing people like us pop in through the door.  If you show up for iftar, they will feed you, I'm sure.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Islamic Center of Vallejo (Vallejo, Solano County, CA)

First, some context.  In 2008, the City of Vallejo became the second-largest city in the US to declare bankruptcy.  At the time, it was also the largest city in California to declare bankruptcy, till Stockton became jealous and this year became the largest city in the US to declare bankruptcy.

The point is, things here are bad--to put it lightly--even as the city emerges from bankruptcy.  Crime has skyrocketed, thanks in part to a police department that's shrunk to 93 officers from a high of 158 in 2005.  Foreclosed homes line the streets, spoiling neighborhoods with their dark windows and overgrown weeds.  Unemployed youth roam the streets, looking (or maybe not looking anymore) for something better to do.  Parts of the city look like scenes from The Grapes of Wrath, except instead of forlorn Okies and Arkies meeting your gaze, you see Californies (oh, the irony).

The Muslim community here has taken advantage of the economic conditions and purchased a property which used to belong to a church.  I'm unsure of why the church moved away, but honestly, it's a great time to be buying property right now and so the mosque's board of directors can't be blamed for pulling the trigger on the deal.

When I visited last night, it was clear that the Muslims have a lot of work left to do when it comes to making the new masjid work for them.  It looked like the only major changes they've made to the building are move the pews from the nave and remove the crosses.  Carpet runners line the eastern side of what used to be the nave, and the hallway has a wooden screen to separate the men's section from the women's section.

Considering the size of the community, the church was a good purchase for them.  The congregation last night filled about a quarter of the room during prayers, so there's lots of room for future expansion.

The community is wonderfully friendly.  I broke my fast in Richmond and headed over to Vallejo after maghrib to do some advance scouting (basically needed to make sure of the address).  When I arrived, they were in the middle of dinner, but they pulled out their extra pizza boxes and stuffed me with halal Round Table Pizza.  Ramadan really does bring the best out in people; all the pizza that night was donated by one person.  There's also no other time of the year outside of Ramadan a hungry man can show up to the mosque and count on being fed.

Hmm, I'm pretty sure Muslims DON'T worship at 11:00 AM. An artifact left by the previous tenants. 

 Looks kinda purty.  Too bad this wall is the qibla wall, which means they'll probably be getting rid of the stained glass windows soon.

Pews being used as common cafeteria benches...in a mosque??  Welcome to Obama's America...

Date Visited: July 31, 2012

Location:
1181 Lewis Ave
Vallejo, CA 94591

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: I liked this guy.  His speed was average in Isha, and then he kicked it into hyperdrive for taraweeh.  'Tis a true skill to recite the Quran that quickly.

Size of congregation: 75-100

Capacity of center: 200-300, counting all the rooms available in this church.

Parking: Lotsa parking in the lot.  Street parking is kind of tight since it's in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

Mihrab: They just inherited the church, and churches aren't exactly known for their mihrabs.

Minbar: Ditto.

Shoe shelves: Non-existent.  God-fearing Christians don't take their shoes off in church, so there weren't any shoe racks anywhere.

Building: A recently-purchased church.  I have two theories as to why the church closed.  First, it could be that as Vallejo's economy tanked, people left, thus reducing the weekly donations this church receives.  Second, the church itself could have fled the city as the economy tanked.  I could have asked, but didn't care enough to.

Friendliness towards women: Women have their own space towards the back.

Friendliness of congregation: Very friendly.  Folks were desperate to give me pizza last night and make sure I was well-fed.  I did notice there was little interaction between the 3arabs (pronounced three-arabs) and the Desis, though.  Typical, sure, but I would have thought given the small size of the community there'd be more mingling.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Masjid Annur (Sacramento, Sacramento County, CA)


This is the BEST mosque in Sacramento.  I say that because it used to be a BEST department store (I’m punny, aren’t I?).

Best mosque or not, its neighborhood is a little rough around the edges.  This vehicle was parked in the lot:

They imported these from Saudi Arabia, where the fatwa 5-0 cruise around looking for crimes against Allah like women driving.

In addition to this masjid’s stable of private security transport vehicles, they’re also neighbors with Sacramento County’s Sheriff’s Department.  Tall iron gates surround the mosque.  Yessir, there’s plenty about this neighborhood which is less than desirable.  That said, the sheer number of people in attendance creates a festive Ramadan atmosphere and you forget that there are multiple liquor stores down the street.

If you attend this mosque you are either (check one):
_ Arab
_ Desi
_ Other

Diversity is not this masjid’s strong suit, but it is family friendly.  Younglings were scampering through the halls, but they were disciplined enough to settle down by the time prayers got started.

All mosques are houses of Allah, but some do look prettier than others.  This masjid is not as pretty as the SALAM Center, but that’s not for a lack of wealth.  This nonprofit also operates a K-12 school, which is an expensive undertaking.  Granted, SALAM also runs an Islamic school, but it’s smaller and does not go beyond middle school.  My point is some mosques have different funding priorities and it’s my hypothesis that the masjid could build a stunning mihrab/prayer hall if they wanted to.

Additionally, my insider informed me that the imams of all the area’s mosques know each other quite well and collaborate on projects.  I learned that the masjid’s imams meet and distribute zakat money based on their assessment of the broader community’s needs.  This form of collaboration should be emulated in metropolitan areas all across the country.  It’s my assessment that this doesn’t happen, because in my travels across the Bay Area it was apparent that some mosques operate in silos given the state of their facilities.

That said, even if mosques don’t collaborate on the distribution of zakat money, they do help each other out when it comes to development.  As soon as my hometown mosque of MCA was fairly well-established, we began to host a slew of fundraisers for other masjids who needed help getting off the ground, including this masjid.  It’s my humble opinion that mosques should pay it forward; once the community is established, it’s practically incumbent on them to help out other Muslim communities.  It’s heartening for me to learn that Masjid Annur is working to help out the little guys just like how the Bay Area helped them out when they themselves were little guys with their hands on an abandoned department store.


Date Visited: July 30, 2012

Location:
6990 65th Street
Sacramento, CA 95823

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Slow

Size of congregation: 250

Capacity of center: 500-1,000

Parking: Lots of parking around the center since it used to be a department store.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: A mix of shelves and filing cabinets.  Very spartan.

Building: A converted department store that has been suited to the community's needs by adding a prayer space and school.

Friendliness towards women: Women have an equitable space to pray here.

Friendliness of congregation: It's not dominated by any one ethnic group, so visitors should feel welcome here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

SALAM (Sacramento, Sacramento County, CA)

Yes, the URL of this blog is bayareamosques.blogspot.com.  I know this Sacramento mosque is not in the Bay Area, but this nonprofiteer is still saving children Monday to Friday from 9-5 and duty calls that I be in Sacramento for the next two days.

First of all, much respect to all Muslims out here who are fasting.  Where I live and work in the Bay Area it rarely gets warmer than 75 degrees in the summer.  Out here was the first time I’ve broken a sweat while fasting this summer.  It’s much easier to do these 16 hour fasts if you’re in a cooler climate, that’s for sure.  Rumor has it a lot of Sacramentans are planning on taking month-long vacations in Australia next summer (8 hour winter fasts ftw).

What does SALAM stand for?  Salam means peace, of course, but the acronym is a little more ominous: the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims.  Just be glad they went with “League” and not “Legion,” which I do hear was floated at the acronym-drafting meeting years ago.

This league of Muslims is an admirer of the legion of Muslims who ruled Spain for centuries.  This much is apparent from the Andalusian architecture of the masjid; survey the masjid from the outside and you can’t help but think of the Islamic architecture of Cordoba, particularly their grand mosque.

Interestingly enough, the main prayer hall is very different from that of the Grand Mosque of Cordoba.  The architects opted to go green and made it the dominant color inside.  Their mihrab/minbar façade is fantastic and is the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen in the entire state.  This community should be thanking the Lord for the low cost of living in the Sacramento-area; the construction cost here was undoubtedly much lower than what it would cost in the Bay Area.  Many masjids in the Bay Area struggle to meet their project goals because of high costs, but that’s a subject for another blog post altogether.

Besides the architecture, the other thing that stands out here is the diversity of the community.  No one ethnic group appeared to be dominant and that helped foster a sense of togetherness in the facility, which is very important given the number of people who were there last night.  It can be a little intimidating stepping into a masjid and being welcomed by a sea of homogeneity.

The taraweeh’s structure here does not do enough keep the community engaged(1).  They do 8 rakats here, but they break after 4 and the imam gives a lecture.  As soon as salams for the 4th rakat were said, the youth bolted for the door to socialize while the shepherd addressed his flock.  This is not an uncommon problem, but this community needs to figure out how to engage the youth so they maximize their time in the masjid.  Doing so would provide the scaffolding necessary for youth to become adults who actually want to go to the masjid.

Think of it as donor cultivation, almost.  If you’re not providing programs that are keeping youth engaged, you’re going to have a hard time getting them to support your nonprofit when they’re adults.  Sorry guys, but you can’t count on (only) the Fear of God to bring Muslims into your masjids.

That said, it’s obvious this masjid does not have a problem with community engagement.  My best friend was married right here in the community center, and it was a joy sharing with him the happiest day of his life(2).  It’s great visiting a masjid welcoming enough for people to want to get married here.

Say, those arches look very familiar. Might I have seen them in Cordoba? 

Lovely mihrab, really lovely.

Date Visited: July 29, 2012

Location:
4541 College Oak Drive
Sacramento, CA 95841

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Slow, methodical but very nice

Size of congregation: 150-200

Capacity of center: The prayer area was almost full.  I see capacity problems 10-15 years down the line.

Parking: Parking lot surrounds the building.  Apparently some congregants also park at American River College’s student lot across the street.

Mihrab: Yes.  If you visited just to see this, you wouldn’t be wasting your time.

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes, and they come with shoe horns!  SALAM Center, you fancy, huh?

Building: Two lovely buildings which should look exceedingly familiar to anyone who’s been to Southern Spain and checked out the Islamic architecture in and outside of the city of Cordoba.

Friendliness towards women: Fair warning, conservatives, women can be seen and heard here.  The men’s section and women’s section is separated only by knee-high barriers.  Much love to SALAM Center for building a masjid to which I’d be comfortable taking my own mother.

Friendliness of congregation: Diverse congregations are friendly congregations.  When we arrived people was also wrapping up the masjid’s community iftar, a sign of a healthy community.

(1) It was, after all, a native son of the SALAM Center who coined the phrase "taraweeh-dodging," or TD.
(2) Elle oh elle. Oh, I make myself laugh sometimes.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ibrahim Khalilullah Islamic Center (Fremont, Alameda County, CA)

Muslims in the West have always faced a quandary when it comes to picking a location for their masjid.  Here in the Bay Area, my local mosque was always doing damage control with neighbors upset at being woken up at 11 PM and 5 AM by congregants heading to prayers in the summertime.  Picking a commercial location hurts local businesses, whose customers can't find parking on Fridays during jummah.  Light industrial?  It's a nightmare getting a permit for a mosque because of the kids.  Oh, to live in Pakistan, where you can squat on someone's land, turn it into a masjid and nobody can say nothin' because their grasp on the rule of law is tenuous at best.

This mosque is located in a commercial park, but to its advantage it shares the block with two other Muslim nonprofits: the Ta'leef Collective and the Averroes Institute.

The Ta'leef Collective is a nonprofit offshoot of Zaytuna Institute and is famous for being probably the least-judgmental Islamic institution in the Bay Area.  Anyone can show up as they are and they will be welcomed in the halls of Ta'leef.  Averroes is Islamic high school, one of the first of its kind in the Bay Area.  In any case, when you share a parking lot with two other Muslim organizations, you don't have to worry as much about parking causing any pains.  Also, when the neighbors are surrounded by 3 different Islamic organizations, they're bound to learn more about the religion.


What's absolutely stunning about this masjid is how quiet it is, given the congregation's size.  The men's room has a capacity of exactly 168, and I'd say it was a little under half-full tonight.  Despite that, it was an extremely serene place to pray taraweeh.  The children were remarkably well-disciplined and all of them old enough to know better were focused on their prayer.  A toddler did start squawking during taraweeh, but his needs were met very quickly and we returned to a space where you could here a pin drop.  If you're tired of the hustle-and-bustle of the larger mosques but still want a large-mosque feel, go here.


Hands down one of the prettiest mihrabs in the Bay Area.

Date Visited: July 28, 2012

Location:

43140 Osgood Drive
Fremont, CA 94539


Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Wonderful

Size of congregation: 80-100 total

Capacity of center: 250-ish

Parking: Off-street parking in the business park.  People probably park on the street during business hours because they share the lot with many other businesses.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Plenty

Building: A building in a nondescript business park.  You'll probably drive past it the first time you're looking for it since there's only one driveway leading to the buildings.

Friendliness towards women: Women had their own entrance and an equitable space in which to pray.

Friendliness of congregation: It's primarily an Afghan community, but I felt like everyone was welcome.