Saturday, July 28, 2012

Berkeley Masjid (Berkeley, Alameda County, CA)

One of the problems of being a masjid in college-town is the transient Muslim population.  Broke students spend their limited resources on necessities: tuition, fees, hookah, rent and food.  They've got little to no money to support a nonprofit (the "for the price of one hookah, you can buy a brick for the masjid" fundraising campaign also fell flat).  This makes maintaining a mosque hard, and establishing one even harder.

Berkeley's had a noticeable Muslim population since the 1960s, but they were one of the few major religious groups in the city to not have a prayer space near campus.  For years, students have been busing it to local mosques, praying in rented spaces or creating fire hazards by praying in building hallways.

The times they are a-changin'.  UC Berkeley is now home to a meditation room on the fifth floor of the student union (gets a little awkward when Muslims are praying and the Satanists are getting their worship on).  Berkeley Masjid, after years of insufficient fundraising and other struggles, is finally open.

I have to give the Berkeley Masjid Foundation and the Berkeley MSA a lot of credit.  The building looks very nice.  Marble flooring?  Stone steps?  Wooden blinds?  Hardy but comfortable carpet?  Absolutely gorgeous.

The best part is they have systems in place to make sure it stays as sparkling as it was last night.  In the afternoon I observed volunteers, probably Berkeley students, mopping the restroom.  It's great to see young men humble enough to serve as sanitation engineers.  It's great for Stanford students to see their Berkeley peers mopping floors, I'm sure.

The Berkeley MSA hasn't changed too much.  The guys still have a bit of fun with each other.  As I was exiting the restroom, one young'un came out with me.  His young'un friends started giving him a hard time:

: "Did you wash your hands?"
: "He used the bathroom and didn't wash his hands!"
: "What are you, white?"

White people, the cat's out of the bag.  We Muslims don't think you wash your hands after using the bathroom.  Why do you think we never invite you to our homes and masjids?  Oh yeah, we also use "you're white" as an insult.

Kids, be more careful about what you say.  Someone might hear it and blog it.

No, but seriously, it's great to see how the Berkeley MSA students have become the custodians of this masjid.  May Allah reward them for being so dedicated to the care of one of His houses.  And may Allah reward me for telling the world how great the Berkeley MSA is.  Ameen.

Taraweeh here is bizarre.  They pray 8 rakats on weeknights and 20 rakats on weekends.  Obviously, this means that their goal is not to finish the Quran during taraweeh.  Regardless of how many rakats you pray, if your goal is to finish the Quran in 29 nights, you have to recite 1.034 juz a night.  Still, their hybrid model tells me that this masjid doesn't stick to one madhab or the other, an important quality in a university town which attracts all kinds of Muslims.

I needed a little help to make my final observation.  Back when I was a student, there was no tension between the hijabis and non-hijabis because one group covered and the other didn't.  Sure, there was drama (it's not an MSA without drama!) but it was never because of a hijab or lack thereof.  Nobody judged each other based on what kind of a Muslims they looked like.  

I had to see if that was still true, so I dispatched an agent to the women's section.  My cousin does not wear the hijab and was covering her hair with her sweatshirt's hood.  I'm happy to say she reported there wasn't any hostility or judgment from the women in attendance.  Good on you, Berkeley women, good on you.

Post-iftar wreckage.  Moochers of Berkeley, congregate here at sunset.  Moochers of Berkeley congregate here at sunset.  Moochers of Berkeley congregate here at sunset?  Moochers of Berkeley congregate here at sunset!

Medallion in the foyer.

The congregation was praying in the zone last night, as opposed to praying man-to-man.

Date Visited: July 27, 2012

2176 Derby Street
Berkeley, CA 94705

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Very fast and beautiful.

Size of congregation: 40-50

Capacity of center: 250?  There's lot of spillover room, so I'm thinking even 1,000 is possible if all the square footage is used.

Parking: Street.  Luckily, this neighborhood isn't metered, and the two-hour limit expires by evening.

Mihrab: No

Minbar: No

Shoe shelves: Non-existent.  I had no idea of what to do with my shoes.  I didn't want to wear them in the bathroom because sneakers can cause the wet floors to get filthy.  However, I didn't want to wear the masjid's slippers because you have no idea of who's worn those before.  No masjid has successfully reconciled these two very valid concerns.

Building: Large two-story building located in a residential neighborhood about 6 blocks away from campus.

Friendliness towards women: Most of the congregants here are students.  Therefore, the facilities available to women are of the highest quality. If you don't feel comfortable here as a woman, there isn't anything wrong with the masjid, there's something wrong with you.

Friendliness of congregation: Student populations are generally very friendly and welcoming.

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