Saturday, July 21, 2012

Islamic Center of Petaluma (Sonoma County, CA)

Welcome to Wine Country.

Sonoma and Napa Counties grow grapes that are on par with Europe.  Tourists from all over the world come here to tour the wineries and vineyards.  Nestled between these gardens of haram is an oasis of halal: the Petaluma masjid.  No, you can't see any grapevines from the mosque, but give how tiny Petaluma is, you know they're not too far.  One also wonders, given Petaluma's relatively small economy, how many local Muslims work for the vintners.

The first thing you notice about this masjid is that it used to be a church.  Unfortunately, the qibla (northeast) and where the altar used to be are almost perpendicular, so the room looks a little strange at first.  That said, they have done an excellent job of making this masjid look beautiful.  Chandeliers hang from the ceiling, calligraphy adorns the wall and the mihrab is an impressive wooden affair.

The community seems very tight-knit, very tight-knit and extremely Desi.  Everyone seemed to know each other, and so, unlike larger mosques, there was no need for someone to give announcements before or after prayer because everyone already knew what's up.

My one complaint as an outsider was the state of the women's section.  The prayer hall is huge, and the men were using barely 25% of the space allocated to them.  Women, however, are relegated to a dim corner of the room and have to pray behind high partitions.  What is it about mosque leadership that automatically gives women less space to pray than the men?  It'd make sense at a crowded mosque (see: MCA, Belmont, et al.) but if you have space to spare, why not make the spaces equitable?  The women's section, in my opinion, was a little claustrophobic; it's a red flag when prayer areas are the size of college dorm rooms.

On my way out I noticed a list of rules and regulations, undoubtedly to a) keep the TJs in check and b) cover their bases in case the government comes a-knockin'.  For your reading pleasure:

My favorite is Rule 8. What kind of a mother raises a son who needs to be reminded to not enter the sisters' section/use the women's restroom?

Date Visited: July 20, 2012

222 Bassett Street
Petaluma, CA 94952

Tag-team taraweeh: To the best of my knowledge, no.  This is a strict Hanafi mosque, which meant while literally everyone else prayed 20 rakats, this guy bounced after 8.

Qirat: I liked it.  Rapid-fire Desi recitation ftw.

Size of congregation: 40 men.  0 women (small wonder)

Capacity of center: 300-400

Parking: Street.  It's in the middle of a residential neighborhood so it may or may not get tight.  It is Petaluma, after all (population: > 60,000) so I doubt it's too much of an issue.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yeah, and sufficient.  Wasn't walking over anyone's shoes today.

Building: I'm convinced it's a converted church.  If not a church then maybe a, this Petaluma, it had to be a church.

Friendliness towards women: +1 point for having a rule requiring all men to respect the women's privacy. -1 point for making the women pray in a dark corner of the mosque behind tall partitions.

Friendliness of congregation: If you're a Desi male, you'll fit right in.  All others may not feel as welcome or blend in too well.  Shoot, I'm Pakistani but I was wearing kafir clothes (polo and jeans) and I felt self-conscious in a sea of kurtas.

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