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

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.

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