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


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.

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