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

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.

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