Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Islamic Center of Vallejo (Vallejo, Solano County, CA)

First, some context.  In 2008, the City of Vallejo became the second-largest city in the US to declare bankruptcy.  At the time, it was also the largest city in California to declare bankruptcy, till Stockton became jealous and this year became the largest city in the US to declare bankruptcy.

The point is, things here are bad--to put it lightly--even as the city emerges from bankruptcy.  Crime has skyrocketed, thanks in part to a police department that's shrunk to 93 officers from a high of 158 in 2005.  Foreclosed homes line the streets, spoiling neighborhoods with their dark windows and overgrown weeds.  Unemployed youth roam the streets, looking (or maybe not looking anymore) for something better to do.  Parts of the city look like scenes from The Grapes of Wrath, except instead of forlorn Okies and Arkies meeting your gaze, you see Californies (oh, the irony).

The Muslim community here has taken advantage of the economic conditions and purchased a property which used to belong to a church.  I'm unsure of why the church moved away, but honestly, it's a great time to be buying property right now and so the mosque's board of directors can't be blamed for pulling the trigger on the deal.

When I visited last night, it was clear that the Muslims have a lot of work left to do when it comes to making the new masjid work for them.  It looked like the only major changes they've made to the building are move the pews from the nave and remove the crosses.  Carpet runners line the eastern side of what used to be the nave, and the hallway has a wooden screen to separate the men's section from the women's section.

Considering the size of the community, the church was a good purchase for them.  The congregation last night filled about a quarter of the room during prayers, so there's lots of room for future expansion.

The community is wonderfully friendly.  I broke my fast in Richmond and headed over to Vallejo after maghrib to do some advance scouting (basically needed to make sure of the address).  When I arrived, they were in the middle of dinner, but they pulled out their extra pizza boxes and stuffed me with halal Round Table Pizza.  Ramadan really does bring the best out in people; all the pizza that night was donated by one person.  There's also no other time of the year outside of Ramadan a hungry man can show up to the mosque and count on being fed.

Hmm, I'm pretty sure Muslims DON'T worship at 11:00 AM. An artifact left by the previous tenants. 

 Looks kinda purty.  Too bad this wall is the qibla wall, which means they'll probably be getting rid of the stained glass windows soon.

Pews being used as common cafeteria a mosque??  Welcome to Obama's America...

Date Visited: July 31, 2012

1181 Lewis Ave
Vallejo, CA 94591

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: I liked this guy.  His speed was average in Isha, and then he kicked it into hyperdrive for taraweeh.  'Tis a true skill to recite the Quran that quickly.

Size of congregation: 75-100

Capacity of center: 200-300, counting all the rooms available in this church.

Parking: Lotsa parking in the lot.  Street parking is kind of tight since it's in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

Mihrab: They just inherited the church, and churches aren't exactly known for their mihrabs.

Minbar: Ditto.

Shoe shelves: Non-existent.  God-fearing Christians don't take their shoes off in church, so there weren't any shoe racks anywhere.

Building: A recently-purchased church.  I have two theories as to why the church closed.  First, it could be that as Vallejo's economy tanked, people left, thus reducing the weekly donations this church receives.  Second, the church itself could have fled the city as the economy tanked.  I could have asked, but didn't care enough to.

Friendliness towards women: Women have their own space towards the back.

Friendliness of congregation: Very friendly.  Folks were desperate to give me pizza last night and make sure I was well-fed.  I did notice there was little interaction between the 3arabs (pronounced three-arabs) and the Desis, though.  Typical, sure, but I would have thought given the small size of the community there'd be more mingling.

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