Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Masjid Annur (Sacramento, Sacramento County, CA)


This is the BEST mosque in Sacramento.  I say that because it used to be a BEST department store (I’m punny, aren’t I?).

Best mosque or not, its neighborhood is a little rough around the edges.  This vehicle was parked in the lot:

They imported these from Saudi Arabia, where the fatwa 5-0 cruise around looking for crimes against Allah like women driving.

In addition to this masjid’s stable of private security transport vehicles, they’re also neighbors with Sacramento County’s Sheriff’s Department.  Tall iron gates surround the mosque.  Yessir, there’s plenty about this neighborhood which is less than desirable.  That said, the sheer number of people in attendance creates a festive Ramadan atmosphere and you forget that there are multiple liquor stores down the street.

If you attend this mosque you are either (check one):
_ Arab
_ Desi
_ Other

Diversity is not this masjid’s strong suit, but it is family friendly.  Younglings were scampering through the halls, but they were disciplined enough to settle down by the time prayers got started.

All mosques are houses of Allah, but some do look prettier than others.  This masjid is not as pretty as the SALAM Center, but that’s not for a lack of wealth.  This nonprofit also operates a K-12 school, which is an expensive undertaking.  Granted, SALAM also runs an Islamic school, but it’s smaller and does not go beyond middle school.  My point is some mosques have different funding priorities and it’s my hypothesis that the masjid could build a stunning mihrab/prayer hall if they wanted to.

Additionally, my insider informed me that the imams of all the area’s mosques know each other quite well and collaborate on projects.  I learned that the masjid’s imams meet and distribute zakat money based on their assessment of the broader community’s needs.  This form of collaboration should be emulated in metropolitan areas all across the country.  It’s my assessment that this doesn’t happen, because in my travels across the Bay Area it was apparent that some mosques operate in silos given the state of their facilities.

That said, even if mosques don’t collaborate on the distribution of zakat money, they do help each other out when it comes to development.  As soon as my hometown mosque of MCA was fairly well-established, we began to host a slew of fundraisers for other masjids who needed help getting off the ground, including this masjid.  It’s my humble opinion that mosques should pay it forward; once the community is established, it’s practically incumbent on them to help out other Muslim communities.  It’s heartening for me to learn that Masjid Annur is working to help out the little guys just like how the Bay Area helped them out when they themselves were little guys with their hands on an abandoned department store.


Date Visited: July 30, 2012

Location:
6990 65th Street
Sacramento, CA 95823

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Slow

Size of congregation: 250

Capacity of center: 500-1,000

Parking: Lots of parking around the center since it used to be a department store.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: A mix of shelves and filing cabinets.  Very spartan.

Building: A converted department store that has been suited to the community's needs by adding a prayer space and school.

Friendliness towards women: Women have an equitable space to pray here.

Friendliness of congregation: It's not dominated by any one ethnic group, so visitors should feel welcome here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

SALAM (Sacramento, Sacramento County, CA)

Yes, the URL of this blog is bayareamosques.blogspot.com.  I know this Sacramento mosque is not in the Bay Area, but this nonprofiteer is still saving children Monday to Friday from 9-5 and duty calls that I be in Sacramento for the next two days.

First of all, much respect to all Muslims out here who are fasting.  Where I live and work in the Bay Area it rarely gets warmer than 75 degrees in the summer.  Out here was the first time I’ve broken a sweat while fasting this summer.  It’s much easier to do these 16 hour fasts if you’re in a cooler climate, that’s for sure.  Rumor has it a lot of Sacramentans are planning on taking month-long vacations in Australia next summer (8 hour winter fasts ftw).

What does SALAM stand for?  Salam means peace, of course, but the acronym is a little more ominous: the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims.  Just be glad they went with “League” and not “Legion,” which I do hear was floated at the acronym-drafting meeting years ago.

This league of Muslims is an admirer of the legion of Muslims who ruled Spain for centuries.  This much is apparent from the Andalusian architecture of the masjid; survey the masjid from the outside and you can’t help but think of the Islamic architecture of Cordoba, particularly their grand mosque.

Interestingly enough, the main prayer hall is very different from that of the Grand Mosque of Cordoba.  The architects opted to go green and made it the dominant color inside.  Their mihrab/minbar fa├žade is fantastic and is the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen in the entire state.  This community should be thanking the Lord for the low cost of living in the Sacramento-area; the construction cost here was undoubtedly much lower than what it would cost in the Bay Area.  Many masjids in the Bay Area struggle to meet their project goals because of high costs, but that’s a subject for another blog post altogether.

Besides the architecture, the other thing that stands out here is the diversity of the community.  No one ethnic group appeared to be dominant and that helped foster a sense of togetherness in the facility, which is very important given the number of people who were there last night.  It can be a little intimidating stepping into a masjid and being welcomed by a sea of homogeneity.

The taraweeh’s structure here does not do enough keep the community engaged(1).  They do 8 rakats here, but they break after 4 and the imam gives a lecture.  As soon as salams for the 4th rakat were said, the youth bolted for the door to socialize while the shepherd addressed his flock.  This is not an uncommon problem, but this community needs to figure out how to engage the youth so they maximize their time in the masjid.  Doing so would provide the scaffolding necessary for youth to become adults who actually want to go to the masjid.

Think of it as donor cultivation, almost.  If you’re not providing programs that are keeping youth engaged, you’re going to have a hard time getting them to support your nonprofit when they’re adults.  Sorry guys, but you can’t count on (only) the Fear of God to bring Muslims into your masjids.

That said, it’s obvious this masjid does not have a problem with community engagement.  My best friend was married right here in the community center, and it was a joy sharing with him the happiest day of his life(2).  It’s great visiting a masjid welcoming enough for people to want to get married here.

Say, those arches look very familiar. Might I have seen them in Cordoba? 

Lovely mihrab, really lovely.

Date Visited: July 29, 2012

Location:
4541 College Oak Drive
Sacramento, CA 95841

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Slow, methodical but very nice

Size of congregation: 150-200

Capacity of center: The prayer area was almost full.  I see capacity problems 10-15 years down the line.

Parking: Parking lot surrounds the building.  Apparently some congregants also park at American River College’s student lot across the street.

Mihrab: Yes.  If you visited just to see this, you wouldn’t be wasting your time.

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes, and they come with shoe horns!  SALAM Center, you fancy, huh?

Building: Two lovely buildings which should look exceedingly familiar to anyone who’s been to Southern Spain and checked out the Islamic architecture in and outside of the city of Cordoba.

Friendliness towards women: Fair warning, conservatives, women can be seen and heard here.  The men’s section and women’s section is separated only by knee-high barriers.  Much love to SALAM Center for building a masjid to which I’d be comfortable taking my own mother.

Friendliness of congregation: Diverse congregations are friendly congregations.  When we arrived people was also wrapping up the masjid’s community iftar, a sign of a healthy community.

(1) It was, after all, a native son of the SALAM Center who coined the phrase "taraweeh-dodging," or TD.
(2) Elle oh elle. Oh, I make myself laugh sometimes.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ibrahim Khalilullah Islamic Center (Fremont, Alameda County, CA)

Muslims in the West have always faced a quandary when it comes to picking a location for their masjid.  Here in the Bay Area, my local mosque was always doing damage control with neighbors upset at being woken up at 11 PM and 5 AM by congregants heading to prayers in the summertime.  Picking a commercial location hurts local businesses, whose customers can't find parking on Fridays during jummah.  Light industrial?  It's a nightmare getting a permit for a mosque because of the kids.  Oh, to live in Pakistan, where you can squat on someone's land, turn it into a masjid and nobody can say nothin' because their grasp on the rule of law is tenuous at best.

This mosque is located in a commercial park, but to its advantage it shares the block with two other Muslim nonprofits: the Ta'leef Collective and the Averroes Institute.

The Ta'leef Collective is a nonprofit offshoot of Zaytuna Institute and is famous for being probably the least-judgmental Islamic institution in the Bay Area.  Anyone can show up as they are and they will be welcomed in the halls of Ta'leef.  Averroes is Islamic high school, one of the first of its kind in the Bay Area.  In any case, when you share a parking lot with two other Muslim organizations, you don't have to worry as much about parking causing any pains.  Also, when the neighbors are surrounded by 3 different Islamic organizations, they're bound to learn more about the religion.


What's absolutely stunning about this masjid is how quiet it is, given the congregation's size.  The men's room has a capacity of exactly 168, and I'd say it was a little under half-full tonight.  Despite that, it was an extremely serene place to pray taraweeh.  The children were remarkably well-disciplined and all of them old enough to know better were focused on their prayer.  A toddler did start squawking during taraweeh, but his needs were met very quickly and we returned to a space where you could here a pin drop.  If you're tired of the hustle-and-bustle of the larger mosques but still want a large-mosque feel, go here.


Hands down one of the prettiest mihrabs in the Bay Area.

Date Visited: July 28, 2012

Location:

43140 Osgood Drive
Fremont, CA 94539


Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Wonderful

Size of congregation: 80-100 total

Capacity of center: 250-ish

Parking: Off-street parking in the business park.  People probably park on the street during business hours because they share the lot with many other businesses.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Plenty

Building: A building in a nondescript business park.  You'll probably drive past it the first time you're looking for it since there's only one driveway leading to the buildings.

Friendliness towards women: Women had their own entrance and an equitable space in which to pray.

Friendliness of congregation: It's primarily an Afghan community, but I felt like everyone was welcome.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Berkeley Masjid (Berkeley, Alameda County, CA)

One of the problems of being a masjid in college-town is the transient Muslim population.  Broke students spend their limited resources on necessities: tuition, fees, hookah, rent and food.  They've got little to no money to support a nonprofit (the "for the price of one hookah, you can buy a brick for the masjid" fundraising campaign also fell flat).  This makes maintaining a mosque hard, and establishing one even harder.

Berkeley's had a noticeable Muslim population since the 1960s, but they were one of the few major religious groups in the city to not have a prayer space near campus.  For years, students have been busing it to local mosques, praying in rented spaces or creating fire hazards by praying in building hallways.

The times they are a-changin'.  UC Berkeley is now home to a meditation room on the fifth floor of the student union (gets a little awkward when Muslims are praying and the Satanists are getting their worship on).  Berkeley Masjid, after years of insufficient fundraising and other struggles, is finally open.

I have to give the Berkeley Masjid Foundation and the Berkeley MSA a lot of credit.  The building looks very nice.  Marble flooring?  Stone steps?  Wooden blinds?  Hardy but comfortable carpet?  Absolutely gorgeous.

The best part is they have systems in place to make sure it stays as sparkling as it was last night.  In the afternoon I observed volunteers, probably Berkeley students, mopping the restroom.  It's great to see young men humble enough to serve as sanitation engineers.  It's great for Stanford students to see their Berkeley peers mopping floors, I'm sure.

The Berkeley MSA hasn't changed too much.  The guys still have a bit of fun with each other.  As I was exiting the restroom, one young'un came out with me.  His young'un friends started giving him a hard time:

: "Did you wash your hands?"
: "He used the bathroom and didn't wash his hands!"
: "What are you, white?"

White people, the cat's out of the bag.  We Muslims don't think you wash your hands after using the bathroom.  Why do you think we never invite you to our homes and masjids?  Oh yeah, we also use "you're white" as an insult.

Kids, be more careful about what you say.  Someone might hear it and blog it.

No, but seriously, it's great to see how the Berkeley MSA students have become the custodians of this masjid.  May Allah reward them for being so dedicated to the care of one of His houses.  And may Allah reward me for telling the world how great the Berkeley MSA is.  Ameen.

Taraweeh here is bizarre.  They pray 8 rakats on weeknights and 20 rakats on weekends.  Obviously, this means that their goal is not to finish the Quran during taraweeh.  Regardless of how many rakats you pray, if your goal is to finish the Quran in 29 nights, you have to recite 1.034 juz a night.  Still, their hybrid model tells me that this masjid doesn't stick to one madhab or the other, an important quality in a university town which attracts all kinds of Muslims.

I needed a little help to make my final observation.  Back when I was a student, there was no tension between the hijabis and non-hijabis because one group covered and the other didn't.  Sure, there was drama (it's not an MSA without drama!) but it was never because of a hijab or lack thereof.  Nobody judged each other based on what kind of a Muslims they looked like.  

I had to see if that was still true, so I dispatched an agent to the women's section.  My cousin does not wear the hijab and was covering her hair with her sweatshirt's hood.  I'm happy to say she reported there wasn't any hostility or judgment from the women in attendance.  Good on you, Berkeley women, good on you.

Post-iftar wreckage.  Moochers of Berkeley, congregate here at sunset.  Moochers of Berkeley congregate here at sunset.  Moochers of Berkeley congregate here at sunset?  Moochers of Berkeley congregate here at sunset!

Medallion in the foyer.

The congregation was praying in the zone last night, as opposed to praying man-to-man.

Date Visited: July 27, 2012

Location:
2176 Derby Street
Berkeley, CA 94705

Tag-team taraweeh: No

Qirat: Very fast and beautiful.

Size of congregation: 40-50

Capacity of center: 250?  There's lot of spillover room, so I'm thinking even 1,000 is possible if all the square footage is used.

Parking: Street.  Luckily, this neighborhood isn't metered, and the two-hour limit expires by evening.

Mihrab: No

Minbar: No

Shoe shelves: Non-existent.  I had no idea of what to do with my shoes.  I didn't want to wear them in the bathroom because sneakers can cause the wet floors to get filthy.  However, I didn't want to wear the masjid's slippers because you have no idea of who's worn those before.  No masjid has successfully reconciled these two very valid concerns.

Building: Large two-story building located in a residential neighborhood about 6 blocks away from campus.

Friendliness towards women: Most of the congregants here are students.  Therefore, the facilities available to women are of the highest quality. If you don't feel comfortable here as a woman, there isn't anything wrong with the masjid, there's something wrong with you.

Friendliness of congregation: Student populations are generally very friendly and welcoming.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Islamic Center of the East Bay (Antioch, Contra Costa County, CA)

Growing up, I never considered Antioch to be part of the Bay Area.  It was a distant land, far away from the San Francisco or San Pablo Bays and near something called the Sacramento River Delta.  Chances are if you saw an ad for a gun show in the South Bay, it was being held in Antioch, or Oakley, or somewhere out there in the boonies.  Definitely home to a bunch of gun-and-religion clingers as far as I was considered.

It's unsurprising that I thought this.  Few people lived out here, and even fewer Muslims.  The mosque I visited tonight was established with the support of 10 families in the late 1990s.  Imagine, in a time when MCA in the Silicon Valley was hosting guma prayers of 2,000 people, this mosque barely had enough men to hold a guma of their own.

Since then, this region has experience exponential growth.  Drawn to the area by large and affordable housing, the Muslim population has grown very quickly.  In response to the population boom, the community established a sizable mosque in a former dentists' office.  Being a dentists' office, the dimensions of the space weren't quite conducive to holding a prayer area, but this community made it work, and thrived.

Then it all went up in flames.

The 5-0 refused to call it an act of terror or a hate crime because there wasn't conclusive evidence that it wasn't an accident or that the mosque was targeted because it was a mosque.  Luckily, despite that, the insurance paid out and the community was given the opportunity to build a proper mosque practically from the ground up.

And build a proper mosque they did.  Locals have affectionately nicknamed it Jean Grey because of how it rose from the ashes.  You can tell, however, that the alleged arson shook this community to the core.  Tall iron gates surround the building, and surveillance cameras cover every vulnerable spot around the mosque.  You would think you were in the roughest urban neighborhood if you saw the masjid from the outside.

From the inside, though, it's real purty-like and welcoming.  A splendid green carpet adorns the floor of the men's section, and the women's section had a gorgeous hardwood floor.  The bathrooms are pristine, and congregants take great care to not turn the floor into a Slip 'n Slide, something lacking in most of the mosques I've visited.

What impressed me most about this masjid was the youngling to uncle ratio.  There were a stunning number of young people in attendance given how small the community is.  If anything, this says a lot about the strength of the masjid's Sunday School program.  If these kids take their faith as seriously as they did their taraweeh tonight, this mosque is in good hands.

Big Brother-in-Islam is watching you.

Them Moslems is so patriotic they won a prize for it!

Men's prayer area, which doubles as a madrassa for kids on Sundays.

Date Visited: July 26, 2012

Location:
311 W. 18th Street
Antioch, CA 91234

Tag-team taraweeh: Nope

Qirat: Interesting.  Never heard recitation like it before.

Size of congregation: 70-80 people

Capacity of center: 100-200 total

Parking: Lot and street.  Folks tend to double-park in the lots so it's recommended to park on the street if you want to jet after 8 in the Desi-20 mosque.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Ample.  Indoor and outdoor shelves for spillover!

Building: A former dentists' office that was burned to the ground and then rebuilt by the community to suit its needs better.

Friendliness towards women: Very high.  Women are given an equitable and very decent place to pray.

Friendliness of congregation: High.  The diversity quotient here is off the charts and I'm confident they welcome all comers.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Masjid Annur (Richmond, Contra Costa County, CA)

Welcome to TJ territory.

All the bridge tolls I've paid this week have, well, taken a toll on my wallet, so I decided to be a homebody today and kick it with the TJs in Richmond.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, the TJs have taken over a building which used to be the original Kaiser Permanente hospital.  I have to give them credit for turning a rotting building into something somewhat functional, but I have a feeling Henry Kaiser is rolling in his grave after seeing what they've done to his trailblazing bastion of public health (KP was one of the first HMOs, you know).

I've always had an uneasy relationship with the TJs.  They appear to be the nicest people, but I'm uncomfortable with how they do abandon their families for extended amounts of time to proselytize their religion.  No doubt they have the best intentions in mind, but I can't see myself getting along with people with priorities like that.  What also terrifies me about them is once they find out where you live, they don't leave you alone.  So, if any TJs ask, I still live in Santa Clara.

What disturbs me the most about the TJs is their apparent disregard for women.  Here's a floor plan of the old Kasier facility they've taken over:


You can see that they have an entire city block to themselves.  I did my due diligence tonight and tried desperately to find evidence of a women's section.  Nary a sign...although most of the hospital rooms did have sleeping bags in them, no doubt belonging to wayward TJs on journeys to convert more Muslims to Islam.

I'd understand if they didn't have a women's section if they had only one room to themselves, but seriously, they couldn't set aside one of the many empty rooms for women?  I know Islamic scientists have proven with a shadow of a doubt that the universe will implode if non-mahram men and women pray in the same room, but there really is no excuse here.

All the empty halls and rooms, however, means that is an amazing place to be a kid.  Children (male, of course) stampeded through the building, unimpeded by the stern directives of their mothers.  Men futilely tried to corral the younglings, but their playtime could not be interrupted by prayer time.


Speaking of prayer time, there are definitely more people praying taraweeh here than there were last year.  Seems like this mosque is starting to get some name recognition.  Honestly, you can't blame people for coming here, backwards as it may be.  This place is less than 10 minutes from my place and shoot, it felt nice to not have to drive 10+ miles to go to taraweeh for a change.


Taraweeh here is the Arab-20, and it moves very quickly.  The imam did make a gaffe today; he lead a four-rakat set today instead of the standard two.  However, unlike Belmont, the crises passed without Arab men shouting in their sometimes terrifying language.  Just gotta roll with it sometimes, guys.


KP sign: a reminder of a bygone era.

Former hospital room converted into a canteen.

Where the TJs eat their TJ food.  As you can see, there's still a lot of work to do to make this building hospitable (word choice intentional)

Date Visited: July 25, 2012

Location:
1330 Cutting Boulevard
Richmond, CA 94804

Tag-team taraweeh: Nope

Qirat: Good.  Better'n average.

Size of congregation: 40-60 people

Capacity of center: The prayer hall had room for 150 individuals with XY chromosomes.  There's no room here for individuals with two X chromosomes.

Parking: Street.  Arguably unsafe due to the proximity to the worst neighborhoods in Richmond, but generally there are no break-ins during prayer time to the number of people who are around then.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Ample.

Building: A rescued Kaiser Permanente hospital.  This structure was left to die before the TJs took it over.  They're working on gutting it to make it more usable.

Friendliness towards women: Ranks near the bottom of all the mosques I have ever visited in the Bay Area.

Friendliness of congregation: Decent.  Anyone male is welcome here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Al-Tawhid Mosque (San Francisco, San Francisco County, CA)

Two years ago, when I first started assembling a list of mosques to visit, a friend of mine advised me to avoid this mosque.  If I visited it, he claimed, I'd be placed on a government list.  Well, I felt like I HAD to take a look, and it's a shame that it's taken so long.

I was flabbergasted by what I saw tonight.  Swarthy Semitic men wearing turbans and skullcaps were sitting on the floor, chatting in some foreign language or reading from books written in some unknown script.  I couldn't believe that this was going on in the middle of San Francisco, one of the most homogeneous in the world.  Welcome to Obama's America.

Clearly, I'm being sarcastic.  I saw nothing tonight to indicate the government should be using borrowed Chinese money to conduct surveillance here.  I give it the 30 Mosques seal of approval.

What I did notice about this masjid were the smells.  Scientists say the olfactory memories are some of the strongest humans develop.  Well, my nose helped me develop some great memories tonight.

The first thing which hit me as soon as I entered the masjid around Isha was the dinner the congregation had had earlier in the evening.  It smelled delicious, and it told me that this is a place where one can expect a proper iftar even on a weeknight.  The smaller mosques, given their limited resources, provide dates, but a full-blown dinner?  I can say with certainty that no masjid in the Bay Area will require you to bring your own date (haha).  Sorry if that's terribly cliche, but I'm a fan of DATEd material.

As I entered the prayer hall, I was hit with a medley of smells, which could be summed up in one word: man.  Tonight, the ventilation was turned off so we prayed taraweeh like the sahaba did: without the worldly comforts of Axe deodorant or Acqua Di Gio cologne (two of the more common smells at Desi mosques).  Felt like Arabia, I can tell you that.

This mosque has a rotation of imams to lead taraweeh, and they trade off after every four rakats.  Taraweeh here is the Arab-20, but I'm unsure about how many total imams lead taraweeh as I left after eight.  The third imam was just starting as I was leaving the building.  It's good to see multiple imams leading taraweeh, for many reasons, but most importantly so the imam has some backup in case he forgets the surahs he's supposed to be reciting.

Let the record show that this is a Yemeni mosque.  Trash Desis all you want, but at least we don't label our mosques as being "Desi mosques."  Mostly because we know that'd give the Arabs one more reason to hate us.


Date Visited: July 24, 2012

Location:
1227 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94109

Tag-team taraweeh: Yes

Qirat: The starter was the best of the night.  The reliever struggled a tad and was slower.

Size of congregation: 50-75 people

Capacity of center: 100 men, unknown female capacity

Parking: All street.  Welcome to San Francisco.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Ample, but I'm sure they get crammed during jummah

Building: Definitely looks smaller from the outside.  This facility is actually quite large, and I didn't have time to explore it tonight.  It is a true community center, and not just a prayer hall.

Friendliness towards women: Women are welcome here, but I can't tell you how welcome.  I didn't see any tonight, but I did hear children playing behind the wall somewhere.

Friendliness of congregation: Good people.  During the breaks they were tossing water into the crowd so we wouldn't get dehydrated.  Imagine feeling sweaty in San Francisco at night.  Yes, that's how warm it was tonight.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Musallah Darul Arqam (American Canyon, Napa County, CA)

I know what everyone's thinking, even the Bay Area natives.  Where the hell is American Canyon?

American Canyon is located on the border between suburban and rural Bay Area, just north of Vallejo and on the way to Napa.  It's an incredibly small city and, it not being located near a major interstate, is largely ignored by the vast majority of people here.

In the midst of this tiny community is an even tinier Muslim population.  I understand that there is a maximum of 20 Muslim families in the area.  If you're wondering why this small community would have their own little masjid, and not just merge with the Vallejo community, you have to ask yourself, wouldn't it be nice to have a neighborhood masjid instead of having to drive 10, 20 or even 30 miles to just pray one salat?

It is that philosophy which drove a gentleman to donate half his property to build a place for local Muslims to pray.  The gentleman lives in the house with his family, and has converted his stand-alone two-car garage into a mosque.  For a converted garage, it's remarkably well-developed and sophisticated.  The men's section and women's section were separated, and each had their own restroom.  They're currently working on expanding the back to add more space and wudu station.  You have to appreciate how much more space there is out here in rural America.  If you live in any of the urban or suburban cities you're a) lucky to have a garage and b) even luckier to have room to expand that garage.

The community does have very ambitious plans to build a proper masjid where the musallah is currently located.  Understandably, the project is moving along very slowly.  Makes sense, when you only have 15-20 families to rely on for donations, how quickly can you raise funds, anyways?

The small community, however, means that everyone knows each other, which gives it an edge over the big city congregations.  The expansion project may be moving along very slowly, but it's apparent to me that everyone recognizes the importance of having a proper masjid.  Also, given how expensive the Bay Area proper has gotten, I wouldn't be surprised if there's an influx of more Muslims who work in San Francisco but can't afford housing there.  It's good that they're planning a mosque that can handle that new population if it ever arrives.

Taraweeh was nice because there were so few people there.  This is an Arab-8 mosque, as opposed to a Desi-20, but the nice touch here is they rotate the imam schedule.  If you want to lead taraweeh here one night, you can sign up to take on that responsibility.  Nobody expects you to be a hafiz; tonight, the imam was using a Quran to guide himself through the prayer.  I have to admire this community's commitment to finishing the Quran by the end of Ramadan.  Smaller communities, I have seen, tend to take the easy route and complete 8 rakats as soon as possible.

I don't know if you'll ever have a chance to visit this musallah.  It really is out of the way; it's not located near any major interstates so you have to take a detour in order to swing by.  Also, once you're in American Canyon, you have to figure out which house it is off the highway.  I was a little intimidated by the lack of signage; out here, with rednecks around ever corner, you don't want to take a chance and knock on the wrong door.  Once you find the right place, however, they will make you feel welcome.

That tiny sign let me know that I was in the right place.  Keep in mind this building is about 30 yards from the border of the property and down a long driveway.  Before I saw the sign I approached with caution in case some redneck came out with his shotgun yelling at me to git off his property.


Date Visited: July 23, 2012

Location:
3853 1/2 Broadway Street (Highway 29)
American Canyon, CA 94503

Tag-team taraweeh: Not tonight, but I'm sure there's the option to

Qirat: Good

Size of congregation: 5-6 people

Capacity of center: 30

Parking: Plenty of parking on the property, but it is off-road, so make sure your car can handle it.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes, but outdoors.  Left my flippy-floppies out there for maybe 2 hours and they were a little chilly when I slipped them back on.

Building: Converted two-car garage

Friendliness towards women: Women have an equitable space here.  The only downside is they close the doors to the women's section if there are any in attendance.  If you're not a fan of barriers, this isn't the mosque for you.

Friendliness of congregation: Very nice people.  Then again, the farther you get away from the cities, the more that holds true.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Jamil Islamic Center (Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, CA)

Disclaimer: this is a sufi mosque and the extent of my knowledge of sufism is what I gathered in a one semester course in college and a wild weekend in Konya, Turkey, resting place of Rumi.

There are many features in this musalla which distinguish it from the standard masjid, most noticeably the pictures of the saints on the wall.  This is generally considered to be a no-no in Islam because if you're hanging up pictures in a place of worship, you're skirting with shirk, which essentially boils down to glorifying beings other than God.  Of course, that's not how the sufis see it, but the concept of sainthood is a controversial one in Islam.

The other thing which will catch your eye is this puppy:

I don't mean to get all up in your bid'ahness, but why is there a coffin in your prayer area?

This is actually a pretty common sight in most of the sufi masjids I've been to, which admittedly isn't a lot.  First of all, there there's nothing in the coffin; the City of Palo Alto would I'm sure frown upon the housing of bodies in converted rug stores.  That said, this coffin is meant to represent the body of a saint, and I'm sure that body is displayed in a shrine somewhere in the Middle East, and that shrine is probably located in or near a masjid.

Empty coffins and saintly pictures aside, this is a standard masjid, and no, nobody was praying towards the saint, who was housed in the back of the room.  I arrived at the masjid 1 or 2 minutes before maghrib and I broke my fast with a very friendly gentleman who was the only one there at the time.  To date, it was the best iftar I've had this Ramadan.  How could you beat this?

Is that what the moon is supposed to look like on the fourth night of Ramadan?  Or is it the moon of the third night, given its size?

This is a great place to break your fast.  You can sit out on this second-floor balcony, surveying the 1% as they enjoy their 10-dollar burgers and other such overpriced food items.  On a good day you might catch a glimpse of Mark Zuckerberg ducking into Antonio's Nuthouse, although I hear he no longer frequents that establishment.  Given that it's summertime in Palo Alto and relatively far away from Stanford Junior University, it's not very crowded in the evening time these days.

Maghrib was nice and intimate, with a total of three worshipers.  I was told most of the congregation was at either MCA or Stanford getting their grub on at the free iftars tonight.

Palo Alto is about 60 miles away from my home, and given the fact that they were going to start prayers at 10:15, I did the responsible thing took my leave after maghrib to handle prayers a bit closer to home.  I'm not blessed with the opportunity to take a Kickstarter-funded vacation in order to do this project and so have to be wise with my time.  Apologies if you were looking forward to reading my biased account of taraweeh here.

Date Visited: July 22, 2012

Location:
427 South California Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94306

Tag-team taraweeh: Honestly don't know

Qirat: N/A

Size of congregation: Maghrib time had only 3 people in attendance.  I don't imagine this place gets crowded.

Capacity of center: 20-30

Parking: Street parking, of which there is plenty.

Mihrab: No

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Yes.

Building: The second floor of what used to be a rug store.

Friendliness towards women: No women were in attendance at maghrib time, but sufi congregations tend to be more welcoming than the average masjid in this regard.

Friendliness of congregation: I've never met a sufi who wasn't friendly and hospitable.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

San Francisco Muslim Community Center (San Francisco County, CA)

The coldest winter Mark Twain ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.  Rest assured, though, if you make the trek to this mosque in the City by the Bay, the warmness of the people will negate the chilling effects of the cursed fog.

I've been on a lot of road trips this summer, visiting states like Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Alta California Sur.  All of them are purty in their own way, but none of them are home to something quite like San Francisco.  Just driving into the city is a treat for the eyes.  If you're coming from the north, you'll drive across the Golden Gate Bridge in all its splendor.  East?  From the Bay Bridge you can enjoy sweeping view of the financial district, which literally glitters at night.  There are many roads leading to San Francisco from the South, but my favorite is I-280, recognized as one of the prettiest interstate freeways in the entire nation.  US 101 North craftily springs downtown on visitors; you turn a corner around one of the 47 hills here and bam, skyscrapers.

This mosque is located in the southern part of this jewel of a city.  It's in a neighborhood called the Excelsior, which to this date has not yet been spoiled by the hipster menace.  Due to that, it is one of the few remaining affordable neighborhoods in the city.  Unfortunately, affordability and grittiness are directly proportional here in San Francisco.  Behold one of the windows of the masjid:

San Francisco taggers can't read.  That's fine, because I can't read what he wrote either.

I don't believe there have been any break-ins at this mosque, but every business I saw on this part of Mission Street either had bars on the windows or roll down gates.  Affordability, it seems, comes at a price.

When it comes to taraweeh here, throw out most of your pre-conceived notions about what you think it should be.  They definitely do things a little different here at this Black mosque (I saw W.D. Muhammad literature everywhere, so I'm guessing they're affiliated with that group).

I got to the mosque at 10 PM and they were already halfway done with taraweeh.  To put things into perspective, Isha had barely gotten started at 10:05 yesterday at Petaluma, and taraweeh at Belmont didn't get started till 10:30.  Isha time in San Francisco started at 9:55 today.  I'm not saying it's not possible to pray the four rakats of Isha and 4 rakats of taraweeh in in 5 minutes, but damn, that's fast.

It was apparent to me that for some of the congregants were new to prayer.  The imam was careful to explain everything he was doing to prevent confusion and educate the congregation.  This is something missing from the larger mosques, especially the ethnic mosques run by fobs.  It's no wonder there isn't more integration between the Black mosques and ethnic mosques; Arabs and Desis unfortunately operate under the assumption that their congregation was raised Muslim or, if they're new Muslims, have conquered the steep learning curve that comes after conversion.

The only issue I had was the imam misinformed the congregation about the proper way to lead witr.  Those who pray witr know that there's a dua before or after the final ruku.  The imam here lead witr 3 rakats of prayer with no dua.  My feeling is that since in no madhab is witr lead like that, he did them a disservice by misinforming them.  It's a strong argument for more integration and communication between masjids; all congregations could learn something from each other.

Date Visited: July 21, 2012

Location:
4760 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94112

Tag-team taraweeh: Nope

Qirat: Not great if you've been raised on classically-trained huffaz, as I have, but his accent was probably better than mine.

Size of congregation: 10 men, 10 women.  This is a commuter mosque, in that most of the people who pray here don't live here.  Therefore, it's really only crowded during jummah.  I was told they have a total of 100 families participating in programs throughout the year.

Capacity of center: 50-60

Parking: Street.  Worse yet, all of Mission Street is metered.  Welcome to the big city.

Mihrab: No

Minbar: They had a lectern, does that count?

Shoe shelves: Yes.

Building: Used to be a 99 cent store, and a Google search reveals it was once also Mayor Ed Lee's campaign headquarters.

Friendliness towards women: Women were praying behind men, obviously, but there were no barriers between the men's and women's section.

Friendliness of congregation: As the only congregant who wasn't black, I stuck out like a sore thumb.  However, everyone was very friendly and welcoming.  A few of the people took the time to educate me about the background of the masjid, and I'm sure if I'd shown up there at sunset they would have fed me.

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

Location:
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 synag...no, 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.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Yaseen Foundation (Belmont, San Mateo County, CA)

"Belmont?  What are you going to do, write about their shoe racks again?"

My editorial board can be kind of sarcastic sometimes.

The Belmont masjid is a little different every time I see it, which, admittedly, is not that much.  In my defense, whenever I'm heading out to dinner in San Francisco, I never say, "hey guys, let's go to Belmont instead, that's a real happening town."  Therefore, I only visit once a year during Ramadan, and my impression of it changes each time I do.

I am fairly disappointed that the Belmont masjid still hasn't raised enough money to move into a larger space. Last night I had to clamber over a mountain of shoes (not enough shoe racks!!) just to get into the facility.  Men who couldn't find space in the prayer hall were praying in the hallway (blocking the emergency exit, mind you).  Women who couldn't find space to pray were being told to wait in the car (I'm guessing).

Yes, prayer real estate is at a premium here in Belmont.  If you find a spot inside, you best stay there the entire night or else you will lose your spot.  This isn't a showing of The Dark Knight Rises; you can't just throw down a jacket on a theater seat to claim a space.  That would create a gap in the prayer line, and if you're not praying shoulder-to-shoulder, feet-to-feet, Satan's praying next to you.  And the last thing the Belmont board of directors wants is for Satan to pray with them.  Although, wait, Satan and his minions are chained up during Ramadan...

On a serious note, I learned something last night.  Taraweeh is prayed in sets of 2 rakats.  Last night, the imam prayed a set of 3 by mistake.  Confusion reigned.  After the set ended, men got up and started exclaiming at each other in Arabic.  A mistake was made, shabab!  Ya'ni, It had to be fixed, habibi!

I still have no idea of what really happened.

You know why I don't?  Because everyone was speaking in Arabic, and the imam proceeded to fix his mistake by praying a 1-rakat unit of taraweeh (unheard of, I thought).  Belmont, that was a teachable moment.  Someone should have taken the time to explain what happened in English, and why they fixed the mistake with a 1-rakat set.

Still have a lot of love for this masjid, though.  I just wish they'd focus their fundraising and find a bigger space.  Yeah, it's tough to raise money, but honestly, if you keep overcrowding your small space you will inevitably become a nuisance to the neighbors.  The only neighbor who would potentially be sad to see you go is the ampm convenience store down the street.  Apparently, that's the crack spot in this neighborhood where kids bored with taraweeh go to blow their parents' money on junk food.  Point being, there's no room in this masjid to provide the youth a safe and healthy space to spend their Ramadan nights.

I have faith that Belmont will get there someday.  They've already began addressing the space issue by renting out the Belmont Sports Complex for taraweeh prayers on Fridays and Saturdays.  Excellent first step, let's just hope their long-term solution isn't to rent out the Sports Complex 7 days a week.


Date Visited: July 19, 2012

Location:
621 Masonic Way
Belmont, California 94002

Tag-team taraweeh: Yes. They flew in one imam from Egypt and the other they imported from Detroit (ha).  Kind of a shame that they're not using prospects from the Fremont hafiz farm system, however.

Qirat: Good stuff.

Size of congregation: 100 men, 40 women

Capacity of center: 150 maximum

Parking: Very tight.  They have a lot, but it's clear this neighborhood can't support the parking crush Ramadan brings.

Mihrab: Yes

Minbar: Yes

Shoe shelves: Not enough shoe shelves!

Building: Great little building located relatively close to the freeway and a major peninsula thoroughfare.  The location is great, the space is just too small.

Friendliness towards women: Women are welcome and treated with respect and dignity.

Friendliness of congregation: Very congenial and diverse group of men, I must say.  The fact that it was the first night of Ramadan had everyone in a good mood as well.  The gentleman making the announcements was in such good cheer he wished everyone Ramadan AND Eid Mubarak.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Year 3: Prologue

The great debate raging in the Muslim community this year is whether The Dark Knight Rises opens on the 30th day of Shaban or the 1st day of Ramadan.  This tiny detail has far-reaching implications for many Muslims in America.  Those who abstain from frivolous entertainment during this holiest of months are are in for a tense Thursday night.  Pre-ordered movie tickets clutched in their hands, they will nervously check their iPhones for updates, praying that some party-pooper in Hawaii or Alaska doesn't see the new moon.

You see, there are two kinds of Muslims these days: moonsighters and calculators.  To a calculator, hearing a moonsighter wonder when Ramadan will begin is like hearing a tourist ask a Disneyland employee what time the 3:00 parade is.  The calculator, of course, has already informed his boss that he won't be in to work on August 8, 2013 because of Eid.

The practice of calculations has allowed some to determine that the first night of Ramadan will be on Batman Day Eve.  And yes, it will be the night I relaunch 30 Mosques in 30 Nights.  I've already been around the block a couple times, but there's so much more to see, and even more to revisit.  I promise to visit with an open mind, and ask that you welcome me with open arms.