Lighthearted, sympathetic look at local mosques finds much diversity

Rebecca Rosen Lum
San Bruno Patch

It’s a very traditional community and doesn’t abide by Western traditions of table manners. Everyone did have their own plate, but since there were no spoons, you had to dig in with your hands to get your food. I was a bit reticent at first, but a man encouraged me to help myself, saying this is exactly how the army did it.

— “30 Mosques in 30 Nights”


Zuhair Sadaat, 25, knew the Bay Area Muslim world was more varied than his parents’ 3,000-member, suburban Santa Clara mosque, where the congregation encompasses doctors, engineers, and other successful professionals.

In 2010, he set out to discover just how diverse it was.

The result: “30 Mosques in 30 Days,” a blog that’s clicking with American-born Muslim millennials.

Sadaat (rhymes with Zagat) visits a different mosque each night of the holy month of Ramadan, sizing up everything from shoe shelves and parking to the imam’s ability to inspire when leading the nightly taraweeh prayers.

He began the blog last year. During the current Ramadan, which began Aug. 1, he will revisit some mosques and visit others for the first time.

Sadaat compiles a droll, candid and revealing catalog that sizes up everything from shoe shelves and parking to the imam’s ability to inspire when leading the nightly taraweeh prayers.

All in all, it’s another one of those oases in a pretty rough neighborhood. And man, it is rough because this place is imposing from the outside. If that iron gate’s closed, you’re shiz out of luck. Come during prayer time or don’t come at all.

Sadaat is a UC Berkeley-educated grant writer. (He calls himself “a nonprofiteer.”)

He worked his way north, then East across the Bay, before stopping to tell it like it is in six counties. The tour ended in Richmond, where he also now lives (he devotes plenty of space in the blog to rectifying misconceptions about his beloved adopted city).

The three mosques in Richmond, and many more in Oakland, pull members from different strands of Muslim culture and ethnicities in the East Bay.

Some included only a handful of worshipers; others, hundreds. Some were spacious and beautifully architected; others a grim use of available space — in a word, eclectic.

It’s a rug store, no joke. Plenty of people walking by on El Camino were giving us strange looks, probably wondering what the hell those terrorists were doing in a closed business.

Do you think it’s possible to have a crush on a mosque? I do, because I do. I was floored when I first pulled into the parking lot and saw the beautiful facade of this place.

Three messages lie behind these light-hearted thumbnail sketches, all maddeningly simple: Muslims are human. Muslims differ from one another, as do mosques. And many, many Muslims call the Bay Area home.

He throws his hands up at some of the attitudes he encounters, especially in regards to the role of women.

 San Mateo got points for feminism: This is the only mosque I have ever seen where the front entrance was reserved for women and women only. Good for them!

Then there was Richmond. Women? What would women be doing here, there’s no kitchen.

His journey to Mecca on the Hajj informed his feelings about gender: “In the pilgrimage, men and women do pray next to each other,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s not even logistically possible not to. So I don’t understand why people get upset.”

Sometimes blog visitors take issue with his observations, like when he despaired that a mosque sunk money into a new minaret instead of something more practical, like a men’s room (the money had been earmarked for a minaret, they argued). But mainly he gets thumbs-ups.

He said there’s much more he could be doing to promote his blog, but he’s been cool to the idea. For one thing, he doesn’t want to become recognizable.

His varied mosque explorations beyond his home town mosque, “MCA” (Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara), form the heart of his blog, which he hopes will “educate the general populace about the number and diversity of Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area.”

The stark contrast between this mosque and the mosque in which I was raised made me think I made a good decision wrapping up this project (in Richmond) and not somewhere else. The whole point of me burning dozens of gallons of gas this month was to see just how different the communities of the Bay Area are. Well, it doesn’t get much different from MCA than this. 


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