SBIA: From Whence Did it Appear?
(Drawn from an article written by the late Mertze Dahlin for SBIA’s 25th anniversary celebrations in 2005)
The Bay Area community’s needs were somehow met by traveling to San Francisco for Eid Prayers and Sunday School classes. A closer venue was sometimes found at the “I House” at Stanford University. Our scattering of Muslim acquaintances was growing in the South Bay. Sunday classes for the young children were formed by the untiring efforts of Sr. Habibe Husain. It became the “South Bay Area Islamic School”. However, it was not that easy to find a place to hold classes.
Our classes were first held in the Lakewood Grammar School. Insurance became a consideration and during the summer of 1976, the doors were closed for the Islamic School so we met in a nearby park. Later on, we met in the YWCA in Sunnyvale. It was nice of them to accept us. Next, we found a church which took us in but we had to meet difficult conditions and then, for a pretty long time, our classes were at the Newark High School. It was exhausting to continually be on the lookout for a place to meet.
A few of the fifty or so families involved in the school suggested that we go in together and buy a house to convert into a school. In practice, a bunch of people can’t buy a house. We needed a registered organization. In 1975, at the encouragement of Dr. Waheed Siddiqee, it was proposed that we form an ad hoc committee to establish an Islamic Community. It took several informal meetings to keep up the interest. It needed to go beyond the families with children so that all Muslim families would be involved in the activities that could be developed as a community.
The West Coast Muslim Student Association then organized a meeting of twenty Muslims at the Sunnyvale Community Center. At that meeting, we elected the ad hoc committee to look into the requirements of establishing the South Bay Islamic Association. This committee had several meetings to create a constitution for our proposed Islamic Association. The first general body meeting composed of forty members was held at the Sunnyvale Community Center on May 14, 1978 and we formally became the “South Bay Islamic Association”. We had become accustomed to the Sunnyvale Community Center because that is where we held our Friday Jumuah prayers. We knew that a larger number of Muslims would be able to offer their Jumuah prayers if better facilities were provided.
Muslims of all ethnic backgrounds were part of our Association; from Pakistan, India, Iran and Asian communities as well as African and European members including Americans of several cultures. It was not a consideration of what persuasion your Islamic knowledge was derived from, it was more important simply to be recognized as Muslim. The ad hoc committee was dissolved and a new Board of Directors was elected.
SBIA is incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
The search for a new location began in earnest. Br. Nooruddin Billawala who located our first tangible Islamic Center at 2573 Old Oakland Road, a 13,548 square foot structure. (Note: this is across the street from our current 71,000 sq. ft. facility at 2345 Harris Way). We negotiated with the seller to establish a payment plan in accordance with Islamic tradition. This was a boon to our fund-raising efforts. Without a building, many families were reluctant to contribute money simply to an organization which did not have well-known roots. We had no history of how we handled money, but as soon as the community saw our building, they knew we were for real.
Many of the families we all know have contributed to paying for the cost of our new enterprise. We needed more money from out of town and it was a difficult time to travel due to the oil embargo in effect at that time. We somehow managed to drive to Lodi where the Jumuah attendees stood in line anxious to give their hard-earned money to the new mosque in San Jose. Similarly, at a rice ranch in Chico, California, more money was happily donated and gas provided from the farm gas supply. A local Muslim businessman contributed and pledged a considerable amount of money which greatly influenced other contributors to develop confidence in the project. It was then no problem to raise money for this mosque project.
Garnering a use permit required a lot of convincing and educating and getting to know and understand the City Planning Commission. There seemed to be no end to meetings with members of the Commission and members of our Board of Directors. Although we were successful, there seemed to be too many restrictions on our permitted use. Among the restrictions was to find a more suitable location as asked by the City of San Jose.
Soon “Noor” discovered our potential Islamic Center site at 325 N. 3rd Street. A member of our community was coincidentally in need of a building at the same time that we wished to sell the property and obtain the site on 3rd Street. He completed the sales transaction and provided us with the required funds to enter into a new purchase transaction. As we all know, nearly everything we needed as far at that time, as far as the infrastructure is concerned was met in this building. We soon paid for it by securing loans from our membership and grants to pay the loans.
1983: In May of 1983, our first Imam, Hafiz Muhammad Anwar arrived with his family from England. Provisions were made on the second floor of the Islamic Center for him to live with his wife and two young children, Tahir and his younger brother, Ilyas. He restored a sense of mosque familiarity as many of the immigrant Muslims fondly re- called from“back home”. He led prayers and taught in coordination with the Islamic School.
Mid 1990s: We acquired property at 2486 Ruby Ave in the Evergreen area of San Jose that remained a satellite mosque for a number of years. Construction was planned but took a while to take off. (In 2013, the SBIA board divested the facility to the Evergreen Islamic Center, which now operates as an independent organization).
2004: The facility at 325 N. 3rd St was unable to meet the growing needs of the community. Parking limitations compounded the problem. The Board of Directors evaluated a facility on Trade Zone Blvd. but that did not come to fruition.
2005: SBIA celebrated its 25th anniversary at a grand celebration at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
2013: SBIA was able to locate and obtain funds to purchase a 71,000 sq. ft. property at 2345 Harris Way that became the new headquarters of the organization. The organization’s bylaws were amended in 2013 to recognize this property as the primary location for SBIA.
2014: SBIA’s prayer area at 2345 Harris Way was named “Masjid al-Mustafa” to recognize the special place the Prophet (S) has in our community.
2015: SBIA launched the Suffa, learning@SBIA initiative. The Weekend Islamic Learning Program established in August 2015 has grown manifold and is one of the premier programs in the Bay Area.
2016: SBIA celebrated its 35th Anniversary with a celebration at the Santa Clara Marriott.