New home for a Sufi meditation, cultural center in South Berkeley

The new home of the MTO Sufi Center is opening in the building on Telegraph Avenue that was for a long time home to Looking Glass Photo. Photo: MTO Center Berkeley

A new dome is rising on top of the corner building on Telegraph Avenue at Oregon Street that was, until 2013, home to Looking Glass Photo for 30 years. The 3,300-square-foot space is being renovated and turned into a Sufi meditation center, slated to open at the end of the year.

2848 Telegraph will be the new Berkeley home of the M.T.O. Shahmaghsoudi School of Islamic Sufism, according to center manager Jilla Behnam.

“The school has been active in Berkeley since 1998. Previously it was in rental space. Then a building across the street was purchased and remodeling is now in progress,” she said. (The center was previously a tenant at 2855 Telegraph Ave.)

“The MTO Shahmaghsoudi School is a “school of self-knowledge” and is naturally a great match for Berkeley, since Berkeley has always been a pioneer in promoting enhanced education, cultural diversity, peace, love and unity,” Behnam continued.

The remodel was approved by the City in 2015 as a tenant improvement project.

A dome being added to the former Looking Glass Photo building, now home to a Sufi center. Photo: Kate Rauch

There are many orders or schools of Sufism, often defined as Islamic mysticism. The MTO school, an international nonprofit organization, centers on teaching Sufi meditation. Prayers, singing, chanting, body movement, and poetry can also be parts of practice — with the goal of unifying the heart and the mind and getting closer to God, according to its website.

Sufism isn’t limited to a specific Muslim belief, but found within Sunni, Shia and other groups. It’s an approach to spirituality, a way of practicing, a discipline.

The center serves all people and not just Muslims, said Joseph White, on behalf of the MTO organization.

“A person does not have to be a Muslim to follow a Sufi path.  Indeed, MTO doesn’t ask people to declare their religious affiliation as a prerequisite to participation. It’s expected that participation by a diverse and inclusive group will continue to be the case,” White said.

“The school dates back 1,400 years to the time of the Prophet Mohammad and the founder of the school, Hazrat Oveys Gharani. The knowledge and practices of the school have been handed down heart to heart through an unbroken succession of masters, from Hazrat Oveys to the present Sufi Pir, Hazrat Salaheddin Ali Nader Angha,” Behnam said.

The Berkeley Sufi school will offer classes in meditation and stress management. Photo: MTO Center Berkeley

The new site will continue offering classes in meditation and stress management, Behnam said. The center will host several classes a week for all ages, with about 10-15 students per class.

“Some MTO centers, such as the center at Berkeley, focus on the practical aspects of the teachings of Sufism. It is a holistic way of discovering and maintaining health, happiness, fulfillment, and well-being,” she said.

The MTO School has 35 centers in the U.S., over 500,000 students worldwide, and is growing globally, she said.

There are several other Sufi centers in the Bay Area, operated by different organizations.

Looking Glass Photo moved to a new location at 1045 Ashby Ave. in the old Heinz family complex in 2013. The store had been at 2848 Telegraph Ave. for 30 years, but had grown so popular that, on some days, there was a line outside the store, Jen Waicukauski, who owns Looking Glass Photo with her father, said at the time of the move.