July 17, 2015

This Eid al-Fitr, Explore Five Historic Mosques Nationwide

  • By: Kara Timberlake
Islamic Center of Washington in Washington, D.C.

photo by: LOC, LC-HS503- 1306

The Islamic Center of Washington in Washington, D.C.

The end of Ramadan marks a joyous celebration for Muslims worldwide. When the Islamic holy month concludes, followers celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a holiday that translates as “festival of breaking of the fast” and boasts feasts that, in some communities, can last up to three days.

In honor of this religious holiday, we pay homage to five historic mosques from around the country.

Old image of Islamic Center of Washington in Washington, D.C.

photo by: LOC, HABS DC,WASH,491--2

The Islamic Center of Washington was finished in 1954.

Islamic Center of Washington: Washington, D.C.

Located on Embassy Row, the Islamic Center has played a role in both worship and history.

The idea of building a mosque in Washington was born of a discussion in 1944 between Mr. M. Abu Al Hawa and the former Ambassador of Egypt, Mr. Mahmood Hassan Pasha. Noted Italian architect Mario Rossi designed the exterior to reflect conventional Middle Eastern mosque architecture.

In a speech at the dedication of the center in 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower praised the Islamic world’s “traditions of learning and rich culture” which have “for centuries contributed to the building of civilization,” also noting “America would fight with her whole strength for your right to have here your own church and worship according to your own conscience.”

The building incorporates elements from various Muslim cultures. Glass lamps from Egypt, traditional rugs from Iran, stained glass windows from Morocco, and other donations gave the mosque a global Islamic identity.

Islamic Center of Southern California: Los Angeles

When it was founded in 1952, the Islamic Center of Southern California was the only mosque in Los Angeles.

At the time, the majority of the mosque’s attendees were foreign students of the Muslim faith who attended nearby schools like UCLA and the University of Southern California. In the 1960s, more immigrants came to the Los Angeles area from Burma, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran, who added to the mosque’s membership.

With thousands praying there every Friday, the center is now one of the largest mosques in Southern California.

Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

photo by: ArtisticAbode/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

The Mother Mosque of America: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Once known as The Rose of Fraternity Lodge, the 1934 Cedar Rapids, Iowa mosque was perhaps the first building constructed specifically as a mosque in all of North America. As Muslim immigrants arrived to the United States in the early 20th century, many families made their livings as farmers or shopkeepers in the Midwest.

Iowa, in particular, was a popular place for Muslims to settle and was the first to invite an Imam to offer prayer at its state capital in Des Moines.

After a larger local mosque, the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, was built in 1971, the small place of worship was sold. Over the next 20 years, several owners allowed the building to deteriorate until the Islamic Council of Iowa purchased, refurbished, and restored it as a Muslim cultural center in 1990.

The Mother Mosque was listed on the Iowa State Historical Register and the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 as the Moslem Temple.

Toledo Islamic Center: Toledo, Ohio

Muslim immigrants from Syria and Lebanon first came to Toledo around 1900, but it wasn’t until 1954 that the Muslim community built the Toledo Islamic Center near the city’s downtown.

Due to the growth of the community, leaders began making plans for a new facility in the 1970s. In 1983, members relocated to a new, more traditional-style mosque—thought to be the first of its kind in the U.S.—with twin minarets and a dome in Perrysburg Township outside the city.

Today, the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, near Interstate 75, represents more than 23 nationalities.

The original two-story red brick building near downtown was used as office space and left vacant until the congregation of Toledo Masjid al-Islam bought, renovated, and renamed the mosque nearly five years ago.

Dearborn Mosque in Dearborn, Michigan

photo by: Dwight Burdette/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

The Dearborn Mosque in Dearborn, Michigan

Dearborn Mosque: Dearborn, Michigan

The 1937 Dearborn Mosque is thought to be the second-oldest mosque in the United States. Located just outside of Detroit and home to one of the largest Arab-American populations in the country, the mosque spans almost an entire city block.

As the Muslim community in the Detroit area continued to grow throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, the mosque also became a social center for the population. It was also during this period that a court order allowed the mosque to emit the call to prayer over exterior loudspeakers—the first time this took place in the United States.

By the time of the mosque’s latest expansion from 24,000 to 48,000 square feet in 2000, holiday services were so popular they often had to be held in the parking lot. Today, the entire facility encompasses more than 100,000 square feet.

We believe all Americans deserve to see their history in the places that surround us. As a nation, we have work to do to fill in the gaps of our cultural heritage.

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