The Mother Mosque of America, once known as The Rose of Fraternity Lodge, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is the first permanent structure to be built specifically to serve as a mosque in the United States. Construction was completed on February 15, 1934. This small structure served as a place of worship for Muslims for nearly forty years. When a larger local mosque, the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, was built in 1971, the building was sold. Successive owners over the next twenty years allowed the building to fall in to disrepair. In 1990 the Islamic Council of Iowa purchased the building, refurbished it, and restored its status as a Muslim cultural center. The effort was mainly organized by the local Muslim community led by Imam Taha Tawil and Dr. Thomas B. Irving, Dr. Mohammad Islami, Dr. M. Eyad Dughly, Don Singer, Albert Aossey and many others.
Imagine being in an unfamiliar land, speaking an unfamiliar language, with different customs and diet, what would you do? A Dream of having a mosque and institution where hearts can feel close together, united in their love of God, with similar surroundings and among friends of the same religion. Growing from the ranks of “The League of Bountiful Flowers” then later to become “The Rose of Fraternity Lodge” were religious and social organizations formed by the early Muslims in Cedar Rapids, when a dozen or so young men began planning in the 1920’s and 1930’s to construct what was to become the first building to be specifically designed as a mosque on the North American continent.
Other congregations of faithful Muslims had met in homes and existing buildings for years, but Cedar Rapids saw the completion on February 15th, 1934 of the first specifically designed home constructed for Muslim worship on this continent. On one side of the main entrance, a sign read “Moslem Temple” and on the other side a sign with the Arabic message “Al-Nadi Al-Islami” meaning the “Islamic Club.”
Was This Dream Accomplished by Other Muslims Outside Iowa? Yes, it is worthwhile to mention that the earliest recorded Muslim group who organized to offer prayer in private homes took place in Ross, North Dakota in 1900; by 1929 they had built a mosque not in any classic architectural style but as a place of worship, without any classic decoration. Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton in Canada was done in 1938.
With the expanding and aging population of Muslims, the question of a final resting place for the faithful became a pressing problem. In 1948, a Cedar Rapids Muslim businessman William Yahya Aossey Sr. donated six and one half acres of land for the establishment of the first Muslim Nation cemetery on the outskirts of the city.
Iowa, a place to go…and grow!
Dreaming of a better life in the New World, many of the first Muslim immigrants looked beyond the major population centers of the eastern United States and Canada. They wanted the freedom offered by a frontier area with productive agriculture and newer, expanding settlement. They wanted room to grow. IOWA…was an ideal place for this Muslim community seeking a good life for the future.
The immigration of Arabs from the Middle East to the United States was caused by many of the same reasons that sent European and Asian men and women to this country. Poverty and the lack of opportunity in their homeland, plus the longing to fulfill their dreams of adventure. Beginning in the late 1800’s these hardy, dusky-skinned people form the oldest part of the civilized world, journeyed by ship to the gigantic, sprawling, youthful nation that had beckoned them; “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
The Global City of Cedar Rapids is home to many attractions: Quaker Oats, Rockwell-Collins, Czech Village, nearby Amana Colonies, and countless others. Over all, Cedar Rapids is unique from another point of view: it is the home of the first Islamic Mosque in North America, built in 1934, and the first Islamic cemetery in 1948. The first Federation of Islamic Associations was formed in 1954. The first State-wide Islamic Council was established in 1988. And Iowa was the first to invite a Muslim religious leader (Imam) to offer Prayer at the City Council Board meeting and the State Capital in Des Moines.
The establishment of an Islamic recognition day (which was achieved by both the State Legislature of Iowa and the City of Cedar Rapids) will be February 15th of every year. This outcome was crowned by the proclamation of the Governor of the state. Moreover, the Mother Mosque of America was officially recognized by the city of Cedar Rapids and the state senate as the oldest mosque built in North America, located at 1335 9th St. N.W. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Islamic Council of Iowa intends to record this monument into the Historical Society as a historical landmark to be visited by Muslims and non-Muslims as a Muslim-American Heritage.
Cedar Rapids boasts one of the finest public school systems in America. The colleges like Coe, Mount Mercy, Cornell and Kirkwood Community College are stepping stones into higher education, and the giant University of Iowa, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa, and many others, offers graduate degrees in a host of fields.
Muslims to settle in Iowa…These newly arrived Muslims received much encouragement and help for their move from earlier Arab Christian immigrants who had come from the same native lands. Also the traditional acceptance and hospitality of the Iowan, especially the people of Cedar Rapids who are known for their compassion to others, was a major reason for the Muslims to start their settling down and to make their home here.
The true statistics on Arab immigration to the United States prior to the 1920’s are not available, because all immigration figures for the Middle East and part of North Africa in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s were classified as immigration from the “Ottoman Turkish Empire”. However, according to the most authentic accounts by the local community, and relying on their testimony Hajj Abbas Habhab and his brothers, held the satisfaction of being the first Muslims to settle in the State of Iowa, an event that occurred between 1880 and 1888, over a hundred years ago at the end of the last century.
The New Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids
As time passed, more Muslim immigrants arrived in Iowa, bringing with them the financial supports and spiritual strength needed to make the new organization prosper.In 1971, work was completed on a larger place of worship, a large social hall, a modern kitchen, and three classrooms for the Sunday School children on First Avenue on the West side of town.
The Re-birth of the Mother Mosque, after the Mother Mosque was sold, it was used as a club for teenagers, a recreational center for youth. Later it was used as a shelter for Cambodian refugees and finally was rented to a church.
All the Islamic characteristics and architectural details had vanished from the building. It should be noted here, that for some reason all those who used it in their different ways from what had been its original purpose; the teenage club, the Cambodian shelter and the church, not one of them succeeded.
Then the Mother Mosque quickly deteriorated under the effect of the weather. No heating was provided, the roof leaked, damaging the interior walls of 1930’s lath and plaster.