This history of the third-largest religion, Islam, in America, begins in 1527 with the arrival of Estevancio, a North African Muslim captive, who was the first documented Muslim in the United States. Part of the Panfilo de Narvaez expedition, he would later significantly transform our understanding of the American Southwest.
Fast forward to 1790, the country’s early years saw the introduction of the Naturalization Act, which stipulated that only free whites of good moral character could become citizens. This legislation discouraged many non-white Muslims, including Arabs, Indians, and Africans, from immigrating to the country.
However, by the late 1870s, a surge of immigrants from the Middle East, notably from present-day Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon, began to enter the United States. They were classified as “Turks” and deemed ineligible for citizenship for being Asiatic. These individuals sought greater economic stability on American shores. Many found work as miners, factory workers, peddlers, grocers, shopkeepers, or petty merchants, with a significant number establishing themselves in the Midwest.
In 1914, the number of Arab Muslims in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was just 45. But within a decade, they had built a full-scale Muslim community, which included over 50 shops and grocery stores by the mid-1920s. In 1925, a group known as ‘The Rose of Fraternity Lodge’ rented a building to serve as a temporary mosque, sparking the dream of constructing a permanent place of worship.
Finally, on February 15, 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression, the Mother Mosque of America opened its doors for the first time, serving as both a mosque and a social center. This simple, one-story wood frame building was the first mosque designed and built in America, marking a significant chapter in the nation’s religious and immigration history.
As the muslim community grew, a new mosque was constructed on 1st Ave SW, Cedar Rapids in 1970. However, it was later sold and repurposed. The Islamic Council of Iowa purchased and renovated the building in the early 1990s. Today, it serves as a place of worship and a resource center, preserving the history of muslims in America.
The Mother Mosque of America stands as a testament to the resilience and contributions of African Muslim slaves to the struggle for equality and justice, their faith shaping the early civil rights discourse. The mosque also marks a milestone in the acceptance of Islam, epitomized by Abdallah Ingram’s successful endeavor to establish Islam as a valid faith within the U.S. military. stands as a beacon of Muslim prosperity in America, a testament to the vibrant community that continues to enrich the nation’s cultural fabric.