News

    North Dakota Is Home to First U.S. Mosque

    Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States, and there are more than 1,200 mosques around the country, with at least one in every state. The vast majority are in major metropolitan areas, especially in New York and California, but America's first mosque was built in one of the least populous states - North Dakota.

    Like many immigrants, the Lebanese who arrived on the flat plains of North Dakota in the early years of the 20th century came in search of economic opportunity. Hassan Abdallah says his parents didn't plan to stay. "They always talked about how they came to the United States. They were going to get rich and go back to Lebanon. It didn't work out that way. Nobody got rich."

    The Abdallahs weren't the only ones who came here from Lebanon hoping to make their fortune and go back home. "There was a bunch of them (who) came," Mr. Abdallah says, "not at once, but they kept coming, helped each other out. There were quite a few here years ago."

    And sometime around 1929 or 1930, when they realized they would be staying in North Dakota, working as farmers and raising their families here, the Lebanese community decided to build a mosque.

    "What they built was essentially a building that would keep them warm," says Joan Mandell, a filmmaker who has documented Arab communities across the United States and is currently working on a film about Arab Americans in North Dakota.

    Ms. Mandell points out that they didn't have indoor heating in rural areas back then. "Can you imagine coming from a warm Mediterranean climate and ending up in northwest North Dakota in the middle of winter?" she asks. "North Dakota is really windy, so they built a basement." The rough wooden building that stood above ground, Ms. Mandell says, was just 1.25 meters tall.

    "It was huge down in the basement. It was really big where they prayed," recalls Hassan Abdallah, who was just a young boy when the mosque was being used. "Men would pray and the women would sit off to the side. Us kids would go outside and wrestle. I always thought there were 15 or 16 old-timers that stood in line and prayed."

    He recalls that hardly anybody had a car back then, so people arrived at the mosque by horse-drawn wagons and buggies.

    "Back in the 30s," Mr. Abdallah says, "they all got together and prayed for rain. And we had an accident before we got home it rained so hard, so I always figured that helped."

    The old-timers Mr. Abdallah talks about are now long gone, most of them buried in the Muslim cemetery that adjoined the mosque. Most of their children, who grew up in and around the small towns of Ross and Stanley, moved away.

    Now 80, Hassan Abdallah is one of the few Muslims still living in the area. He says by the 1940s no one was using the mosque any more. In the 1970s, the younger members of the community - grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original immigrants from Lebanon -- voted to tear it down.

    "We shouldn't have torn it down really, but we thought it looked -- an eyesore they said," Mr. Abdallah says. "All we had to do was make it look better and we could have kept it. It looked so empty after we tore it down."

    But it doesn't look empty any more. At the urging of Mr. Abdallah's sister, Sara Omar, who died last year, a new mosque was built where the old one stood. About 80 people attended the commemoration this summer.

    Half the size of the original mosque, but above ground, the building is made of concrete faced with stone, topped with a bronze dome. Inside are four minarets, waiting to be put on the corners of the building and a framed poster bearing images of all of the dead who are buried in the cemetery, including Sara Omar, who never got to see the new mosque completed.

    Hassan Abdallah says although he occasionally says prayers in the new mosque, it's really more of a memorial.

    According to documentary filmmaker Joan Mandell, the second mosque in the United States was built five years after the one in Ross, North Dakota, by immigrants to Rapid City, Iowa. The simple, white-framed building with a green dome is still standing in the middle of a residential community.

    "People refer to that as the first mosque, so it is the first mosque still standing." But the filmmaker says, no one -- including the Muslim community of Rapid City -- has come forward to challenge North Dakota's claim as the home of America's first mosque.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.