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.
    Britain’s Vote to Leave EU Sends Shockwaves Through Global Marketsi
    X
    June 24, 2016 10:43 AM
    Britain’s historic decision to leave the European Union is sending shockwaves through global markets. Markets from Tokyo to Europe tumbled Friday under the uncertainty the ballot brings, while regional leaders in Asia took steps to limit the possible fallout. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Britain’s Vote to Leave EU Sends Shockwaves Through Global Markets

    Britain’s historic decision to leave the European Union is sending shockwaves through global markets. Markets from Tokyo to Europe tumbled Friday under the uncertainty the ballot brings, while regional leaders in Asia took steps to limit the possible fallout. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.
    Video

    Video During Ramadan, Faith and Football Converge in Lebanon’s Megadome

    In Beirut, a group of young entrepreneurs has combined its Muslim faith and love of football to create the city's newest landmark: a large, Ramadan-ready dome primed for one of the biggest football (soccer) tournaments in the world. But as the faithful embrace the communal spirit of Islam’s holy month, it is not just those breaking their fasts that are welcome.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora