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History of Islam in Iowa


A Thought for the Day!
Coming together is a beginning
Keeping together is progress
Working together is success

Remembrance of Times Past
This is an enchanting tale of ferocious energy to succeed through dignity, hard work and a strong unyielding faith in God alone, the Supreme Power of the Universe.

Circa 1880

The 500-year reign of the Ottoman Empire was in decline, vis-à-vis, on full throttle downhill.
As the empire continued to crumble, the Turkish government in the remaining territories became more and more tyrannical. Minority groups and populations in general were abused and persecuted. Compounding this woeful condition was the coupe de graceˆ . . . compulsory conscription of young men into the Ottoman Army and Navy.

One such oppressed area was a land known in antiquity as Phoenicia but today called Lebanon. Located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, it is slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut (north-south 120 miles, east-west 50 miles). Rich in history, for over 4,000 years, it has been a world transportation and trade center while its capital, Beirut, lies at the crossroads of three continents.

Lebanon is a mountainous land with two mountain ranges covering much of the country . . . Mt. Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Nestled between the two is a fertile valley, Al-Bakaa, ten miles wide and eighty miles long.

This small area is where our chronicle of remarkable happenings unfolds.
At this point in time, day in and day out, one could travel to any village in the valley and witness the same scenario. Small groups of teenagers, Muslim and Christian alike, huddled in conversation, exchanging news of the moment regarding the great new land to the West.
They had never heard of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, but they had heard the myth that the streets of American were paved with gold while currency dangled from the branches of every tree.

These young people, derring-doers all, totally unlettered but highly inquisitive, came to one conclusion: When the present is bleak and the experiences of the past were wretched, then there’s only one place to look; the future . . . and the future was America.
For these proud and disciplined youngsters the vision was succinct, to breathe free with an opportunity to succeed.
Thus the odyssey began!

Hundreds of Muslims from the Bakaa Valley answered America’s clarion call: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Filled with untold perseverance and good-natured humor, they became part of the great immigration tidal wave of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Many of the early arrivals settled on the East coast while most forged inland to such areas as West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. A few pressed onward to the fertile fields of Iowa. In 1895, the first Muslim arrived in Cedar Rapids, and became the bellwether of what was to become a highly visible and successful community.


Over the next quarter of the century these immigrants, still few in number (less than 20), were forging successful careers. In the first decade of the 20th Century, most were peddlers, while others tilled the soil as farmers. In the interim, Cedar Rapids was growing by leaps and bounds. A population explosion became the centerpiece to a rapidly growing economic development
Recognizing a definite need, this small group seized the opportunity by establishing ten neighborhood grocery stores. Strategically located throughout the city they became the primary food purveyor for much of Cedar Rapids. Meanwhile these new Americans were assimilating. The community by the late 1920’s had grown to three score.

Over the millennia human’s basic religious beliefs and culture were carried with them as they migrated from continent to continent. The Muslims were no different. During the lat 1920’s and early ‘30’s, halls had been rented for congregational prayer and social activities. It became obvious. . . . More was needed! Much, much dedication and more sacrifices followed, and despite the rigors of the Great Depression, a dream reached fruition.


On June 16, 1934, the first Islamic house of worship in the Western Hemisphere was dedicated. It was destined to become known as “America’s Mother Mosque.” Today it is serving history rather than a congregation.

During this period the winds of war were descending on planet Earth and by the time America entered the Second World War, all of these early Cedar Rapids settlers had become American citizens. One had already served his adopted country during the First World War.

Throughout the centuries Muslims have dwelled in every conceivable area of the globe. They have lived under countless forms of governments and laws, but when they live in a state where freedom of movement, freedom of expressions and freedom of religion exist, then therein lays their homeland. As a resident of a state that grants and guarantees these precious freedoms, it then becomes a strict requirement of Islam and incumbent on every Muslim to be a loyal and faithful citizen.

The apothegm of Islamic ethics is this: devout Muslims are patriots when their faith and homeland are threatened or come under attack. They are enjoined to sacrifice everything, including their earthly existence, in the defense of these joyful freedoms.

Now came the unexpected . . . a bolt from the blue . . . that Sunday afternoon, the first in December, 1941. A slumbering giant was awakened!

Sixteen sons of this small Muslim community would join twelve million other Americans in the great struggle against the forces of tyranny and evil. Two of the sixteen would pay the ultimate price in this All-American war.

The euphoria, following the stunning triumph, quickly faded as millions of veterans returned home to rekindle their lives and help create what was to become an abundant life.

When the decade of the ‘40’s came to a close, the mantle of leadership had been firmly placed over the shoulders of the second generation. Performing brilliantly they nourished, sustained and perpetuated their heritage.

Probably their crowning achievement was the charting of a course that led to the Western Hemisphere’s first Muslim convention. After months of careful planning, invitations were circulated and in June, 1952, Muslims from across the land converged on Cedar Rapids. From that three-day conclave, “The Federation of Islamic Associations in the United States and Canada” emerged.

Swiftly the years passed and by mid-1960, the community numbered 275. In addition to the local residents the original Mosque was attempting to accommodate the spiritual needs of Muslim students from around the globe. Literally scores of Muslims were attending eight colleges and universities, all within 90 miles of Cedar Rapids.

Again, as in the ‘20’s, it became obvious . . . more was needed.
Spearheaded by a thoughtful second and third generation, the present-day Islamic Center is a testament to their prudent wisdom.

Opened in the spring of 1972, this new Mosque has undergone two major expansions, three extensive renovations and is presently on the threshold of a prime addition that will include a multi-purpose building housing a nursery, first-class gymnasium, additional classrooms and a new prayer hall.

Currently the Center has become a kaleidoscope as Muslims from over thirty nations regularly attend services.

The community now boasts five generations descendant from those first settlers and like their forefathers, they take great pride in their contribution to this great American experiment. All of her sons and daughters over the past three generations have attended schools of higher learning leading to careers in every conceivable endeavor, e.g., law, music, medicine, engineering, dentistry, education, health care, authors, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees abound. Also, small medium and large business enterprises are engaged in local, national and international trade.

As the year’s telescope and the community evolve we would be remiss if not ever-mindful of the first lonely settler who pioneered the way in 1895. Moved by a dream of a new beginning he, and others of that same era, was hoping to erase the echoes of a dismal past. Whether conscious of it or not, they did pave the way for succeeding generations to live out that dream.

These founding fathers had a core quality that quickly fathomed that it is a gift and a luxury to live and work in a country where each culture can celebrate life without any imposition on others.

Like millions of other immigrants from that ear, they left a legacy of responsibility and compassion, laced with moderation and tolerance.

They are all gone now but during that incredible voyage they were devout believers in God and in prayer and they lived a life of astonishing moral rectitude.
They are missed! They are remembered!
What’s in a Name?
“What’s in a name?” William Shakespeare once wondered.
What’s Islam?” Many Americans now wonder.

“This day I (God) have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor towards you, and have consented to grant you Islam’ as a religion; a commitment to live in peace.” Qur’an, 5:4
. . . VoilaÌ! That’s what’s in a name!
“What’s in a name?” the Bard of Avon once wondered. Well, let’s continue the word game, and discover more about “What’s in a Name?”


Revealed by God through the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. The divine Noble Reading’ is a set of principles and a detailed plan encompassing all aspects of human behavior and endeavor.
Unlike the Bible or Torah, the original text has endured, surviving the test of time; its purity stands for all the ages

A comfortable translation from Arabic. . . God. A more functional interpretation . . the Creator and Supreme Power of the Universe, without beginning and subsequently without end.

The name and its meaning:
The word Islam means the act of committing oneself unreservedly to God, the word based on its linguistic root also means to achieve peace with God, peach with oneself and peace with the creation of God.

A peaceful person committed to the tenets of Islam, the Oneness of God and the prophesy of Noah, Moses, Jesus, Abraham and Mohammed. Life, cleanliness and knowledge – not the supplication to an unknown vagueness – is the cornerstone of a Muslim’s earthly existence.

In American terminology it has come to mean an aggressive or war-like stance. Not so! In Islam there is an interpretation of a higher and lesser Jihad. The higher and more important, deals with what rages within every human being, the struggle of the inner-self, the relationship with God and resisting the tendency toward evil. That is the primary struggle.
The lesser Jihad sanctions physical conflict only in self-defense and all would agree everyone is not only entitled but obligated to defend oneself In the narratives of Muhammad it is written “I would lay down my life in the defense of Islam.” He did not say he would take another’s life.

One of Islam’s ‘Five Pillars,’ this is a month of fasting with intensified spiritual reflection. During the Arabic month of Ramadan in A.D. 610, Mohammed received his first revelations from God through Gabriel.
This monumental event in recorded history is celebrated by a dawn-to-sunset daily fast and is eventually observed through all seasons because of its lunar calculations.
This most revered period in Islam is intended to invoke a deepened devotion to God with an emphasis on piety and an increased compassion for the poor. It is a time of rebirth and rejuvenation and introspection.

Erected by Abraham and his first son, Ismail. This structure was sanctified as the first house of worship dedicated to God Alone. Located in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, it is the site of the annual Pilgrimage which is one of Islam’s ‘Five Pillars.’ The annual event is the world’s largest and continuous religious and social happening. Makkah is also the locale of Muhammad’s birth, April 20, 571.


Oh! By the way . . . that long-ago musing of Shakespeare just goes to show that there really is “Something in a Name!”

The Muslim Creed and Islam’s Five Pillars
Recognizing humanity as rational and social beings, Islam’s core curriculum is unified by a central theme, i.e., what Muslims believe in and what Muslims are required to do.

The first is a set of six principles or articles of faith:
(1) The belief in God, alone.
(2) The belief in God’s angels.
(3) The belief in God’s Prophets
(4) The belief in God’s Books. (The Torah, the Psalms, the New Testament and the Qur’an, only as they are preserved in their original text.)
(5) The belief in Life after Death; The Day of Resurrection.
(6) The belief that every event throughout the cosmos is in harmony with Almighty God’s will and His knowledge.

Islam’s imposing edifice is ofttimes referred to as the “Five Pillars of Islam.” In essence these ‘Five’ are the optimum requirement of all Muslims.
(1) Public declaration of faith. (Belief in God alone.)
(2) Five Daily prayers.
(3) Fasting during the month of Ramadan.
(4) Obligatory tax for social welfare.
(5) Pilgrimage to Makkah, the site of the first house of worship erected on earth for the worship of One God. (Only if financially and physically able.)

Totally unknown in the lexicon of Islam and its one billion two hundred million adherents. Any attempt to associate this brief expression with Islam, or any Muslim group, is an absolute misnomer.

Islam is explicit and steadfast in its injunction regarding order, discipline, forgiveness and the mastering of passions and instincts.
Selected passages from the book, “Survey of Islamic Doctrine,” by the late, Kamil V. Avdich.

“Islam is more advanced and far more elaborate in its attempt to answer those eternal questions which every sensible person is bound to face once in a lifetime: Who am I, where do I come from, where am I heading, what is the purpose of this ephemeral life, and is there anything after I die? What is my position in this vast Universe and what is my relation to the Creator of everything in it? What kind of life should I lead and shall I be responsible to Somebody for my deeds and actions?

Any person wishing to study Islam in an attempt to quench their intellectual thirst will acquire what we call the traits of an Islamic personality. An Islamic personality, beside having an intellectual attitude that is distinguished by an inner peace, tranquility, and satisfaction, will show a certain lifestyle which is the outward reflex of this intellectual attitude.”

Foreign Students in America :
The perception that the American public is prejudiced against Islam is helping to crystallize a commitment by many Muslims to Islamic radicalism. This is particularly evident among foreign students on American campuses.



1539 Moroccan guide Estephan participated in the exploration of Arizona and New Mexico for the viceroy of New Spain

1717 Arrival in North America of Arabic-speaking slaves who ate no pork and believed in Allah and Muhammad

1790 Moors reported living in South Carolina

1856 Hajj Ali hired by the United States cavalry to experiment in raising camels in Arizona

1869 A number of Yemenis arrived after the opening of the Suez Canal

1900 Earliest recorded Muslim group to organize for communal prayer in Ross, North Dakota

1913 Moorish American Science Temple founded in Newark, New Jersey

1919 Islamic Association formed in Highland Park, Michigan

1922 Islamic Association formed in Detroit, Michigan 1930 Arab-American Banner Society formed in Quincy,


1930 Lost-Found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North America (Black Muslims) established

1934 First building designated as mosque, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

1952 Muslim servicemen allowed identifying their realign as Muslim by the Federal government

1952 International Muslim Society (IMS) organized

1954 IMS renamed Federation of Islamic Associations (FIA)

1957 Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. opened

1963 Muslim Student's Association (MSA) founded

1972 Islamic Party of North America organized in Washington, D.C.

1974 Muslim World League granted non-governmental organization (NGO) status at the United Nations

1975 Warith Deen Muhammad renounced Elijah's teachings and restored the Nation of Islam to orthodoxy

1976 The Nation of Islam assumed the name of The World Community of Islam in the West as Warith Deen Muhammad began the reformation of the beliefs of the community.

1977 First Islamic Conference of North America met in Newark.

1978 Warilh Deen Muhammad named as consultant/trustee by Gulf States to distribute funds for Islamic missionary activities in U.S.

1980 The World Community of Islam in the West assumed the name of the American Muslim Mission

1981 The International Institute of Islamic Thought founded

1982 Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) formed

1983 Islamic College founded in Chicago

1985 Warith Deen Muhammad decentralized the American Muslim Mission



Ever since the early 1950's, Muslim students from third world countries have been flocking in increasing numbers to the United States for technical and professional training. In the process, certain American campuses as well as, some of the mosques and Islamic centers associated with them have become important locales for theological reflection and for debate on a variety of Islamic world views. Shielded from the watchful eyes of the police in their homelands, Muslim students in the United States have been recruited into a variety of Islamic organizations, covering a spectrum running from moderate groups like ABIM of Malaysia, Jamiyat al Islah of Kuwait, the Jamaati Islami of Pakistan, and the Muslim Brotherhood of Sudan, to radical groups banned in many Muslim countries, including Jihad, Takfir wal Hijra, and Hizbullah; Here they are able to Forge links with students of other nations providing the nucleus for an international network of leaders committed to the creation of an Islamic state, or an Islamic world order-Prior to the Second World War, earlier generations of Muslim students found in Europe, especially in France, models for a secular nationalism in which separate ethnic identities were subsumed under the ideal of a single state. The postwar Muslim experience of the United States appears to be different. America is experienced not as a secular but as a religious society. Churches with active and sizeable congregations provide a focus for much of the nation's social organization and activity. While the Muslim student may not be aware of the historical circumstances, theological conflicts, or sociological factors that deter- mined the way these churches developed their present roles, he does see that it is possible to forge one nation out a variety of nationalities, a nation self-consciously described as under God. And this aspect of how he experiences America can have a profound influence on how he experiences Islam later in life.


On a practical level, students who return home may seek to replicate some of the adaptations Islam has made to American ways. At least five "full ser- vice" mosques, for example, have been established in Cairo in the past few years. These provide a variety of services including tutoring, Quran studies, marriage ceremonies, counseling, and free medical care. The growing phenomenon of Christian fundamentalism in America, most conspicuous in the medium of the electronic church, appears to be influencing many Muslim students on a more pro- found level. Some of these students can them- selves be characterized as "evangelical," in the sense that they openly announce that they are "born-again" Muslims, or talk about bringing about the "Kingdom of God" on earth. {Such affirmations are not traditional Muslim definitions of the faith; "new birth" to Islam appears to occur only in the United States.) Many students, including a substantial number that had never been to a mosque or practiced Islam before they came to America, report that their American experience has led them to a search for identity and religious roots. It is not that young Muslims who come to America experience the religious messages preached on radio and television as poignant or relevant. On the contrary, such messages appear offensive in that they can only be characterized as hostile to Islam. What is happening is that some of these students are absorbing the process as opposed to the content, and taking it as a new and powerful vehicle for proclaiming the Slavonic power of Islam. The chosen medium of ultra-conservative Christians is thus becoming a formidable tool in the hands of revivalist Muslims, a process by which they become a kind of mirror image of their Christian counterparts. And often this newly acquired mode of expression is retained when they return to their home countries and adopted as their chosen medium for revolutionary rhetoric. These Muslim students are absorbing the notion that Christianity is hostile to Islam, and translating it into hostility toward America and toward Christianity in general. Many of them are being turned by their American experience into anti-Western, anti-Christian Islamic revivalists. The consequences for American foreign policy interests in future decades are potentially very serious. The root of the problem is the perception of many resident Muslims that the nation as a whole is prejudiced against them. If these factors can be reversed, and that perception overcome, future Muslim students will hopefully carry home a better impression of America, one that will be more con- genial to the nation's long-term interests.

Increasingly conscious of their own identity, America's Muslims wait for the day when their presence will be recognized or, as one Muslim put it, "for the day people will talk about America as Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim." Until the present, Muslims have not played an effective role as a community in the nation's political process. However, they are beginning to understand the mechanisms that under gird the American democratic system. It seems reasonable to assume that they will eventually achieve the participation and recognition that thus far has been denied them.

Recognition and participation will be the products of a mutual process in which Muslims seek to build bridges of understanding and cooperation, and in which leaders of other communities reach out to Muslims and learn to appreciate their contributions. Such a process is slow and often difficult, but it is one other community have followed in the past, and many Muslim Americans see it as natural and inevitable in a country based on ideals of freedom and equality. As the American experience slowly molds the disparate elements of the American Muslim community into a group of citizens fully responsive to those ideals, those same Muslim citizens will themselves increasingly hold their country accountable to their own aspirations for equal status.

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