Rebuilding a Legacy

By Asma Lori Saroya, Engage Minnesota

Flood damage at the Mother Mosque
Flood damage at the Mother Mosque.

On our first visit to the Mother Mosque of America, my family and I were greeted by an eager imam. He came outside to welcome us.

Imam Taha Tawil, Executive Director of the Mother Mosque, showed great passion for history and for the American Muslim identity as he gave us a two-hour tour of the tiny mosque. We were presented with stories, history lessons, photos, documents, and other artifacts from–with the exception of the slave trade–some of the earliest Muslim immigrants to America.

We returned, many times. My family and I attended monthly halaqas there and, as a teenager, I always found that Imam Taha boldly fielded my questions. I attended meetings in the Mother Mosque with Muslim youth from across the state.

I gave tours to visitors, who watched us pray in shifts in the small prayer area. I got married there.

The Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids, completed in 1934, was one of the first permanent structures built specifically to serve as a mosque in the United States. Construction began in 1925, a project both Muslim and Christian Arabs undertook together. It remained the main place of worship for the Cedar Rapids Muslim community until 1971, when a larger mosque was built to accommodate the growing community.

The Mother Mosque is listed on both the Iowa State Historical Register and the National Register of Historic Places as an “essential piece of American religious history, which symbolizes tolerance and acceptance of Islam and Muslims in the United States.”

Early last week, I was driving back to Minnesota after visiting my family in Iowa. When I approached Cedar Rapids, I saw a sign announcing, “Flooding in Waterloo. Highway 218 Closed.” Less than 24 hours later, Cedar Rapids would close all of its highways and interstates due to flooding, and the city would come to a halt. The Mother Mosque would not be spared.

The mosque had just completed a renovation project last year. Now it must start a new one.

Documents inside the mosque, including the photos and artifacts I viewed on my first tour, were destroyed by the flood. Nothing, except a photo or two, is salvageable.

On Monday, CAIR-MN asked Muslims to donate to help restore the mosque and to assist flood victims of all faiths throughout the region. To donate, visit and

It is not a loss only for Muslims. Damage to an American historic landmark is a loss for the entire community.

A community clean-up effort of the Mother Mosque is set to take place on Saturday, June 21 at 11 a.m. at the Mother Mosque of America, 1335 9th St SW in Cedar Rapids. All members of the community are invited to participate.

Asma Lori Saroya is a Crime Victim Services Coordinator in Minneapolis. She is a graduate of the College of St. Catherine and lives in Blaine with her husband. In her spare time, Asma volunteers with the Muslim Youth of Minnesota and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American–Islamic Relations. She also teaches English at the Cedar-Riverside Adult Education Collaborative.

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A Voice for Minnesotan Muslims

Posted on June 18, 2008, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. former Iowan (non-Muslim)

    Sorry to hear about the loss. I wondered if your building would be affected–I haven’t been back to CR for several years, and didn’t know exactly where it stood. I was very proud of the fact that this mosque stood in CR. I had told a Turkish friend of mine, who may be going to school at U of I in fall, about it. I wanted him to visit and share in its history. Hope all repairs go well.


  2. Muhammed al-Ahari

    AsSalaam aliekum,
    I visted the Mother Mosque two weeks ago. I’m from Chicago and had a visit from Joseph Aossey, a third generation member of the community. Much of Irving’s papers have survived and I am talking to other community members about ways to salvage even some of the most damged materials. It will cost, so I suggest anyone interested in preserving the history of Islam in America donate to the Mother Mosque fund to pay for perserving records and rebuilding the Mother Mosque.
    Muhammed al-Ahari


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