There are almost 3,000 mosques spread out across the United States, and while the vast majority have been built by communities since the mid- to late 20th century, mosques are not new to the American landscape.
There are some suggestions that small mosques may have been built by Muslims who arrived with the Spanish colonizers in the 16th century, and slave narratives, like the one written by Job Ben Soloman, reveal that enslaved Muslims continued to observe their religion in secret and may well have congregated in small groups to pray, which is essentially the makings of a mosque—a place where Muslims congregate to pray.
However, the oldest American mosque structures still around today were mostly built by Muslim communities that came over as part of the mass immigration of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some are the result of Muslim missionary work, and others are the products of emancipated Black Americans rediscovering their ancestral Islamic roots. While there is still debate over which one is the oldest, due to a paucity of work on this area, the earliest available written accounts and documents suggest the following mosques might be the seven oldest in America today.
1. Al Sadiq Mosque, Chicago, Illinois
America’s oldest mosque was established by a missionary of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, Mufti Muhammad Sadiq in 1922 as part of the mission’s new U.S. headquarters in Chicago.
A picture in the movement’s journal, The Muslim Sunrise, reveals it was first known as the “Ahmadia Moslem Mosque and Mission House," and sat inside a modest two-story building with a bay window that had a large dome and two thin, spindle-like faux minarets on it. Today a small, sand-colored mosque with a pointed roof and two green minarets sits on the same spot. The name Al Sadiq, which means "honest" or "faithful," is probably a nod to the founder.
2. The Brooklyn Moslem Mosque, New York City
Also known as the Powers Street Mosque, the oldest surviving mosque in New York sits on a quiet road in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It is a two-story, late 19th-century former church, now covered in white, wooden slats, topped by an ornate turret and crescent.
The design hints at the origins of the mosque’s founders—ethnic Tatars from the Baltic states of Lithuania, Poland and Belarus, where all the mosques once looked like this. The community bought this building in 1927 and it remains in their custody to this day, though daily prayers are no longer held here.
3. North Dakota Mosque, Ross, North Dakota
The North Dakota Mosque is less a mosque and more a monument to the Syrian and Lebanese Muslims who once prayed at this remote, windswept, location close to the Canadian border.
They had migrated to the United States in the 19th century from the then Ottoman territory of Greater Syria and built a plain, large, rectangular wood and brick building here around 1929. As much a place of community activity as one of worship, that structure was torn down in 1979, and a small square cinderblock building with four thin faux minarets and a tiny copper dome was erected in 2005.
4. Mother Mosque, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Reportedly America’s oldest surviving purpose-built mosque, the "Mother Mosque," was also built by Syrian and Lebanese Muslims who had migrated from Ottoman Greater Syria.
When it opened in 1934 it was known as the Rose of Fraternity Lodge and the Moslem Temple and used for prayer, education and community activity, as well storing the ancient Qur’ans the immigrants had brought with them from their homelands. These days, the local community use a larger mosque nearby built in the 1970s and the Mother Mosque is mostly used to educate people about America’s Islamic heritage.
5. American Moslem Society, Dearborn, Michigan
The American Moslem Society took root in a Dearborn house in 1938 amongst a group of mostly Lebanese immigrants who had moved to the area following the opening of the local Ford Motor Company.
In the 1980s, the mosque made headlines for becoming the first in America to be given permission to publicly broadcast the adhan (call to prayer) using speakers. Today, the mosque sits in a huge purpose-built building that covers an area of approximately 48,000 square feet and integrates a madrasah (Islamic school) and medical center.
6. Islamic Center of Washington
When the Islamic Center of Washington opened in 1952, the U.S. President Dwight, D. Eisenhower, speaking at its dedication ceremony, described it as one of the “most beautiful buildings in Washington."
The oldest mosque in the U.S. capital was founded by a group of diplomats and local Muslims who set up the Washington Mosque Foundation in 1944. They then appointed the Italian architect Mario Rossi to build the mosque because of his experience working on them in Egypt. Rossi based his design on the country’s classical Mamluk architectural style.
7. Masjid Muhammad, Washington, D.C.
Although the Masjid Muhammad began life as Nation of Islam Temple 4 in 1960—established with the help of Malcolm X—it was widely regarded as the first ‘mosque’ to be built in the U.S. Capital by descendants of enslaved African Americans.
The mosque has been a mainstream Sunni Islam mosque since 1975, when Warith Deen Mohammed, one of the sons of the Nation’s leader Elijah Muhammad, appointed a Sunni Imam and changed the name from "Temple 4" to Washington Masjid; removing the pews and reorienting the direction of prayer towards Makkah in Saudi Arabia. It has been known as the Masjid Muhammad since the 1980s.