Edward E. Curtis IV: Five Myths About Mosques in America

Roundup: Media's Take

[Edward E. Curtis IV is millennium chair of liberal arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.]

Mosques have been here since the colonial era. A mosque, or masjid, is literally any place where Muslims make salat, the prayer performed in the direction of Mecca; it needn't be a building. One of the first mosques in North American history was on Kent Island, Md.: Between 1731 and 1733, African American Muslim slave and Islamic scholar Job Ben Solomon, a cattle driver, would regularly steal away to the woods there for his prayers -- in spite of a white boy who threw dirt on him as he made his prostrations.

The Midwest was home to the greatest number of permanent U.S. mosques in the first half of the 20th century. In 1921, Sunni, Shiite and Ahmadi Muslims in Detroit celebrated the opening of perhaps the first purpose-built mosque in the nation. Funded by real estate developer Muhammad Karoub, it was just blocks away from Henry Ford's Highland Park automobile factory, which employed hundreds of Arab American men.

Most Midwestern mosques blended into their surroundings. The temples or mosques of the Nation of Islam -- an indigenous form of Islam led by Elijah Muhammad from 1934 to 1975 -- were often converted storefronts and churches. In total, mosques numbered perhaps slightly more than 100 nationwide in 1970. In the last three decades of the 20th century, however, more than 1 million new Muslim immigrants came to the United States and, in tandem with their African American co-religionists, opened hundreds more mosques. Today there are more than 2,000 places of Muslim prayer, most of them mosques, in the United States....

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