No room for hate in our state

This may be what happens when history is hidden or allowed to fall into the trap of selective memory.

Cedar Rapids police believe Tigani Mohamaoud could be the victim of a hate crime. The Iowa City resident has been working since 2013 to refurbish a flood-damaged home in Cedar Rapids as for his family. His latest setback to that goal arrived in the form of vandalism and graffiti death threats.

“You will be killed here,” reads the text, scrawled with spray paint on interior walls. Someone doesn’t want Mohamaoud, a 2007 Muslim immigrant from Sudan, to feel welcome.

The irony is the area, now known as Time Check, is also home to the oldest standing mosque in North America.

Within walking distance of Mohamaoud’s property stands what’s now referred to as Mother Mosque of America, built in 1934. The Cedar Rapids building, now a cultural center, served as a place of worship for about 40 years.

Construction of the Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids was completed in February 1934. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Construction of the Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids was completed in February 1934. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

The facility has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1996 as “Moslem Temple,” an “essential piece of American religious history, which symbolizes tolerance and acceptance of Islam and Muslims in the U.S.”

Arabs came to the Midwest for the same reasons Europeans did. Poverty and lack of opportunity drove them from their homelands. Once here, they sought the challenge and freedom of a life outside significant population areas.

“The traditional acceptance and hospitality of the Iowan, especially the people of Cedar Rapids, who are known for their compassion to others, was a major reason for the Muslims to start their settling down and to make their home here,” reads a history on the facility’s website.

Police have stepped up patrols in the area, and it’s worth noting that most threats never escalate beyond words. Local residents, appalled by the incident, have established a page, proceeds to repair the damage and continue renovations on the home.

There also was a “Love-In” event on Tuesday evening “to show solidarity, peace and love for all people, races, religions, sexual orientations and beliefs.”

It’s clear some portions of the community are determined to keep ugly incidents as outliers, and they should be commended.

But there is additional work, beyond this one incident, that needs to take place. The history of all minority groups in Cedar Rapids and the Midwest, but especially Muslims, needs better promotion.

I am someone who often is late for meetings because I must stop at roadside historical markers. I purposefully search for and visit what’s unique or unusual — statues, historical properties and roadside oddities.

And yet I was a resident of this area for nearly a decade before I discovered the mosque and its history. Despite an influx of national politicos every four years, I don’t recall any presidential hopefuls visiting the site. Have we allowed recent political debate to veil a valuable piece of our shared heritage? More important, has that lack of acknowledgement and visibility contributed to a climate of spray painted death threats?

Regardless, it’s difficult to appreciate or value a history that isn’t well known or understood.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on July 5, 2015. Photo credit: Cliff Jette/The Gazette