An opportunity this weekend to stand with your neighbors

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Area residents should meet at noon on May’s Island

Four teenage boys — Moussa, Abbas, Yousef and Ali Habhab — arrived in Cedar Rapids in the 1880s. They were the first of many Muslims to settle in the community, many following Christians known from their homeland into Iowa.

Like so many immigrants, they found pride and promise in their new home and wanted to fold their own traditions into the existing culture.

On a cold February in 1934, the community opened its first official house of worship — a small mosque, which would also serve as a community center. It is now the oldest standing building originally built as a mosque in our nation.

The community grew. They fell in love, married and worked hard. They bore children, choosing to raise them in Eastern Iowa. Some of those children gave their life in military service to this country; others settled in, creating businesses and families of their own. Like all Iowans, they have ridden the up-and-down roller coaster of life — the Great Depression, industrial booms, the farm crisis, technological advances and, of course, the devastating floods of 2008.

Cedar Rapids, city of. Islamic Center (Mosque). Called the “Mother Mosque” by local Islamic scholar T.B. Irving, this small building at 1335 Ninth Street (9th St.) NW, was constructed in 1934 and is believed to be the oldest mosque built for that purpose in North America. A sign to the left of the front door reads, “Moslem Temple.” A restoration project on the building was completed in February, 1992. Photo circa 1934.
Cedar Rapids, city of. Islamic Center (Mosque). Called the “Mother Mosque” by local Islamic scholar T.B. Irving, this small building at 1335 Ninth Street (9th St.) NW, was constructed in 1934 and is believed to be the oldest mosque built for that purpose in North America. A sign to the left of the front door reads, “Moslem Temple.” A restoration project on the building was completed in February, 1992. Photo circa 1934.

Over the years they’ve been joined by immigrants from throughout the globe — Southeast Asia, Latin America, India, Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa. Each individual has contributed to the community and the state, helping all of us to be a little more vibrant, a little more strong.

It’s rare these days to read an article in this paper that references this or that community of residents, perhaps even more rare to hear Iowans speak in such terms. Truth be told, we’ve rarely embraced divisions. We are a single community of many beliefs, many backgrounds and many ideas. The number of our residents born in other countries more than doubled between 1990 and 2000.

Given the history, it’s little wonder that the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County has planned an event of solidarity on May’s Island in downtown Cedar Rapids this Saturday. Iowans will gather to make clear that our residents will not be divided by politics, rhetoric, terrorism or fear.

While the event, which begins at noon, does coincide with an appearance by 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump, this isn’t a left or right political statement. It’s an opportunity to stand with your neighbors, to reaffirm that a strong community cannot be divided.

This community embraces and values all of its residents.

This blog post by Lynda Waddington originally published on The Gazette website on December 18, 2015.