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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published October 03 2009

Halgrimson: America's first mosque built in Ross, N.D.

At the conclusion of their meeting, a group of people in Fargo always got a question. That day it was, “In which state was the first mosque in America built? The answer of “North Dakota” was a surprise.

Maybe they should have read the newspaper more carefully. The Forum has had a number of stories about the mosque built at Ross, N.D., in 1929, the first in this country.

It came about when homesteader Hassen Juma, who emigrated from Syria, settled in Crookston, Minn., and then came to North Dakota in 1899. By 1925, 30 to 40 more Muslim families had settled near the cities of Ross, Stanley, Rolla, Dunseith, Glenfield and Binford, and they felt a mosque was necessary to their community.

Immigrants from Lebanon and Palestine followed, and, although most of them were Christians, there were many Muslims among them.

The mosque in Ross was built in 1929. It was an underground structure only 4 feet up from the ground. But below the room for worship was about 1,200 square feet. The building adjoined the Muslim cemetery.

According to a 2005 interview with Hassan Abdallah, who was 80 at that time, he said the old mosque “was huge down in the basement. It was really big where they prayed. … Men would pray, and the women would sit off to the side. Us kids would go outside and wrestle. I always thought there were 15 or 16 old-timers that stood in line and prayed.”

In 1975, the cemetery committee voted to dismantle the mosque, which was in disrepair. The indentations where it had once stood were all that was left.

But in 2005 a new mosque was built at Ross to replace the first mosque in the United States. Built on the same site, it is about half the size of the original and is above ground. It is constructed of concrete with a facade of stone. A bronze dome tops the mosque, and, at that time, four minarets were waiting inside to be put on the corners of the building.

Muslims weren’t the only ones who contributed to the building of the new mosque. Their Jewish and Christian friends also helped. About 80 people attended the commemoration when the mosque was completed.

Inside, a framed poster shows pictures of the dead buried in the adjacent cemetery.

For those wishing to learn more about Muslims in America, Syed Sajid Ahmad, is teaching a class for F/M Communiversity, “The History of Islam in the United States,” from 2 to 4 p.m. on Oct. 17, 24 and 31 at Riverview Place in Fargo.

According to F/M Communiversity, “Syed Sajid Ahmad has lived in the U.S. for more than three decades. He has spoken and written about Islam and is interested in interfaith learning leading to interfaith harmony in the society.”

The fee for the class is $36, and it will be held at Riverview Place, 5300 12th St. S., Fargo. For more information or to register call the F/M Communiversity office at (218) 299-3438 or go to the Web site, www.fmcommuniversity.org

Sources: Forum files, “Prairie Peddlers, The Syrian-Lebanese in North Dakota,” by William C. Sherman, Paul L. Whitney and John Guerrero; www.muslimsinamerica.org/; http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/geopedia/High_Plains_Migration; www.voanews.com/english/archive/2005-10/2005-10-20-voa14.cfm

Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com