Cedar Rapids, Ia. — Imam Taha Tawil slipped off his muddy shoes and padded across the cream-colored carpet marred by someone else’s muddy footprints.

He turned to the northeast and began to pray.

Below him, in the basement of the Mother Mosque of America, are the soggy heirlooms of the oldest mosque in America, which were destroyed when floodwaters entered the building last week.

Tawil, the mosque’s spiritual leader, finally saw the destruction Monday, when the National Guard allowed access to the quiet residential neighborhood on Ninth Street Northwest.

“It’s just amazing how God is great when he wishes to do something,” Tawil said. “It’s amazing while at the same time devastating. Maybe something good will come out of it. We never know the meaning behind it.”

Water didn’t reach the main floor of the mosque, sparing the prayer room that just underwent a $55,000 renovation.

But below, in the space where the mosque holds community meetings and teaches school groups, there was total destruction. Dozens of videotapes with the oral histories of Arabs who have come to Iowa lie waterlogged. Mud covers prayer rugs and books. Ceiling tiles have collapsed, and tables have warped.

Tawil was overcome with the grief of what was lost. As he began to cry, he commented on the many mosque members who served this country in the military and have called America home.

“This is their mosque,” Tawil said. “This is where they gathered to help each other get to the next generation.”

Arabs, both of Muslim and Christian faith, came to Iowa in the early 1900s, Tawil said. Though at first they prayed in homes throughout the community, they eventually began working together to build houses of worship.

By 1925, the Muslim Arabs began raising money to build a mosque – mostly by holding fundraisers where they sold Middle Eastern food, Tawil said. Over the next few years, members volunteered to build.

It was finally dedicated and opened on Feb. 15, 1934.

Muslims from around the state and country traveled to worship at the mosque, Tawil said.

“It became symbolic of Mecca because there was no mosque in the area,” he said.

It would serve as the main place of worship until 1971, when a bigger Islamic Center was opened in town.

The building on Ninth Street was sold — used over the years as a teen center and a Pentecostal church before being abandoned.

It was purchased by the Islamic Council of Iowa and renovated, reopening again in 1992.

Now, Tawil wonders whether the building can be saved. Everything rests on whether or not the foundation is solid, something Tawil won’t know until an engineer is able to check it.

But if they can stay, Tawil said volunteers are ready.


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