Approaches to Mosque Design
in North America
In North America, unlike long-established Muslim societies, a majority of mosques are buildings originally constructed for other purposes—abandoned churches, Masonic lodges, fire stations, funeral homes, theaters, warehouses, and shops. A survey conducted in 1992-95 showed that of the nearly one thousand mosques and Islamic centers in the United States, fewer than one hundred were designed as mosques. Here, however, we will be concerned only with those structures specifically designed and erected as mosques and their relationship to the subject of identity.
Although a Muslim presence in North America has been documented for at least a century, liberalization of American immigration laws in 1965 led to the first large-scale influx of Muslims from many different countries. Simultaneously, the conversion to Islam of Americans, especially of African Americans, vastly increased the Muslim population in the United States. Lack of funds had prevented the earliest Muslim immigrants from constructing mosques; most of them in any case did not come to the United States to settle permanently. Their primary purpose was economic. Then a number of nondescript structures were built as mosques in Highland Park, Michigan (1919), Michigan City, Indiana (1924), Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1925), Ross, North Dakota (1926), Quincy, Massachusetts (1930), and Sacramento, California (1941). Many of these were multipurpose structures used as cultural or community centers—for example, the Albanian Cultural Center, Arab Banner Society, Indian/Pakistani Muslim Association, and the like—and not simply mosques. They had a room for prayer, but they also served as clubs, with a social hall for weddings and parties, and a basement for bingo games.
Although the mosque had been developing for fourteen centuries it was still certainly an architectural novelty in North America and most of the rest