In 1954, a handful of Palestinian immigrants on Chicago’s famous Southside established the Mosque Foundation of Chicago with the dream of one day building a structure to house the religious and cultural activities of their growing young families. Today, that dream is reality as the Mosque Foundation has become one of the busiest mosques in America, serving a community of more than 50,000 Muslims.
Built in 1981 on a few acres of swampy land in the middle of mostly abandoned prairie in Bridgeview, the Mosque Foundation began as a small structure with a maximum prayer hall capacity of 300 worshippers. No one could foresee that the mosque’s establishment would inspire a Muslim neighborhood of hundreds of beautiful new homes around the mosque, two full-time Islamic schools at its perimeters, a Community Center down the road, and dozens of thriving businesses.
The community has steadily diversified to include Muslims of many languages and experiences—all praying side-by-side. Imams are active in education, counseling, spiritual guidance, and arbitration. Community members work with local and national Islamic, interfaith, and civic organizations on numerous initiatives such as protecting American civil liberties, empowering Muslims, improving the quality of urban life, and helping the poor, the immigrants, and the oppressed by advocating for justice and peace.
Very early on, Chicago area Muslims rented various sites around the south side of Chicago to hold congregational Eid Prayers and celebrations. Friday prayers were sometimes held in storefront properties of Muslim-owned businesses. As the population of the Muslim community grew, the need was realized to purchase property. So, in 1963, a church located at 6500 S. Steward Avenue was purchased and converted into a prayer hall and school for the community of more than a hundred Arab Muslim families living in the southwest side of Chicago at the time. Arabic language and religion classes were held in the Steward property, as well as various community functions. Several years later, the building was sold to purchase a storefront property at 79th and Clyde Avenue.
The Clyde property was sold shortly thereafter, with the proceeds reserved to purchase land in Bridgeview, where the Mosque currently stands. Designs of the Mosque were presented in 1977, and construction began in November 1978. Three years later, in 1981, the doors to the Mosque Foundation were officially opened, and the first congregational prayers were held. All five daily obligatory prayers and Friday congregational prayers were offered from the start, as well as nightly Taraweeh prayers during the month of Ramadan. Quran recitation classes, Hadith lectures, and regular monthly meetings were established to serve the spiritual and social needs of the community.
It is impossible to overestimate the impact the Mosque Foundation has had on the community, particularly the youth. While a youth group was formed very early on to cater to the needs of the younger generation, a separate building designated for the youth was purchased and opened in 1996. We have witnessed young men who seemed destined to a life of crime and violence become outstanding citizens who are now students and professionals in a variety of fields, due largely in part to those dedicated youth mentors.
During the 1990’s, the Mosque Foundation community expanded greater than anyone could have predicted. The growing needs and increasing numbers required the Mosque Foundation to expand its original facility, which was completed in 1998. Yet, even as the new prayer area nearly doubled in size, two Friday Congregational Prayers and two evening Ramadan Taraweeh Prayers were still needed to serve the large community. Among the many functions of a mosque is to serve the needy, and its various roles in serving the community continues to grow. For example, in 2005 the Mosque Foundation opened a Community Food Pantry to help combat hunger for low income families in the local community.
This is an unavoidably brief history of the Mosque Foundation, but it’s important to know the services this institution provides in a general sense that cannot be dated through:
• Providing an environment in which men and women may worship with peace of mind and a sense of home.
• Thousands of young people learning the morals and ethics of their religion in the weekend schools.
• Hundreds of families receiving counseling for a variety of personal concerns, marriage matters, dispute resolutions, and bereavement and funeral services.
• Providing many social services for the underprivileged, free health screenings, and support for needy families.
• Reaching out and establishing strong relations with leaders and congregations of other faith communities—Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish. The Mosque Foundation is committed to the noble enterprise of mutual understanding.
1954: Official Registration of Establishment
1963: Interim property at 6500 S. Steward Avenue purchased
1969: Steward Avenue property sold and storefront property at 79th & Clyde Avenue purchased
1976: Tax-exempt Status Approved
1977: Mosque Architectural Plan Completed
1978: Construction Begins
1981: Mosque Opened
1986: Aqsa School opened in the Mosque until 1996
1996: Youth Center Opened
1998: Interim Expansion Completed
2002: Lot for Additional Parking Purchased
2004: Re-opened Youth Center after Major Remodeling
2005: Food Pantry Opened
2006: Expanded Youth Center to Community Center
2008: Second major expansion Completed