History & Timeline
A Masjid in Chicago: From Dream to Excellence
More than half a century ago, the seed of the Mosque Foundation was planted. This quietly took place in 1954 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President and the population of the United States stood at 163 million. It was a time when immigration to America was high, and when Chicago was a central welcoming hub, especially for families from the Middle East and North Africa. Like other immigrants, newly arriving Muslims from this region were immediately confronted with the harsh reality that their values and beliefs would not automatically carry on from one generation to the next without a concerted effort. In 1954, in response to this realization, a handful of Arab 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 families. Soon after, that dream became a reality as the Mosque Foundation became one of the busiest mosques in America, serving a community of more than 50,000 Muslims.
Early on, Chicago area Muslims rented various sites around the south side of Chicago to hold congregational Eid Prayers and celebrations. Friday prayers were held in storefront properties of Muslim-owned businesses. As the population of the Muslim community grew, the need was realized to purchase a 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 nearby. Arabic language and religious 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 after that, with the proceeds reserved to purchase land in Bridgeview, where the Masjid currently stands. Designs of the Masjid were presented in 1977, and construction began in November 1978. Three years later, in 1981, the doors to the Mosque Foundation were officially opened. On a few acres of swampy land in the middle of the mostly abandoned prairie in Bridgeview, the Mosque Foundation began as a small structure with a maximum prayer hall capacity of 300 worshippers. All five daily obligatory prayers and Friday congregational prayers were offered from the start including nightly Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan. Quran recitation classes, Hadith lectures, and regular weekly and monthly meetings were established to serve the spiritual and social needs of the community.
During the 1990s, 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. In 2005 the Mosque Foundation opened a Community Food Pantry to help combat hunger for low-income families.
No one could foresee that the Masjid’s establishment would inspire a Muslim neighborhood of beautiful new homes around the Masjid, two full-time Islamic schools at its perimeters, multiple community centers, and hundreds of thriving businesses.
It is impossible to overestimate the Mosque Foundation’s impact on the community, particularly youth. While a youth group was formed very early on to cater to the needs of the younger generation, a separate building designated for youth was purchased and opened in 1996. We have witnessed youth who seemed destined to a life of crime and violence become outstanding citizens who are now professionals in various fields, thanks to many dedicated youth mentors.
Over the years, the community steadily diversified to include Muslims of multiple languages, ethnicities, nationalities, 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.
In 2011, the Mosque Foundation Education Center (MFEC) building was purchased to provide an educational facility dedicated to students of Islam. The following year, the Harlem Lot was purchased to accommodate the growing community’s need for space to park their vehicles during events on the Masjid’s bustling campus. In 2014, the Mosque Foundation Harlem Center (MFHC) was purchased to provide community members with an adjacent facility to gather and hold events. In 2018, 2,000 grave plots were purchased at Mt. Vernon Cemetery to facilitate Islamic burials in coordination with the Masjid. Last year, the Masjid took advantage of the lockdown to complete long-awaited renovation projects to maintain the facilities, including updated wudu areas, new carpet, tiling, and more. Finally, the Masjid community purchased a new food pantry facility to accommodate the growing demand for food assistance this year.
In addition to this brief history of the Mosque Foundation, it’s essential to know the timeless and invaluable services this institution provides to the community:
- An environment in which men and women worship with peace of mind and a sense of home
- Weekend schools for thousands of young students to learn morals and ethics of their religion
- Counseling for families going through various personal matters, marriage concerns, dispute decisions, grief & funeral services, and more
- Social services for the underprivileged, including free health screenings and other means of support for needy families
- Establishing strong inter-faith relations with leaders and congregations of neighboring communities