A HISTORY OF THE OLDEST MOSQUE IN NEW ENGLAND
By Mary Lahaj (2014 edition)
As you enter the Islamic Center of New England in Quincy, the secretary’s small office is on your right and the social hall your left. Built in 1964, the Quincy Center is the first mosque in all of New England, and the long-term dream of eight Lebanese families who came to this country in the first big wave of immigrants, more than 100 years ago. The Center is located near the Fore River Shipyard in a neighborhood called Quincy Point, where 2 generations of founding families had lived since the turn of the 20th Century.
On the right side, as you step further into the foyer, there is a large, square wooden plaque on the wall that features the names of nearly one hundred donor members engraved on rectangular brass plates. These are people who came to the U.S. in the second big wave of immigrants (1965). They were also pioneers in many respects, initiating Islamic educational programs, donating generously to support the Center, mitigating its financial burdens, enabling it growth, and continuing the work of building an Islamic community in America, one family at a time.
This history will demonstrate that the eight Lebanese founding families dreamed of building a community that would establish their presence in America and provide a stronger American identity for their children. They wanted their house of worship to take its place on the landscape, and be seen as equal to the churches and synagogues in America.
In later years, the mosque attracted Muslims from all over the world. With the coming of the pioneering families (from 1960s on), the dream of building a community changed and took a new shape and meaning. These families shared the dream of building a community in which to raise their children as Muslims who practiced their faith and contributed fully to American society.
Walking through the foyer, the stairs to the prayer room are just to the left. Up the stairs, as you enter the prayer space there is nothing to see except a large room with wall-to-wall oriental rugs. There are no tables or chairs and no religious symbols or icons. There are only verses from the Qur’an, artfully drawn in calligraphy, framed and hung on the walls. At the front of the room, pointing east, there is a niche in the wall, with a small prayer rug for the leader of the prayers (the imam). At prayer times, the Muslims stand as one united group behind the imam to worship the one God. Their lines are straight, like the teeth of a comb, and the colorful rows of people fill the prayer room.
Diversity is one of the greatest features of the American Muslim community. The community in Quincy is like a mini United Nations, with people from more than 35 different countries, of different cultures, races, ethnicities, genders, socio and educational backgrounds, and differing views on religion. Diversity is challenging for any community. But the Muslim community has set the bar especially high in many ways. Given that Islamic and American values overlap, members are highly motivated to strike a balance within the diverse community, to respect each other’s views, remain united, and practice the values of equality and democracy that are reinforced in Islam and in America.
This narrative tells the story of a handful of Muslims from Quincy and how they founded the first-ever institution of its kind in one of the most celebrated cities in the country, the City of Presidents. As a member of two of the eight founding families, my narrative covers three generations of Muslims in six decades, from 1931 to 1991. In addition, I have been privileged to report on the back story, which begins at the turn of the 20th Century, when the first generation of founding families landed at Ellis Island, New York. In the conclusion, there is a summary of the dynamic changes that have occurred within the Muslim community in Greater Boston, over more than 100 years.