The nation’s first full mosque to be built from the ground up opened here in 1934 and has come to be known as “the Mother Mosque of America.” A humbler basement mosque was built in 1929 in Ross, N.D., but that structure did not survive. In 1888, Hajj Abbas Habhab, Aossey’s maternal grandfather, was the first documented Muslim to settle in Iowa.
In 1907, Aossey’s father, Yahya Mohamad Aossey, arrived at age 16 from the Lebanon region of Syria. He initially worked as a farmhand for a German family and was given the name “William.”
Aossey graduated from Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids and also received degrees from Cornell College in Mount Vernon and the University of Iowa.
He received a Fulbright Grant in 1966 for research in Vietnam.
His family history is flush with firsts — helping in 1948 to establish the first Muslim National Cemetery in Cedar Rapids, in addition to the original Mother Mosque and the newer Islamic Center that opened in 1971.
At the Islamic Center, Vicki Habhab at first mistook me for the plumber ready to fix a toilet. We had a good laugh, and then I found out that this is the second year she has helped lead a Montessori preschool in the center for kids ages 3 through 6. All nine students currently enrolled are Muslim, but Habhab and the staff are courting children of all faiths.