Hidden History of North Dakota

Hidden History: Historic Mosque in Ross


In a special series, we’re going to be bringing you all week long, we’re shining a light on some of the state’s Hidden History.

Driving through Western North Dakota, you expect to see grain elevators, farms and oil rigs. But, tucked off Hwy 2, just outside of Ross, is the first Mosque ever built in the United States.

“This is my mother, Reda Omar, and my dad, Albert Omar. This lady here, is Sarah Shupe, used to be Sarah Omar when she was married to Allay Omar. She’s the one that designated this building and it’s too bad that she didn’t live long enough to see it complete.”

The original Mosque was built in 1929 by Syrian immigrants who homesteaded in Ross.
It was made of wood and was torn down in 1979 because it was in bad shape. But, Sarah Shupe wanted it rebuilt.

“Originally we were just going to put a plaque, cement plaque with bronze on it,” said Richard Omar, Mosque caretaker. “Well, then she came up with this idea, which was great.”

After some donations, the Mosque was completed in 2005.

A star-crescent symbol on a gate opens up to the four acre property to the cinder block building that’s about 15 feet on each side.

Inside, the walls are bare. There is an easel with the pictures of the Syrian and Lebanese immigrants. In one of the corners is the same star-crescent symbol that is Qibla direction, it points to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. There are two prayer rugs that lie on the center of the room.

Omar isn’t sure how many people stop by and pray—with one exception.

“I visit this Mosque almost, at least once every week,” said Mahmood Qazi, Mosque visitor.

He moved to North Dakota in 2016, and learned the first Mosque ever built in the United States was just an hour away from where he lived.

After seeing it…

“There were two feelings,” Qazi said. “One is the religious feeling that I’m a Muslim and somebody 100 years ago was already existing here from my faith and they built even a Mosque.”

“When I was here first time and I prayed, I was so, I felt so honored and good that I do not know how many years before somebody has prayed in this room,” Qazi added. “So, if I’m going to be a person who has come to this place and is going to pray for 10,15,20 years, then it is an honor for me.”

And why is it in Ross, North Dakota? No one seems to know…it’s just a little bit of hidden history.

Down the hill from the Mosque is a cemetery where the Syrian and Lebanese immigrants are buried.

Qazi says he says a prayer and pays his respect, every time he stops by the Mosque.

But, it isn’t just this cemetery he stops by.

“In Islam, when somebody dies, no matter when the person dies, he still remains respectable.” Qazi said. “The man, or woman, or children, whatever their age was. As they were respectable in their life, they remain respectable in the life there-after also.”

He also stops by the cemetaries at Sunset Memorial Gardens, Rose Hill, and the First Lutheran Church.

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