The Islamic Center is located on Massachusetts Avenue NW, the bustling D.C. street lined with embassies, often referred to as Embassy Row. Architect Mario Rossi designed the mosque in the Neo-Mamluk style of architecture made popular in 15th century Egypt. He was also behind the construction of similar edifices in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt.
This cultural center is a beautiful one and has a graceful aesthetic. The exterior walls are ornately fashioned, and the center of the mosque showcases a brilliant spire that reaches towards the sky. The building is surrounded by the flags of Islamic countries spanning the globe, and many of the interior furnishings are international gifts from afar. The carpets were a gift from the Shah of Iran, the chandelier hails from Egypt, and the wall tiles were a present from Turkey.
Upon its opening in 1957, the Islamic Center of Washington was the biggest mosque in the Western Hemisphere. It has an impressive history that can be traced all the way back to an inkling of an idea, the amorphous thought which found shape in 1944. At this time, the United States was entangled in the arduous throes of World War II. The building of religious edifices wasn’t on the forefront of public consciousness. Additionally, the separation of church and state meant that no government funds would be allotted to the building of houses of worship.
In 1944, when Turkish ambassador Münir Ertugün passed away, the District was devoid of a mosque to hold his funeral. This became a concern for Islamic diplomats, and in 1948 Egyptian Ambassador Kamil Abdel Rahim decided to embark on a fundraising campaign to gather the funds necessary for the building of a great mosque. He toiled many hours, traversing high seas and visiting a multitude of Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Here, he solicited monetary support for the immense project with the hearty backing of the Washington diplomatic community.
The mosque was completed in 1954 and was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957. An estimated 6,000 people attend prayer services at the mosque each Friday.