Bally’s temporary casino in Chicago opened earlier this month, the most recent addition to the roster of Illinois casinos. While the property has garnered its fair share of local opposition for various reasons — traffic, security concerns and problem gambling among them — one specific complaint has absolutely no factual basis.
To be ultra clear: Bally’s Casino and the Medinah Temple it calls home isn’t a mosque. It never was.
Why the controversy?
The Islamabad Times reports that various Muslim-majority country social media groups are taking to the internet to claim Chicago has opened a casino in a mosque — or at least a building that looks a lot like one.
The Medinah Temple does indeed bear resemblances to a mosque, and the building bears an inscription of the Kalma Tayyaba, which roughly translates to “There is none worthy of worship except God (Allah) and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” Despite the Medinah Temple’s resemblance to a mosque and the inscription on its facade, it was never used for worship.
A quick look at the Medinah Temple’s history
Even though it was never used for such a purpose, there’s a reason the Medinah Temple looks like a mosque. It was built in 1912 by The Shriners. The Shriners are an American Masonic society originating in 1870 and formally known as the Ancient Arabic Order Of The Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. And there’s the connection to the building’s inscription and mosque-reminiscent architecture.
The Shriners followed in the footsteps of other Masonic orders, adopting an architectural style connected to its name. Masonic orders are generally not affiliated with particular religions (at least on the surface). However, they often call their gathering places “temples.”
The Medinah Temple flourished through the 1900s. It originally hosted a Moorish-style amphitheater with seating for 4,200 people. Three years after it opened, the Austin Organ Company installed a massive organ weighing 30,000 pounds. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played there numerous times.
In 2000, the Shriners left the Medinah Temple, and the building began to fall apart. A collective of state, city and private interests saved the building from demolition, earning the Medinah Temple a landmark designation in 2001. It became the first Bloomingdale’s Home Store in 2003. Macy’s then sold the building in 2019 to developer Al Friedman.
Soon after, Bally’s shifted its temporary casino plans from a temporary property in the eventual River West permanent casino site to the Medinah Temple.
Bally’s Casino opened earlier this month
The Medinah Temple made history once more just a few weeks ago when Bally’s opened Chicago’s first ever casino in the building. Bally’s intends to operate the casino for at least three years. The company plans to break ground on its permanent River West property in early 2024, with opening slated for 2026.