Bally’s Chicago ‘Mosque’ Casino Draws Mistaken Outrage

Posted on: September 15, 2023, 11:35h. 

Last updated on: September 15, 2023, 03:26h.

Bally’s Casino at Medinah Temple has been causing a stir among some Muslim social media users since it opened last Saturday. That’s because of the misapprehension that it is a mosque. 

Casino at Medinah Temple, Bally’s, Chicago, muslims
The Casino at Medinah Temple in Chicago, above, may look like a mosque. But it is not and never has been a place of worship. (Image: Chicago Sun-Times)

The casino, Chicago’s first, is temporary and will exist until Bally’s completes the construction of a permanent riverfront property scheduled to open in 2026. And it’s easy to see why it might be mistaken for a mosque. 

Originally an auditorium, the Medinah Temple was built in 1912 in the Moorish Revival style, which appropriated the arches and domes used in Islamic architecture. In short, it looks like a mosque.  Piling on the confusion, inscribed above the entrance of the building are the Arabic words “كَلِمَاتْ اَلطَّيِّبَة,” which means “There is no God but Allah,” taken from the first kalima of the Koran. 

“Social media platforms in Muslim-majority countries, such as Pakistan and Turkey, have been buzzing with [the] controversial claim,”  the Times of Islamabad reported.

Muslims are forbidden to gamble, according to the Quran. Games of chance are described as a “grave sin” and “abominations of Satan’s handiwork” in the text.  Some of the most strident voices have argued the casino is a direct provocation to Muslims. 

Controversial Aesthetic 

But while the Medinah Temple has been, at various points, a concert hall, a circus, and a Bloomingdale furniture store, it has never been a mosque.

It was built by the Shriners, a Masonic organization that included John Wayne and President Harry Truman among its numbers. Shriners refer to themselves formally as  the “Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.” But there is nothing Arabic about them. They adopted a Middle Eastern aesthetic for fun. The passage from the Koran appears on the door because it is a rip off of the Alhambra in Spain, which Muslims built in the 13th century,

Freemasons refer to their meeting places as “temples,” adding to the misconception that the building has religious significance.

While the new casino is not a direct provocation to Muslims, the presence of the kalima above the entrance and the use of the name Medinah may still be offensive.

Medinah, or Medina, in Saudi Arabia, is the last resting place of the Prophet Mohammed and one of the most sacred sites in Islam.