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Abraham Joseph Howar

Howar Family 1945
The Howar Family, 1945
Top: Joseph Howar; Center row, left to right: Edmund, Bader, Nancy, Raymond; Front row, left to right: Joyce, Patricia

Joseph Howar was born Mohammad Issa Abu Al Hawa around 1879 (exact date unknown) in Tur, a village outside Jerusalem on the hillside of the Mount of Olives. He left his home village as a young man, intent on America. Unfortunately, his travels accidentally landed him in Bombay, India, instead. He worked in Asia for several years before buying passage to England, and then America. Along the way, he anglicized his name to Abraham Joseph Hawa (later misspelled by immigration officials as Howar).


Howar arrived in the US in 1904 and decided to settle in Washington, D.C. He began working in restaurants, although quickly turned to peddling. He found he made the most money selling expensive textiles to women, where he became acquainted with several wealthy clients. He eventually founded an exclusive women’s clothing store, which made him quite prosperous. During this time, he became a citizen and began going by "Joe." Around 1920, an architect friend offered him the opportunity to invest in a building designed by the friend. Howar paid close attention to every aspect of the development of the building, and once it was finished he decided he knew enough to strike out on own. Soon he built up his own empire by building and owning apartment buildings around the D.C. area.  


On a visit to his hometown of Tur in 1921, he promised his mother that he would marry a Palestinian woman. He fulfilled that promise in 1927 when he married Badria (Bader) Haki, daughter of the Mayor of Acre. Although they did not know each other when they wed (the two had a 30-year age difference), the marriage of Joe and Bader was a long and loving one. They had five children, Raymond, Edmond, Patricia, Joyce, and Nancy. 


In 1948, the Turkish Ambasador Mehmet Munir Eretgun died suddenly while in Washington, DC. His death was a shock to the community, especially as mourners realized there was no mosque in the city in which to hold a service. Howar realized that his skills as a developer could change that and he was spurred into action. He eventually secured funding for a mosque from local residents as well as a number of Arab and Islamic countries. Workers broke ground on the building site in 1949, and it was completed in 1954. The Washington Mosque and Islamic Center, as it became known, was dedicated in 1957. The structure became Howar’s crowning achievement. He received a great deal of recognition for his work, including the Egyptian Order of Merit and the Jordanian Medal of Honor.


Howar continued developing new apartment buildings well into his 80s. His two sons, Raymond and Edmond, worked with him. He also did a great deal for the people of Tur, including building two schools (in 1956 and 1971) and a mosque.


The family lived in a grand, Tudor-style mansion on Washington, D.C.'s Linnean Avenue that Howar built in 1939. The home was the site of many parties and receptions for friends and dignitaries both local and from around the world. Bader was an elegant and organized hostess, and her popular parties were often included in the social pages of local newspapers.  


Bader Howar died in 1981. Joseph followed her in 1982 at the approximate age of 103.


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