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Athens Farfetched Mosque Dream

This disused barracks is being earmarked as the site of a mosque.

Source : OnIslam with agencies / 28 Dec 2012

Years after Greek government’s promise, Athens Muslims are still carving for their first mosque, amid growing anti-Muslim, neo-fascist rhetoric.

"It is a very big tragedy for us Muslims that there is no mosque here," Syed Mohammad Jamil from the Pakistan-Hellenic Society told BBC on Friday, December 28.

"Greece produced democracy and civilization and the respect of religion - but they don't respect our Muslims to provide us with a regular, legal mosque."

Greek Muslims have long called for building a grand mosque to accommodate the religious needs of the growing Muslim minority.

Despite objections from its powerful Orthodox Church, Greece had pledged to build a mosque in Athens to serve the city's growing Muslim minority.

However, no concrete steps have been taken on the ground.

A disused army barracks near the city centre, chosen as a site for the capital's first mosque years ago, remained untouched.

"I feel somehow cut off from society,” Ashifaq Ahmad, one of the Friday worshippers, said.

"When we have a celebration, there is nowhere proper for us to get together. Society is not accepting us."

The government insists the project will go ahead, but similar plans have been promised in the past - only to fall foul of political infighting.

"In the past, there was a fear in some segments of Greek society about constructing a mosque but we must overcome that fear," says Stratos Simopoulos, the secretary general of the ministry for development.

"The financial crisis is a problem. The government has other priorities for now, but this mosque must be constructed and we may be in a position to start the process in a few months."

The Orthodox Church has for years insisted that Greeks were not ready to see a minaret in downtown Athens.

Pressure on the government to provide a secure, protected mosque has grown as the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party continues to rise.

Its members stand accused of beating immigrants and vandalizing some of the underground prayer rooms.


Though the Greek Church has warmed recently to the mosque idea, some senior ecclesiastical figures remain opposed.

"Greece suffered five centuries of Islamic tyranny under Turkish rule and building a mosque would offend the martyrs who freed us," said Bishop Seraphim in St Nicolas's Church in Piraeus, just outside Athens.

Being the only European capital that has no mosques does not bother St Nicolas Bishop.

"We are not a multicultural country," the Greek bishop said.

"We are one Greek nation and everything else is an invention of the 'new order' and of Zionism. They are trying to corrupt our character."

Away from politicians’ promises and bishops’ warnings, the Greek street remains divided over the right of Athens Muslims to have their first mosque built.

"Muslims should have their temple," Kali Patounia, a banker, said.

"Greek immigrants in other countries build their own churches and perform their own religion, so it's hypocritical."

Marios, a student, disagrees.

"We must not have a mosque here," he tells me.

"This is a Christian country and if they want a mosque, they can go back to their own countries and have one."

Decked with minarets two centuries ago, Athens has not had a functioning mosque since the end of Ottoman rule in the early 1800s.

About 130 windowless, airless basements or warehouses in Athens currently serve as makeshift mosques for an estimated 200,000 Muslims in the Greek capital.

Tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants perform prayers in private homes and have had to travel hundreds of kilometers to northern Greece for weddings, burials and other ceremonies.


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