ATHENS – The first official mosque in Greece for the country’s Muslims, the 800,000-euro ($910,202) cost being borne by Greek taxpayers, is too small, the President of the Muslim Association has complained.
Naim Elghandour told Thema 104.6 radio that the grey, boxy, nearly-windowless mosque in the downtown district of Votanikos looks more like a big kiosk than a place of worship to replace the unofficial mosques Muslims have been setting up in basements and elsewhere.
“Is this the mosque they’ve been telling us about for so many years?” He said that the mosque, which will have no minarets or loudspeakers, will fit just 300 men and 50 women. Greece, he claimed, has a Muslim population of around 500,000 people, which would be some 5 percent of the country’s population.
The government is bearing the cost during a crushing economic crisis as it’s been cutting pension benefits and education and health care budgets.
The 1,000-square meter facility will include a worship area for 300 men, a worship area for 50 women, auxiliary rooms, an office for the imam and an office for the muezzin.
Officials from the ultra-extreme right Golden Dawn charged with using neo-Nazi techniques earlier protested the mosque and warned there would be violence if the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA kept pushing the construction.
The mosque won’t be allowed, Golden Dawn said in an ominous warning from Ilias Panagiotaros, one of the most strident of the party’s lawmakers, all of whom are on trial on charges of running a criminal gang.
He said, “With the help of God – I repeat that – this mosque will not have a good end,” the news agency Reuters reported he said.
The mosque has been a special source of consternation to critics because it’s being paid for the by state during a crushing economic crisis that has seen workers, pensioners and the poor take the brunt of austerity measures – although others note that the Greek state pays the salaries of Greek Orthodox clergy.
While Greece is building and paying for the mosque, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has talked about turning the venerable Hagia Sophia Church into a mosque. It already has minarets around it.
After Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras visited Turkey earlier this year, raising hopes for the reopening of the Halki Seminary, Erdogan said that won’t happen unless Greece puts minarets on a mosque in a popular tourist area in Athens besides building the mosque in Votanikos.
The atheist Radical Left SYRIZA leader Tsipras, who is moving for separation of Church and State, visited the seminary and called for a joint visit with Erdogan.
“Look you want something from us, you want the Halki seminary. And I tell you [Greece], come, let’s open the Fethiye Mosque,” Turkish news website Ahval quoted Erdogan as saying during a rally in Edirne ahead of local elections on March 31.
Halki seminary, which trained Orthodox clergy in Turkey until its closure in 1971, is broadly seen as a symbol of the rights of minority groups but Erdogan has similarly pushed for the rights of what he called a Turkish minority in Greece, which Greece calls Muslim Greeks and bars them from electing their own mufti, a religious leader.
Turkey said reopening the seminary is dependent on reciprocal steps from Greece to improve the rights of its Turkish minority in the northeastern area which borders the two countries.
In his speech, Erdogan complained about the lack of minarets on Athens’ Fethiye Mosque which was built in 1458 during the Ottoman occupation of Greece but has not been used as a mosque since 1821.
“They said, ‘We are opening the mosque,’ but I said, why isn’t there a minaret? Can a church be a church without a bell tower?” Erdogan was quoted as saying, adding, “We say, you want to build a bell tower? Come and do it… But what is an essential part of our mosques? The minarets.”