Panel Picks Moroccan as Imam for Athens’ First Official Mosque

A mosque in Xanthi, Greece. (Photo: Eurokinissi/Hristos Bonis, file)

ATHENS – Wit the government going ahead with construction of the Greek capitals’ – and country’s – first official mosque, an administrative committee that will run it has nominated Moroccan-born Zaki Mohammed as its candidate for imam.

The name of the respected cleric who holds Greek citizenship,  is the father of two children and who is an imam at one of the five makeshift prayer rooms in Athens that have received permits from the state was sent to Education Minister Costas Gavroglou, said Kathimerini.

He came to Greece about 25 years ago, speaks Arabic, Greek and French and has studied theology and mathematics. His nomination was unanimous, with the paper saying he is held in high esteem in the community.

He was selected after the panel checked his qualifications and conducted a personal interview, it was said.

The mosque, the first in the Greek capital since the end of the Ottoman occupation, is expected to open its doors soon after the April 28 Orthodox Easter celebration, in time for the holiday period of Ramadan which begins March 6.

The mosque, in the Votakinos neighborhood, is being paid for by the government during a long-running economic crisis and will be open from half an hour before the first prayer and up to half an hour after the last, while it will operate on a 24-hour basis during Ramadan and other holidays. Crews are working to finish the outdoor area, a fountain and plants.

The Athens area has some 250,000 Muslims and about 70 unauthorized prayer rooms in basements, warehouses and other makeshift area. The construction of the mosque has been plagued by delays and protests by far-right and religious groups, including the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn which has threatened violence against it.

It has cost some 800,000 euros ($898,804) but Naim Elghandour, President of the Muslim Association has complained it’s too small. He told Thema 104.6 radio earlir that the grey, boxy, nearly-windowless mosque 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 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.

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