ATHENS – It was supposed to happen in the spring, and before that and before that and now the start of Greece's first official mosque will reportedly happen in October, delayed by years of bureaucracy.
It took 14 years to get this far but Kathimerini said this time it's for real with a New Democracy government official not named telling the paper that, “The tenders announced last June show that thePrime Minister has personally decided to proceed with it.”
That referred to to arrangements for staffing, security, sanitation and supplies for the site in Votanikos, the paper saying the last contracts are due to be signed so the doors can finally open to the capital's Muslims, the facility having a capacity of 300.
Ironically, it comes after Turkey changed the status of the ancient revered church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople into a mosque along with another church and as Turkey is demanding more rights for a Muslim minority in northern Greece.
The Athens mosque's governing committee will hire three civil servants responsible for accounting, secretarial and technical matters on a permanent basis, while another three staff will be hired on eight-month contracts initially, the report said.
It wasn't said what kind of conditions would be set during the COVID-19 pandemic with the wearing of masks being extended to more places of public gatherings.
Muslims living in Greece have been conducting prayers and other services in makeshift mosques including basements and warehouses and private offices while demanding the government build them an official facility.
The mosque, approved by lawmakers in August 2016 and built in a mainly industrial area of the capital, will provide an official place of worship for the country’s Muslim immigrant community and for visitors.
“I would like to start by thanking Allah that we finally have a mosque where we can pray, we can gather, we can talk about our matters,” said Zaki Mohamed, the mosque’s imam, in June 2019 as the plans were proceeding.
Ashir Haidar, a representative of the Shia Muslim community of Greece, described the upcoming opening as “a dream come true.”
“It is a great gift from the Greek state to the Muslim community of Athens and it is a symbolic work that shows respect of the Greek state to the religion of Islam,” he said.
In March, 2019, the President of the Muslim Association Naim Elghandour, complained the 800,000-euro ($951,132) facility – the cost borne by Greek taxpayers – was too small and didn’t like it.
He told Thema 104.6 radio 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?” Greece, he claimed, has a Muslim population of around 500,000 people, which would be some 5 percent of the country’s population.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)