ATHENS -- Greece’s New Democracy, which is moving to open a state-paid official mosque in Athens, the country’s first ordered one of the oldest Muslim prayer halls, in the port of Piraeus, to close down, various Turkish media sites reported.
Saying the facility lacks a license to operate, the Education and Religious Affairs Ministry gave a 15-day notice to clear the premises, reported Turkey’s state-run TV network TRT as well as the online news site Ahval and Middle East Monitor.
“We are sad to announce that we received a closure order for one of the oldest prayer halls of the capital … without any chance of negotiating with the ministry," said the Muslim Association of Greece in a press release.
“We believe that acceptance and recognition is evolving in society,” said the press release. “That is why we consider this unexpected closing a symbolic act on behalf of the government that wants to suppress religious expression when it is not coming from the predominant religion,” the association statement added.
The Al Andalus prayer hall has been operating since 1989, according to the association. Greece has allowed makeshift prayer areas across the country while plans for the official mosque were constantly set back.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, after years of delays, Athens’ first official mosque was set to open by early summer, Kathimerini reported in February, the mosque’s governing committee planning to seek bids for security, cleaning services and supplies.
Office space was being sought for rent, a process that was expected to take several months before the Coronavirus took hold and non-essential businesses were closed up to 10 weeks during a lockdown that started March 23 and began gradually being lifted starting May 4.
Before that, the hope was that the mosque could begin operating, ending years of waiting for the country’s Muslims, with the Greek government paying for the construction and renovation for the facility.
The Athens Mosque is located at 144 Iera Odos in the Votanikos district and has the capacity to hold 300 people.
Turkish media said there are as many as 250,000 Muslims in metropolitan Athens as the Turkish minority in Greece has complained about the state appointing muftis, a Muslim legal expert ruling on religious matters.
Earlier in June, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there weren't any mosques in Greece and that, “Our mosques and landmark monuments in territories that we had to leave a century ago were entirely destroyed very shortly after,” although in December, 2017 he visited and prayed in an Ottoman-era mosque in the Greek town of Komitini.