ATHENS – Muslims in Greece now have an official state-paid mosque for observing religious ceremonies, opening after a 14-year wait during which they had to pray in basements, garages and makeshift places for worship.
“A long effort by successive governments since 2006, when Law 3512 was passed, has been completed. Greece sends a clear message inside and outside the country, of democracy, religious freedom and respect,” said General Secretary of Religions Giorgos Kalantzis, reported Kathimerini.
Prayers were held at the mosque, located in the Votanikos district, in strict adherence to social distancing rules and other safety measures enforced across Greece to contain the spread of the coronavirus, it was said.
The mosque’s first imam is Moroccan-born Zaki Mohammed, 49, a Greek citizen.
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.
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 the imam in June, 2019 as 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 he 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)