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Athens’ first state-sanctioned mosque opens its doors to worshipers

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The first official mosque in Athens, delayed for more than a decade, opened its doors to a few faithful owing to the coronavirus, the capital’s Muslim community said Tuesday.

The project to open a state-sanctioned mosque in Athens, the only European capital without one, was launched in 2007.

It immediately ran into strong opposition from the influential Orthodox Church, as well as from nationalist groups.

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Athens will “finally have a place of worship for its Muslim inhabitants,” Naim el Gadour, the president of the Muslim Union of Greece told AFP.

There will be no official inauguration, however, due to restrictions related to the virus outbreak, according to Zaki Sidi Mohammed, the mosque’s Moroccan imam.

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The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs announced the opening in a press release late Monday, specifying that under the current circumstances only around 10 people at a time would be permitted to pray in the mosque.

Some 650,000 Muslims live in Greece, the majority in Athens. Most are migrants who arrived in the country over the last 20 years.

Located in Elaionas, a former industrial district, the mosque is the first to operate officially in Athens since the country’s war for independence from the Ottomans in 1821.

The only mosques dating from the Ottoman era now operating in Greece are located in the border region with Turkey where a minority of 150,000 Turkish people live.

Built with state funds, the Athens place of worship was completed in 2019 and can accommodate up to 350 people.

After years of opposition, the opening was delayed yet again in recent months owing to restrictions imposed to stem the coronavirus pandemic, according to the ministry.

“We had been waiting for its opening for months, but we did not know the exact date,” said el Gadour, who had campaigned for its construction.

Numerous makeshift mosques in Athens apartments, basements and even sheds were created over the years, which the state tried to regulate by granting operating permits.