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The first mosque to be built in Athens

 
 
Ellinas
 
Reply Thu 20 Jul, 2006 10:02 am
bbc.co.uk

By Andrew Burroughs
BBC News, Athens

Plans for the first mosque in Athens since Turkish rule under the Ottoman empire have been given the go-ahead by the Greek parliament.

Over recent years immigration has brought hundreds of thousands of Muslims to the Greek capital.

But while freedom of worship is guaranteed by Greece's constitution as a member of the European Union, proposals for a new mosque have proved controversial in a country whose population is 96% Greek Orthodox.

There are mosques dating from Ottoman times in the old part of Athens known as Plaka. The Fethiye or victory mosque dates back to 1458. But today these buildings are for tourists not for Muslim prayers. One is now a museum of Greek folk art.

Athens is the only EU capital without a purpose-built place of worship for its Muslim population.

The city's 200,000 or so Muslims have been meeting in disused basements and whatever space the community can find.

Technically these buildings lack proper legal permission to function as places of worship, though the city authorities, aware of the problem, have allowed meetings to continue while a solution is sought.

Demonstrations

In the run-up to the Olympics, and under pressure to portray Greece as internationalist and conciliatory, the then socialist government chose a site for a Saudi-sponsored mosque and Islamic centre east of Athens to be visible from the international airport.

That provoked demonstrations by nearby residents of the staunchly conservative town of Peannia.

Today there's a small Greek Orthodox chapel on site, built to commemorate the protests which thwarted the mosque proposal. On special occasions a bell is rung, and on the hilltop a cross now defiantly looks towards the airport.

"We are Orthodox Christians here," says Angelo Kouias, a Peannia resident, involved in the protests. "We believe that when you arrive at the frontier of Greece it would be better to see a church to symbolise our country rather than a mosque."

"We don't want another Kosovo here close to Athens," says Dr Athanasius Papagiorgiou, a surgeon and president of the group which opposed the plan, the religiously conservative Association of St John. "Kosovo used to be a centre for the orthodox faith, and today it's nothing."

Lost privilege

Professor George Moustakis represents a different face of orthodoxy - a campaigner for interfaith understanding who joined a petition in favour of a mosque 17 years ago.

"I've always opposed the connection of church and state here in Greece, which has meant the church took the decision about other denominations and other faiths and their buildings for worship," he says.

"Parliament has now voted and the church lost that privilege. So there is no problem about the mosque, the government supports it, so does the Orthodox Church."

With the church veto gone and support from the current centre-right government, Naim El Ghandour - who in daily life imports high fashion fabric designs - is the man coordinating plans for a new mosque to be built in the north of Athens.

"The Muslims of Athens are Greek tax-payers and we have a right to pray in a respectful building," he says "We're asking the government for financial help. We're not looking for foreign sponsors, this will be a Greek mosque for Greek Muslims."

The saga of the Athens mosque finds echoes elsewhere in Europe. Spain has just witnessed the opening of its first new mosque since the 16th Century when the Spanish re-conquered the Iberian peninsular from the Moorish Islamic rulers who built the historic mosques and palaces of Andalusia.

The new mosque in Granada opened for worship only after two decades of objections from the local authorities on planning grounds.

And in Italy a mosque planned for seven years in Colle di Val d'Elsa in a picturesque corner of Tuscany has divided the local community. There the local authority supports the need for a mosque but there have been objections from residents.

It is a scenario likely to be repeated around the EU as the need for immigrant labour draws into the community those of a different faith, who then naturally wish to take up their equal right to a place of worship.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 1 • Views: 730 • Replies: 9
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ibraxey-2
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Jul, 2006 02:31 pm
Supposedly, Greek Muslims, as Greek citizens, certainly have the right to worship under their own faith, notwithstanding the types of communities in which they reside- reasonable, in fact. Of course, Athens is dominantly Greek Orthodox, and the elderly Athenians recall with little error the cruelty of the Muslim Turks for over four-hundred years; which is to say that in this particular case, even though any citizen of a country holds the right of free worship (devoid of harassment) under their own religious domain, the problem in Greece to-day is historical with an abundance of socio-political resentment toward the Muslim faith. The resentment also is fueled, as you may agree, by recent global fears of Muslims in general.

Compound the age-old Greek sentiments for the Muslims with recent concerns of terrorism (since the association of Muslims and terrorism to-day is commonplace), and, in a word, the problem thickens.
0 Replies
 
Ellinas
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Jul, 2006 04:16 pm
They are many mosques in Thrace (Northeast Greece), as they are many Muslims, Pomaks and Turks left there from the Ottoman era.

But there was not even a mosque in the whole Southern Greece, the one in Athens is going to be the first. I don't see why we should have one before while they were not Muslims at all here. The mosque is going to be built in Athens is for the Arabian, Pakistani and Albanian immigrants who started coming in Greece the last 10 years.

I am not against this construction, but what I don't like is that the mosque is going to be sponsored by the "greek" government. I can't find a case where the government of USA, Australia or Germany sponsored the construction of a Hellenic Orthodox church for the Greek immigrants there - if I am making a mistake, please correct me.
0 Replies
 
Dizzy Delicious
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Jul, 2006 04:48 pm
Ellinas wrote:
I can't find a case where the government of USA, ...sponsored the construction of a Hellenic Orthodox church for the Greek immigrants there - if I am making a mistake, please correct me.


No direct funding for the construction of any Church in the USA, as we have separation of church and state in America. We do have something, however, called "faith-based initiative", which
possibly could supply funds/materials to religious groups that qualify.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Jul, 2006 05:44 pm
Ellinas wrote:
I am not against this construction, but what I don't like is that the mosque is going to be sponsored by the "greek" government. I can't find a case where the government of USA, Australia or Germany sponsored the construction of a Hellenic Orthodox church for the Greek immigrants there - if I am making a mistake, please correct me.

But from what I understood, the Greek state also pays for the construction of Orthodox churches, right?

If the state were to continue paying for the religious places of its Orthodox citizens and residents, but not for those of its Muslims, that would be discrimination on the basis of religion.

Here's another angle, by the way - the construction of the mosque as a question of national security:

Quote:
Greece's foreign minister also said the operation of a formal mosque is a matter of national security.

'A mosque is necessary for national security. As long as the Muslims living in Athens do not have a formal place of worship, they will get together in makeshift mosques which are uncontrolled and could very easily fall victims of fundamentalists and terrorists,' she said.

Source: Greek minister pushes for Athens' first mosque (2006/03/28 ยท Yahoo! India)
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sun 30 Jul, 2006 06:51 pm
I'm very interested in this, what a complex - but maybe simple in the end, but how - issue. I've read some history-quite-lite about the area and will be the first to laugh at my own beginning awareness. Still, I was moved by the complexity in some of Louise de Berniere's book re Greece and Turkey..

I'm interested first as just a person, then from a planning point of view, then from the government's view, and then from both groups with their separate concerns, and then with the odd duck or two who might like everyone to get along. Not necessarily in that order emotionally.

Can you give us updates on this, Ellinas, as time passes?
0 Replies
 
Ellinas
 
  1  
Reply Mon 31 Jul, 2006 02:58 am
nimh wrote:

But from what I understood, the Greek state also pays for the construction of Orthodox churches, right?


It is not the same thing. Since 1828, when the modern Greek state was established, Orthodoxy is the official religion of Greece and expresses the 98% of the population. It is not just the official religion - the Hellenic Orthodox church is not an indepedent from the state foundation like the rest churches of Europe are, it is a part of the state, according to our constitution.

But how come and the state has to sponsor a mosque for a Muslim minority, especially when their majority are not Greek citizens? The Muslim Turkish and Pomak remnants of Thrace are here for centuries and are Greek citizens, the immigrants of Athens are not.


ossobuco wrote:

Can you give us updates on this, Ellinas, as time passes?


Yes, I will be posting in this thread any news I have. The latest I heard was that the mosque is going to be built at Votanikos suburb.
0 Replies
 
ibraxey-2
 
  1  
Reply Mon 31 Jul, 2006 10:57 pm
Quote:
Here's another angle, by the way - the construction of the mosque as a question of national security


Indeed a matter of national security, but only in part; the rest is international politics. The international relations circle of Greece- diplomats, foreign policy framers, etc- certainly concerns itself with the rest of the "world view, " which is to say that a policy here and there stands in relation to the remainder of internal politics and so external policy of Greece in the EU and the West. To satisfy one aspect of domestic demographics is to satisfy other contributors etc- so the game goes in international politics.

As we all know, it is a delicate balance to satisfy every donor and every demand.
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 1 Aug, 2006 10:18 am
Just a correction : that writer's first name is not Louise, but Louis.
0 Replies
 
ibraxey-2
 
  1  
Reply Tue 1 Aug, 2006 06:55 pm
What writer?
0 Replies
 
 

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