There hasn’t been a mosque in the Greek capital in 150 years. That’s about to change.
On Thursday, the Greek parliament approved plans to build a state-funded mosque near the center of Athens. Construction will cost around $1 million. Athens was the last European Union capital without a mosque, despite the estimated 300,000 Muslims living there, many of them from the Balkans.
For more than a century, Muslims in Athens have had to worship in dozens of makeshift mosques, often in the basements of homes. One of the last remaining mosques in Athens from the time of Ottoman rule, which ended in 1829, is now a museum for folk art, having also been used as a prison, army barracks, and storage facility.
The Tzistarakis Mosque, built in 1759, in Monastiraki Square, central Athens, Greece. It is now functioning as an annex of the Museum of Greek Folk Art. In 1966, it was provisionally refurbished to provide a place of prayer during the stay of the deposed King of Saudi Arabia, Saud, in the city. [Tlaxcala's Note]
Proponents of building the mosque said it could prevent the potential radicalization of the tens of thousands of new refugees who now live in Athens. According to Greek newspaper Kathimerini, Greek Education Minister Nikos Filis said Thursday:
If we wish to avoid the problems facing France and Belgium, we should not make the mistakes that they are now trying to deal with. The existence of makeshift mosques is a shame for the country as well as for the Muslim community and a danger to national security.
The project has faced heavy opposition from conservative and right-wing groups, like the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party, as well as the Greek Orthodox Church, the official religion of the Mediterranean country. The Greek government attempted to build a mosque in 2006, but the project was set aside because of legal appeals.