First mosque in the Greek capital opens


The first mosque in the Greek capital, Athens, has opened after 14 years of wrangling and bureaucratic delays, local media reported.

The mosque’s inaugural prayers were held on Monday evening under physical distancing measures due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Greece, as in much of Europe. Only a handful of people were able to attend.

With the opening, Athens shakes off its status as the only European Union capital to lack a mosque, Anadolu Agency reported.

The mosque’s first imam is Zaki Mohammed, 49, a Greek citizen of Moroccan origin, Greek daily Ekathimerini said.

The opening of the mosque “sends a clear message … of democracy, religious freedom and respect,” the government secretary for religious issues, Giorgos Kalantzis, was quoted by Kathimerini newspaper as saying.

Opposition from the Greek Orthodox Church had delayed the opening of the mosque since 1979. It took years even after the government gave the go-ahead in 2006.

The 2006 decision to build a mosque with a budget of $1.04m was held up by bureaucratic hurdles, protests by far-right groups, and legal challenges.

The vast majority of Greeks, 97 percent, are Orthodox Christians.

However, there is a Muslim minority concentrated along the land border with Turkey, and tens of thousands of Muslim workers and refugees live in the country.

Turkey has long decried Greek violations of the rights of its Muslim and Turkish minority, from closing down mosques to letting historic mosques fall into disrepair.

These measures violate the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne as well as European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) verdicts, Turkish officials say.

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