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The Seven Year Itch: Athens’ First Mosque

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A long-delayed project to build Athens’ first official mosque is back on track after the government announced that a consortium of four companies had won the tender to build it. Myrto Iztaigov translates the full story for Pandeia from the heart of one of the few EU capitals without a mosque. 

On November 7, 2006, the Greek parliament passes a bill on the construction of a mosque in Athens. In 2010, Papandreou’s government announces the immediate construction of the state-funded mosque. In November 2011 all procedures are frozen by the (then) Minister of Transport, Makis Voridis, and a year later, the Minister for Education, K. Arvanitopoulos, sends all budget and auction documents to the Ministry of Infrastructure.

It seems seven years of grandiloquent announcements needed to pass by before finally choosing a consortium of four construction companies to build the 600 square meter mosque. Four previous tenders had failed due to a lack of interest amid mounting opposition by the public and the Orthodox Church.

There are more than 200.000 Muslim residents in Athens that need places of worship and everyone knows it. The fact that Athens is the only European capital with no official mosque has triggered reactions and criticism from political parties, immigrant rights organizations and news agencies all over the world.

No Interest

At a time of recession for the construction industry, finding a bidder willing to build the mosque was extremely difficult, as many enterprises fear threats and intimidations by far-right groups or the district’s residents. Only after four failed attempts, the contract for the mosque’s construction was awarded to the firms J&P Avax, Terna, Aktor and Intrakat. The project has a budget of 946.000 euros and is slated for construction on a plot of land that formerly belonged to the Hellenic Navy.

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As explained Eleni Portaliou, Councilor of Athens, “the conservative and fascist reactions aim clearly to prevent the construction of any mosque. Delaying the solution is inacceptable, since it reinforced racist and intolerant speeches given by Golden Dawn and other reactive movements. The lack of political will is obvious”. Indeed, many voices havereacted against the construction of the mosque. One of them is MetropolitanSerapheim of Piraeus, who appealed to the Council of State to withdraw the bill, describing the decision as ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘un-greek’.

“We are not a multicultural country. We are one Greek nation and everything else is an invention of the ‘new order’ and of Zionism. They are trying to corrupt our character”, he said.

Zoubair, an immigrant from Pakistan, recognizes that “there are many people who don’t wantthe mosque to be built. Priests are amongst them […] As Pakistan provides places of worship for other religions, so should Greece, which is part of the European Union”.

No money, no mosque?

The mosque’s critics say the near 1 million euro cost is too high for a country struggling through six years of recession that has left more than one in four of the workforce jobless.However, let’s not forget that the state has received many offers from foreign governments willing to cover all construction costs, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran or the United States of America.

Tayyip Erdogan has also tried making the same offer, but got rejected not only by the government but by Muslim communities as well, which see strategic intentions in Turkey’s proposal.

There are currently more than 100 illegal mosques in the metropolitan area of Athens, forcing thousands of Muslims to pray in garages and underground rooms.

Every country’s constitution, apart from totalitarian regimes, guarantees freedom of religion. But guaranteeing it on paper is not enough. True freedom of religion involves allowing religious rituals and celebrations, thus providing places of worship.

 

The article was published on www.3pointmagazine.gr. It was written by Sofianna Bonovolia, a student of Media and Communication in the University of Athens. Some paragraphs were altered by the translator because of changing events since its original publication.

 

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