Athens mosque approved

Athens, Greece - The first state-funded mosque in Athens will be built in Elaionas, near the city center, the government decided yesterday, in a move that seeks to bring an end to 30 years of negotiations and failed projects.

There are some 200,000 Muslims living in Athens but efforts which began in 1976 have yet to result in the construction of an official place of worship for them. The Inner Cabinet yesterday approved plans by Public Works and Environment Minister Giorgos Souflias to rectify this.

The plan foresees the construction of the mosque on a site currently used by the navy, which is less than a kilometer from the metro station being constructed in Elaionas. The area had been proposed by Archbishop Christodoulos, the head of the Church of Greece, as an alternative to a proposal to reopen an Ottoman mosque in Monastiraki Square.

Christodoulos also offered 3 hectares of Church land in Schisto, northwestern Athens, for the construction of Athens’s first Muslim cemetery.

The Panathinaikos soccer club is also constructing a sports complex in nearby Votanikos as the whole area undergoes a major redevelopment.

The site that has been set aside for the mosque covers some 7 hectares but the project does not include the construction of a cultural center, which some Muslims had requested. The Muslim community, however, said that it approved the plans.

“We agreed with Archbishop Christodoulos’s suggestion of Elaionas as it is a central location and will be accessible by the metro,” Nayim Elyadour of the Muslim Union of Greece told Kathimerini.

Since the first proposal by Arab ambassadors in Greece 30 years ago, a number of efforts have been made to get construction of a mosque under way.

In 1983, Saudi Arabia made its own proposal to the Greek government but that did not lead anywhere until 2000, when a law was passed allowing the creation of a Muslim cultural center in Paeania, east of Athens. But after a number of objections from locals and the Greek Church, the project was scrapped.

“The matter was revived by Education and Religion Minister Marietta Giannakou, to whom we submitted on April 4 a petition signed by 10,000 people,” said Elyadour. “We are pleased with Mr Souflias’s proposal; however, we have been hearing about a mosque in recent years but have yet to see one,” he added.

No date was given for the completion of the mosque but the government has decided to use state funds for the project.