Athens – the only EU capital city without a mosque

Golden Dawn anti-Mosque poster

Golden Dawn poster

Mark Lowen has an interesting piece at BBC News on the struggle by the Muslim population of Athens to build the first mosque in the city.

As things stand, Muslims are forced to pray in cramped underground prayer rooms, in breach of the law and facing the threat of attacks by the anti-migrant fascist party Golden Dawn.

“It is a very big tragedy for us Muslims that there is no mosque here,” Syed Mohammad Jamil of the Pakistan-Hellenic Society is quoted as saying. “Greece produced democracy and civilisation and the respect of religion – but they don’t respect our Muslims to provide us with a regular, legal mosque.”

While the Greek Church is increasingly sympathetic to Muslims’ need for a proper place of worship, Lowen interviews Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus who claims that “Greece suffered five centuries of Islamic tyranny under Turkish rule and building a mosque would offend the martyrs who freed us”. Seraphim, who is notorious for his far-right views, adds that “most Muslims have come here illegally” and their aim is to “Islamise Europe”.

In response to the suggestion that his position appears Islamophobic, out of touch with a multicultural EU, Seraphim says: “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.”

On the streets of Athens, Lowen finds that opinions are mixed. One interviewee opines: “We must not have a mosque here. This is a Christian country and if they want a mosque, they can go back to their own countries and have one.” Another responds: “Muslims should have their temple. Greek immigrants in other countries build their own churches and perform their own religion, so it’s hypocritical.”

A disused army barracks near the city centre has now been chosen as a site for a mosque that could accommodate 500 people. The government insists the state-funded project will go ahead. Stratos Simopoulos, the secretary general of the ministry for development, states: “In the past, there was a fear in some segments of Greek society about constructing a mosque but we must overcome that fear.”