Greece’s foreign minister has reiterated his government’s call to construct a mosque in Athens, but minority representatives in the country have expressed their skepticism about the administration’s sincerity. “Athens is the last European capital without a legal place of worship for its Muslim residents. The decisions have been made and we are moving ahead. We should not have delayed this long,” Dimitris Avromopoulos said in a recent interview.
But İbrahim Şerif, mufti of Komotini and head of the advisory board of the Muslim minority in Western Thrace, said the regulations on the appointment of 240 religious teachers for the community would restrict their freedom of religion and rights granted by the Lausanne Treaty. The treaty bound Turkey and Greece to treat their respective minorities reciprocally.
Şerif said the Turkish minority is under pressure from Greek authorities, but added that a dialogue process with the minority would help produce a solution.
“Muslims need a mosque in Athens. They perform their prayers at squares and in a park. If Greece is a democratic country, they should acknowledge worship for Muslims. It is a ‘shame of democracy’ for Athens not to have a mosque,” he said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offered Ankara’s help in building a mosque in Athens after meeting with his Greek counterpart, Antonis Samaras, in Doha in late January. Xanthi Mufti Ahmet Mete also criticized the regulation. “This regulation has a religion aspect. It is unacceptable that the state appoints religious teachers without asking imams. Greek authorities should listen to the minority,” he said. A deputy from the far-left main opposition SYRIZA, Rena Duru, said the issue of the construction of the mosque was a pending issue which both PASOK and New Democracy governments ignored in the past and that the negligence of authorities “pushed” Muslims toward uncontrolled prayer spaces.
The leader of the Greece Muslim Association, Naim El Gandur, said the attitude of the Greek government over the construction of a mosque was insincere. “Mr. Avramopoulos is optimistic on the issue, but we have heard the same things from every government. There has been no progress on the issue. Nothing changes in practice,” he said.