FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

The search for a mosque in Athens

Athens, Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

Some say that to come in contact with “God” is a spiritual matter that has nothing to do with the particular spot or place where such contact takes place. Well, if it were that simple then there would be no need to build churches or mosques.

In the Greek capital Athens, where almost half the country’s 11 million people live, there is a 500,000-strong Muslim community, mostly immigrants from Asia, Africa and eastern Europe. Many of those are faithful and want to express their faith by praying in an appropriate place. Well, there is no such place - there isn't a single “official” mosque in the wider area of the Greek capital.

Instead, they have to rent flats, basements, old garages and all kinds of warehouses and transform them into makeshift mosques to cover their need for a place to hold religious ceremonies. There are lots of these types of “mosques” around town but they're not easy to spot and whenever I arrived at one of those addresses I had to double-check it was correct as there was no way to identify these flats or warehouses from the outside. I could not say that they’re miserable places but I could better describe them as hidden places, places that do not want to get noticed. During most of my visits people have been very welcoming and very keen to express their concerns about the lack of a recognizable place of worship as well as their fears about the threats they get from some locals.

"Soon there won’t be a single Muslim in Athens," joked Egyptian Rabab Hasan when I asked her to comment on the lack of a mosque in Athens, obviously pointing to the rise of extreme-right ideas, mostly expressed by the Golden Dawn party, which won 18 seats in the 300-seat Greek parliament in the second of two thrilling elections last year.

The Greek government recently cleared the funds needed to build a mosque in Athens, even though it will not have a minaret. They have also finally found the place to erect it – in an old naval base, next to a church. But the story of the construction of a mosque in Athens dates back decades and is full of postponements and many changes of location.

Tajikistan moves to ban adolescents from mosques

(A Tajik boy in a mosque during Friday prayers in Dushanbe October 12, 2001/Shamil Zhumatov)

 

Tajikistan has taken the first step toward banning children and adolescents from worshipping in mosques and churches, drawing criticism from Muslim leaders who oppose the Central Asian state’s crackdown on religious freedom. The lower house of parliament in the impoverished ex-Soviet republic this week passed a “parental responsibility” bill that would make it illegal to allow children to be part of a religious institution not officially sanctioned by the state.

Authorities say the measures are necessary to prevent the spread of religious fundamentalism in the volatile republic, the poorest of the 15 former Soviet republics, where government troops have been fighting insurgents in the mountainous east. Muslim leaders said the law, the brainchild of long-serving President Imomali Rakhmon, would only increase discontent among the majority Muslim population of a nation that fought a civil war in the 1990s in which tens of thousands were killed.

Indian Supreme Court suspends controversial Ayodhya mosque ruling

(Hindu militants storm a disputed mosque-temple site December 6, 1992 climbing atop the building's dome as they demolish it to clear the site for a Hindu temple/Sunil Malhotra)

India’s Supreme Court has suspended a High Court ruling over the partition of a disputed site that has been a flashpoint for Hindu-Muslim clashes, throwing one of the country’s most religiously-divisive legal battles into uncertainty. A two-justice bench questioned the reasoning behind a ruling passed last year that divided the site of the former Babri Masjid mosque destroyed by Hindu rioters in 1992 into three separate plots for Hindus, Muslims, and a local Hindu trust.

The demolition of the 16th century mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya triggered some of India’s worst riots that killed about 2,000 people. Over 200,000 police were deployed for the September ruling to guard against communal violence.

Once-armed Islamists talk tolerance by Egyptian temple

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(Mosque (R) in part of Luxor temple/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

The Egyptian Islamist group al-Gama’a al-Islamiya preached non-violence and tolerance of tourism this week outside a pharaonic temple close to the Luxor site where its members massacred 58 foreigners in 1997.

The group which took up arms against the state in the 1990s and played in a role in Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981, gathered followers by the Luxor Temple on Friday to espouse the peaceful activism it is pursuing in the post-Hosni Mubarak era.

The organisers had picked the location, by a mosque in the Luxor Temple complex, as a message to tourists “that there is no danger to their presence in Egypt”, Sheikh Assem Abdel-Maged, one of the group’s leaders, said in a telephone interview. “Some tourists attended the meeting and took photos and there were some meetings with tourists,” he said on Saturday.

New York mosque project site faces legal challenge

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(A lower Manhattan building duet to make way for an Islamic cultural center and mosque in New York August 17, 2010/Lucas Jackson )

A New York building set to be demolished for an Islamic cultural center and mosque should be preserved as a monument of the September 11 al Qaeda attacks, opponents of the mosque project have said in court.  A lawsuit by a New York firefighter who survived the attacks in 2001 seeks to overturn a decision by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission last August denying landmark status to the Lower Manhattan building, clearing the way for the 16-story, $150 million center.

U.S. conservatives and many New Yorkers have spoken out against the proposed center, still at least six years from completion. Opponents of the project argue it would be insensitive to put an Islamic cultural center and mosque so close to the site of the toppled World Trade Center twin towers, considering those responsible for the September 11 attacks were Muslim militants.

Snooker row sparks deadly Christian-Muslim clashes in Nigeria

snookerClashes between Christian and Muslim youths in central Nigeria triggered by a game of snooker have killed four people and led to the burning of houses, churches and mosques, police said on Friday.

Residents said the dispute in Tafawa Balewa, in Bauchi state, started when a man from the Muslim Hausa ethnic group refused to pay for a snooker game on Wednesday evening.

The snooker club owners, from the mostly Christian Sayawa ethnic group, threw him out but he returned with a gang of friends and tried to set the building ablaze, witnesses said.

Tunisian Muslims worship freely after revolution

tunis mosqueFor 23 years, Tunisians prayed in fear. They limited their visits to the mosque. They talked to no one. Women could not wear the veil on the street and men could not wear long beards for fear of arrest. On Friday, for the first time since the overthrow of secular ex-president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians attended their weekly sermon without fear that this public expression of piety would cost them their jobs or their freedom.

“We couldn’t pray freely before,” Abdel Kouki, 57, said outside the Quds mosque in the Tunisian capital as hundreds of men, most in suits or jeans, streamed into the small mosque. (Photo: Kasbah Mosque in Tunis, 28 July 2009/Rais67)

Some spilled out onto its courtyard, where they knelt on straw mats. Women, their heads covered, crept in through a side entrance to their gallery to pray.

In France, far right seizes on Muslim street prayers

paris street prayers (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near an overcrowded mosque in the Rue des Poissoniers  in Paris on December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

A call to prayer goes up from a loudspeaker perched on the hood of a car, and all at once hundreds of Muslim worshippers touch their foreheads to the ground, forming a sea of backs down the road. The scene is taking place not in downtown Cairo, but on a busy market street in northern Paris, a short walk from the Sacre Coeur basilica. To locals, it’s old news: some have been praying on the street, rain or shine, for decades.

But for Marine Le Pen — tipped to take over from her father this weekend as leader of the far-right National Front party — it is proof that Muslims are taking over France and becoming an occupying force, according to remarks she made last month.

Her comments caused a furore as she seized on the street prayers to drive home the idea that Islam is threatening the values of a secular country where anxiety over the role of Muslims in society has deepened in the past few years.

European far right courts Israel in stepped-up anti-Islam drive

street prayers (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near an overcrowded mosque in the Rue des Poissoniers  in Paris on December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

Far-right political parties in Europe are stepping up their anti-Muslim rhetoric and forging ties across borders, even going so far as to visit Israel to hail the Jewish state as a bulwark against militant Islam.

Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front has shocked the French political elite in recent days by comparing Muslims who pray outside crowded mosques — a common sight especially during the holy month of Ramadan — to the World War Two Nazi occupation. Oskar Freysinger, a champion of the Swiss ban on minarets, warned a far-right meeting in Paris on Saturday against “the demographic, sociological and psychological Islamisation of Europe”. German and Belgian activists also addressed the crowd.

street prayers 2 (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near the Et-Taqwa Mosque in Paris on December 17, 2010. REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

Geert Wilders, whose populist far-right party supports the Dutch minority government, told Reuters last week he was organising an “international freedom alliance” to link grass-roots groups active in “the fight against Islam”. Earlier this month, Wilders visited Israel and backed its West Bank settlements, saying Palestinians there should move to Jordan. Like-minded German, Austrian, Belgian, Swedish and other far-rightists were on their own Israel tour at the same time. “Our culture is based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism and (the Israelis) are fighting our fight,” Wilders said. “If Jerusalem falls, Amsterdam and New York will be next.”

UK mosque denounced Stockholm bomber for militancy

lutonA man linked to two bomb blasts in Stockholm at the weekend had stormed out of a mosque in England several years ago and never returned after its leader challenged him over his radical ideas. Taymour Abdulwahab, a Swedish national of Middle Eastern origin who died in one of the blasts he is believed to have triggered, attended an Islamic Center in the town of Luton, southern England, and also studied at the local university. (Photo: Islamic Centre in Luton, December 13, 2010/Eddie Keogh)

Farasat Latif, secretary of the center, told Reuters that Abdulwahab had spent three to four weeks at the mosque in 2006 or 2007 during the month of Ramadan. “He was very friendly, bubbly initially and people liked him. But he came to the attention of our committee for preaching extremist ideas,” Latif told Reuters.

Latif said the centre’s chairman took Abdulwahab aside and told him that his views were incorrect and a “distorted view of Islam.” He was told not to air them again, but after initially agreeing, he resumed preaching his radical views.