Photographers' Blog

The search for a mosque in Athens

June 27, 2013

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.

Greece is a country where the vast majority of people are Orthodox Christian and a country that has lived under Turkish Ottoman rule for approximately four centuries. Today it’s a European Union country bordering the “successor” of the Ottoman empire, Turkey. But Turkey is still considered by many Greeks as its major arch-rival in the region. For many locals, Muslims represent a Turkish presence in Greece so it’s not an easy reality for them to accept that a mosque will be built in the capital. The financial crisis, when human relations become more polarized, has only made things worse.

“Do you think that one mosque which can host about 400 people will be enough to serve the thousands of Muslims living in Athens? Of course not. But it would be a strong message to the rest of the world,” says President of the Pakistani community in Athens, Javed Aslam, during a chat I had with him.

Places of worship around the world are part of the local culture and an indication of the degree to which society allows its members to express their religious beliefs equally. So, let’s all wait to see what is going to happen this time and if the mosque saga is coming to an end.

Comments
7 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

So in Muslim countries, being caught with a bible is a serious criminal offense, but in a Christian country, building a mosque is a huge hassle. What does this mean?

Posted by charliethompto | Report as abusive
 

Respect to the Greeks for ensuring this barbaric and outwardly intolerant insanity (islam) and misogyny is left in the lurch.

Posted by Aphex | Report as abusive
 

The Greeks need to wake up and ‘do unto other as they have done to you’. Given that millions of Christians have been expelled from Muslim lands, like Turkey for instance, and are currently being mistreated in Egypt and elsewhere in the muslim world (like in Saudi Arabia where they cannot display their religion in any way) the answer is clear: Muslims cannot be allowed to make a ‘beach-head in Christendom, and should be expelled. Those EU countries which have allowed Saudi Arabia – the most anti Christian of countries – to finance the building of mosques in London and Rome, etc are committing ‘cultural suicide’. They just don’t get it yet. By the time they do it will be too late.

Posted by Eric93 | Report as abusive
 

Good for Greece! Glad to see a country doing what they can to stem the islamification of Western Civ.

Posted by Teufel_Eldritch | Report as abusive
 

They should move to Germany which now has over 2.000 mosques.

Posted by pbgd | Report as abusive
 

Greece has been on the front lines facing “the East” for millennia, and occupied by Muslim oppressors for centuries before they threw them out, so I suspect the bleating of multi-cultural accommodationists who have no sense of history and pander to mostly illegal immigrants who have fled their failed states and want to replicate the same conditions wherever they land will be ignored.

Posted by bluepanther | Report as abusive
 

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Posted by Warehousing | Report as abusive
 

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