Mosque Plans Unveiled

The Greek government says it will spend 15 million euros on building Athens' first mosque so that the city's growing Muslim community can finally have its own place of worship

By Kathy Tzilivakis
Athens News

If all goes to plan, Athens will have a purpose-built mosque by 2010.

Education Minister Marietta Yannakou on October 9 tabled new draft legislation that paves the way for the city's first mosque.

Athens is one of the few European capital cities without a mosque, even though the local Muslim community has been requesting one for nearly three decades.

According to Yannakou, the government has abandoned plans for a mosque near the Athens

The location of the planned mosque in Athens
International Airport in Peania. It wants to build a mosque at the site of the former naval base in Eleonas, a neglected industrial quarter of Athens, several kilometres from Omonia Square.

The proposed site is located within walking distance from a metro station that is due to open next year.

According to Yannakou, the mosque will cost 15 million euros to build and construction will take three years to complete. The government will also spend an estimated 350,000 euros for operational costs annually.

"This is in response to the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims who live in Athens... for them to be able to pray just like other religious communities," said Yannakou, adding that Archbishop Christodoulos of Greece has approved the plan to build a mosque in Eleonas.

The new bill

The new draft legislation unveiled by Yannakou is due to be approved by parliament in the coming weeks.

According to the bill, the mosque will be managed by a seven-member committee that will be set up by the municipality of Athens and administered by the ministry of education and religious affairs. Committee members will include government officials, representatives of the municipality of Athens, a Greek university professor and two representatives of the local Muslim community.

The draft law also states that the imam (leader of Islamic congregational prayer) will be officially appointed by the government.

Mosque timeline

July 2000 The parliament approves the Pasok government plan to build an Islamic centre and mosque in Peania.

Thousands of Muslim immigrants in
Athens currently pray in makeshift mosques
June 2001 Ambassador Abdallah Abdallah of the Palestine diplomatic representation and the dean of Arab ambassadors in Athens, says that King Fahd of Saudi Arabia will finance the building of the mosque. He says all that remains is the "finalisation of some details".

July 2002 European Union Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil-Robles says "the secretary-general for religious affairs [Ioannis Konnidaris], as well as Archbishop Christodoulos, assured [him] that they had no objection to the building of a mosque for Muslims established in the Athens district".

October 2002 Father Epifanios, Church of Greece spokesman, says the church would oppose the creation of a mosque in the downtown area because the average Greek is not yet ready to accept the idea of a minaret in the city centre.

April 2003 Asked why construction hasn't begun in Peania, foreign ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis says the government has repeatedly called on Arab ambassadors to hurry up.

Foreign Minister George Papandreou renews the government's pledge to build a mosque in time for the 2004 Olympic Games.

August 2003 Peania Mayor Paraskevas Papakostopoulos and the entire city council say they will fight the decision to build the mosque in their backyard.

September 2003 The Greek Orthodox Church comes out against the plan for a mosque in Peania, a suburb close to Athens International Airport. Archbishop Christodoulos is concerned that its dome and a minaret will send the wrong message about Greece - a Christian country - to visitors flying into the airport.

July 2004 Foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos says the mosque project is in "a final stage now".

March 2006 Europe's human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, expresses his dissatisfaction over the fact that Muslims are forced to "meet in secret in places unsuitable for prayer".

April 2006 Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis is reportedly against the Peania mosque plan and prefers to have one opened closer to the downtown area. Greece's powerful Orthodox Church says it will not oppose efforts to create a mosque in Athens, dropping past concerns.

May 2006 Thousands of local immigrant Muslims sign a petition demanding the creation of a mosque closer to Athens.

The parliament approves several amendments to existing legislation allowing non-Orthodox religious groups to build their places of worship without having first to get approval from the Church of Greece.

October 2006 Education Minister Marietta Yannakou holds a press conference to unveil new draft legislation that paves the way for a mosque in Eleonas, near downtown Athens and within walking distance to a new metro station currently under construction.

(Posting Date 31 October 2006)

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