| First Muslim prayer center opens in Athens
Immigrant organizations on Friday opened the first official Islamic prayer site to operate in Athens since the end of Ottoman rule more than 170 years ago.
The new Greek-Arabic educational and cultural center is located in Moschato, southern Athens, and is the capital’s first mosque. The mosque, based inside a disused factory measuring 1,800 square meters, has reportedly been funded by a Saudi Arabian donor.
“This is the first time in all the 35 years I’ve lived in Greece that we have a proper place to pray,” said Naim El-Gandour, the Egyptian-born head of the Muslim Association of Greece. “It’s hard for me to describe what’s happening, I am overcome with emotion.”
More than 1,000 mostly Arab immigrants gathered at the center for its official opening. El-Gandour said he was not aware of the cost of the new facility, which included large refurbished prayer rooms, with flat-screen televisions and uniformed volunteer stewards.
Representatives of Muslim organizations in Europe traveled to Athens to attend the ceremony. Also present were representatives of the Iranian and Saudi Arabian embassies in Athens, senior imams from Muslim countries, and a representative of Greece’s Orthodox Church.
Previous plans to create a mosque had been unpopular, through their association with centuries of rule by the Ottoman Empire. 97 percent of Greece’s native-born population of 11 million are Orthodox Christians.
A proposal to build a mosque outside Athens before the 2004 Olympics was blocked because of objections by residents, and opposition from Greece’s powerful Orthodox Church, which disagreed with the location. Last year, the government promised to spend €15 million for a new mosque in Athens by 2009. The mosque will be built on a large plot of land in Votanikos, central Athens, where Panathinaikos’s new soccer ground is to be built.
Author: Aspasia Polymerou