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16 Oct 17

In Pictures: Inside Athens’ Hidden ‘Mosques’

 

Thousands of Muslims living in the Greek capital use makeshift rooms to pray, awaiting the opening of the city’s first proper mosque, which is due to take place by the year’s end.

Demetrios Ioannou BIRN Athens

The absence of a proper mosque for over two centuries has forced Muslims in Athens to find alternative ways to follow their faith. By transforming rented apartments, underground garages or basements into places of worship, they created quiet places to pray, usually hidden behind closed doors and heavy curtains.

Athens and the Attica region surrounding it today are home to more than 200,000 Muslims, according to the Muslim Association of Greece. Yet, the Greek capital is perhaps the last European capital not to have an official mosque. And that is the way it has been since the end of Ottoman rule and the birth of independent Greece some 200 years ago.

The last two mosques built during the Ottoman era in downtown Athens today serve as a museum and an exhibition venue.

In August 2016, however, the Greek parliament approved plans to construct the first government-funded mosque at Votanikos, near central Athens.

Work started last November and was due to finish by April 2017, but has been delayed. The authorities now say the mosque should open and be ready for use by the end of this year.

In a meantime, an estimated 100 or more makeshift mosques exist and operate in several neighbourhoods of the city. The majority can be found in mainly immigrant neighbourhoods, such as Kypseli or Kato Patisia, which are home to many people from war torn regions or from countries blighted by poverty in the Middle East and North Africa.

Only three of those mosques have been granted a licence to officially operate as a place of worship. Once the new official mosque opens its doors, many of the makeshift ones will be forced to close.

According to the Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs, only those sites that fulfil the requirements set by Greek law may continue operating as places of worship. The requirements, among other things, include compliance with rules of public order and safety.

Photo: Demetrios Ioannou /BIRN
Photo: Demetrios Ioannou /BIRN
Photo: Demetrios Ioannou /BIRN
Photo: Demetrios Ioannou /BIRN
Photo: Demetrios Ioannou /BIRN
Photo: Demetrios Ioannou /BIRN
Photo: Demetrios Ioannou /BIRN
Photo: Demetrios Ioannou /BIRN
Photo: Demetrios Ioannou /BIRN