ATHENS, June 7 (AFP/WNP): Greece’s leftist government on Friday said an official mosque in Athens, over a decade in the making, would open by September to satisfy a longstanding demand by tens of thousands of Muslims in the capital.
“We hope the first prayer will be in September,” Education Minister Costas Gavroglu said after inspecting the nearly-completed complex that can accommodate some 350 people.
The mosque’s imam, Zaki Mohammed, said construction had been completed but staff required for its operation would be hired after national elections on July 7.
Athens is the only European capital without an official mosque.
The project began in 2007 amid strong opposition from the influential Orthodox Church of Greece and nationalist sentiment against neighbouring Muslim Turkey.
Greece was under occupation by the Ottoman Empire for centuries.
There have been several laws passed on creating an official mosque in Athens since 1890.
Supervised by the Greek state, the minaret-less mosque is situated in the industrial area of Eleonas, near a refugee camp.
There are an estimated 300,000 Muslims in the greater Athens area.
Mosques in Greece were repurposed or demolished following the 1821 war of independence from the Ottoman Empire.
The only officially sanctioned mosques in the country are in the northern border region with Turkey where up to 150,000 members of a Muslim minority live.
Elsewhere in the country, Muslims — many of them refugees and migrants — pray in improvised sites in flats and basements.