As the first official mosque of Athens is approaching completion, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs appointed a seven-member administrative committee which will oversee its operation. The board is chaired by Constantinos Pittadakis, a senior official from the ministry’s general secretariat of religious affairs. The other six members are: Stamatina Mourelatou (deputy chairperson), an official from the ministry of finance; Nelly Papachela, City of Athens’ deputy mayor; Ioannis Vakoundouzis, City of Athens’ head of administration; Stephanos Vazakas, High Court attorney; Ehab El Sayed and Ghulam Murtaza, representatives of Athens’ Muslim communities.
The 1000-square metre mosque is located on a former naval base in Votanikos, west of central Athens; with development costs of €887,000 funded by the Program of Public Investments. After failing to meet an April deadline, it is now expected to be completed by the end of the year. Once completed, it will include two rooms for worship, one for men and one for women (respective capacity is 300 and 50 people), restrooms and locker rooms, administration offices for the Imam and Muezzins, as well as a fountain, as dictated by islamic tradition, but no minaret.
“The desire of the City of Athens is that the mosque operates properly,” Papachela told Kathimerini.
“We want the exercise of religious duties to be conducted calmly and for there to be no problems,” she said, adding that municipal authorities were determined “to defy any fears” that citizens may have.
The mosque construction has been an issue of debate since 1890 and has been included in every peace treaty that Greece has signed since becoming a sovereign state, after the Rebellion and the subsequent fall of the Ottoman Empire. This last chapter of the saga began when Athens prepared to host the 2004 Olympics, but development has been delayed due to objections of some members of the Orthodox clergy and political groups of the far-right.
When it is finally completed, following years of delays and objections by Orthodox clerics and right-wing groups, it will be the first official place of worship for Muslims in Athens, currently one of the few capitals in Europe, along with Lubljana and Bucharest, to not have a mosque.
At least 40,000 people of Muslim faith are currently residing in Athens and having a place to worship is part of their constitutional rights; the European Court of Human Rights has often ruled against Greece for such violations in the past. Apart from catering for a basic human right, the Mosque will effectively put an end to the 50 illegal places of Islamic worship currently functioning in Athens, and potentially being used for indoctrination by extremists.
“Obviously, when something starts working according to law, it effectively puts the illegal out of work”, said the Minister of Citizen Protection, Nikos Toskas, in a television interview.
Promising to take measures against the illegal mosques once the official one is open to the public, the minister said that “people should not be afraid of places that follow the rules, which is why it is important that we have rules”.