Muslims waiting… Will Athens finally get an official mosque?

Anti-austerity right-wing Independent Greek (ANEL) lawmakers voted against two amendments on Tuesday regarding the building of an official mosque in Athens, causing a rift in the relations between the junior coalition party and the majority Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA).

The amendment concerned the construction of a mosque in the inner city Votanikos district of central Athens. ANEL MPs are opposed to constructing a mosque, something they believe to be “unacceptable and provocative” with the government being asked to withdraw the project altogether. ANEL and ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn MPs voted against it, though it was finally passed.

Mayor of Athens Giorgos Kaminis said on Wednesday that the construction of a mosque in Athens is “moral duty” and European obligation. Speaking at the Innovathens event, he said that “it goes without saying that Muslims living in Greece, either as residents or as visitors, have every right to worship their own God in a decent environment.”

Athens is the only EU capital without an official mosque though Muslims — legal residents and those that illegally entered the country and remained — number around 300,000, a figure however usually cited by the migrant communities themselves. For years they have been praying in private spaces or, rarely, in public places while waiting for the Greek government to sanction the construction of a mosque in the greater Athens area.

Scores of mosques operate legally in the northeast province of Thrace, which borders with European Turkey, given that the region hosts the country’s Muslim minority. The latter group enjoys certain rights, in fact, beyond the European acquis; rights designated by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

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