Greek parliament votes to speed up $1mn Athens mosque construction

Children study the Koran inside a makeshift mosque at Peristeri suburb in Athens. © Yorgos Karahalis
Greek lawmakers have given the go-ahead for the first official mosque to be built in Athens in over 180 years. The state-funded project has faced opposition from right-wing party Independent Greeks and the ultranationalist Golden Dawn.

The vote was passed by a landslide, with 206 members of the Greek parliament voting to accelerate the construction on the mosque and 24 objecting out of the 230 MPs present.

The far-right Golden Dawn and right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL) were the only political parties to vote against the construction of the mosque, according to the AMNA news agency.

More than 200,000 Muslims are believed to be living in Athens, but they have had to make do with informal mosques around the capital, which have often been targeted by far-right groups. 

“The existence of makeshift mosques is a shame for the country as well as for the Muslim community and a danger to national security,” Greek Education Minister Nikos Filis said, as cited by Greek Reporter news website.

The Greek government has been promising to build a mosque in Athens using public money since 2006. However, the project, which will cost €950,000 ($1 million), has been hit by numerous delays including legal challenges. The Orthodox Church, which plays a powerful institutional and cultural role in Greece, has also opposed its construction.

Education Minister Filis added that building an official mosque could help stop the radicalization of local Muslims. Around 50,000 mainly Muslim refugees are believed to be in Greece as a result of the migrant crisis that has swept Europe, which was triggered by wars in the Middle East.

“If we wish to avoid the problems facing France and Belgium, we should not make the mistakes that they are now trying to deal with,” he said.

The mosque will be built in the west of the capital in the Votanikos area of the city, on an piece of land that used to belong to the Hellenic Navy. Rights groups such as Amnesty International had previously criticized Athens for being one of the few European capital cities that did not have an official mosque for its Muslims to pray at.

An official mosque has not been built in Greece since it won independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832.