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Greece: Parliament Approves Building of First Mosque in Athens

(Aug. 16, 2016) On August 4, 2016, following long and tumultuous debates among members of the Greek Muslim community, various Greek governments, and the Greek Orthodox Church, the Greek Parliament approved the building of a mosque in Athens.  The permit for the plan was included in a law dealing with energy matters.  (New Regime to Support the Production of Electric Energy, Other Sources of Energy and Separation of Legal and Operational Regime of Supply and Distribution in the Purchase of  Natural Gas and Other Provisions (Provisions), art. 35 ¶ 1, Hellenic Parliament website (Aug. 4, 2016) (in Greek).) Among the 230 Members of Parliament who were present, 206 voted in favor and 24 against the measure.  The Independent Greeks, the nationalist coalition party, and Golden Dawn, the extreme right-wing party, voted against the measure.  (Ioanna Zikakou, The Greek Parliament Votes to Speed up Construction of Athens Mosque, GREEK REPORTER (Aug. 4, 2016).)

The new law also provides for the construction of a children’s playground adjacent to the mosque, the allocation of grassy areas for the project, and the building of the necessary parking lots to accommodate those who visit the mosque to pray. (Provisions, art. 35 ¶ 1(b).)  In addition to the mosque, the Tsipras government has also promised that a Muslim cemetery will be built. (Karolina Tagaris, In Greece, Muslims Mark End of Ramadan with Promise of Formal Mosque, EKATHIMERINI (July 6, 2016).)

Building of a mosque in Athens was initially proposed more than two decades ago, but the idea never came to fruition due to political considerations, bureaucratic barriers, and strong opposition by the Orthodox Church and by certain segments of the population who took part in protests instigated by right-wing parties. (Id.)  The Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, had promised since his election in January 2015 that the construction of the mosque would take place.  The project will be financed by the government at up to €950,000 (about US$1 million) and will be constructed on a piece of land owned by the Greek Navy.  (Philip Chrysoppoulos, Construction of First Mosque in Athens to Start Soon, GREEK REPORTER (June 15, 2015).)

The Muslim population in Athens, which is close to 200, 0000 people, is mainly of Pakistani, Afghani, and Bangladeshi origin; the community currently uses the Greek-Arab cultural center and basements and garages in other buildings as places of worship.  (Tagaris, supra.)  The lack of a mosque has sparked concern and fear among citizens that Muslims may be at risk of being radicalized while praying in unofficial places of worship.  (Katie Mansfield, Fears Islamic State Will Strike Athens as Greek Plans for Mosque Delayed, EXPRESS (Apr. 7, 2016).)