Num­ber of cap­i­tal’s makeshift mosques shrinks dras­ti­cally

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY COSTAS ONISENKO

A large num­ber of the cap­i­tal’s makeshift mosques, many of them lo­cated in base­ment and ground­floor apart­ments, have been shut down be­cause of fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, sources inside the Hel­lenic Po­lice and the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry have told Kathimerini. The rea­son, they say, is that many Mus­lim mi­grants, doc­u­mented as well as un­doc­u­mented, have left Greece in search of bet­ter prospects in Western Europe.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in­sisted to Kathimerini that plans to build a state-funded mosque in the cap­i­tal will not be af­fected be the trend, adding that the project is in the “na­tional in­ter­est.”

“Nei­ther the big out­flow of Mus­lims from Greece nor any other rea­son will change this,” an of­fi­cial who asked not to be named told the news­pa­per. He said con­struc­tion at the site had been de­layed after Greek cit­i­zens chal­lenged the decision at the Coun­cil of State, Greece’s high­est ad­min­is­tra­tive court.

“The is­sue has been re­solved as there are no other ob­sta­cles left,” the of­fi­cial said, adding that con­struc­tion of the build­ing was only a mat­ter of time.

Kathimerini un­der­stands that Athens cur­rently has about 40 makeshift mosques, down from about 100.

“The eco­nomic cri­sis has forced many mi­grants to leave the coun­try and many mosques have closed as a re­sult,” a po­lice of­fi­cial said, adding that the sites de­pend on mem­bers’ con­tri­bu­tions to pay rent and util­ity bills. Eid cel­e­bra­tions this year at­tracted a far smaller num­ber of Mus­lims com­pared to pre­vi­ous years. The min­istry, which has made sev­eral sports venues avail­able for the an­nual prayers to mark the end of Ra­madan in pre­vi­ous years, said that about 250 peo­ple at­tended the prayers this year, com­pared to more than 2,000 peo­ple in the past.

How­ever, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity claim that many mosques were shut down by po­lice after an Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry cir­cu­lar is­sued last year tight­ened the re­quire­ments for fire safety and pub­lic health.

Mean­while, mem­bers of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity crit­i­cize the gov­ern­ment for fail­ing to see through the con­struc­tion of an of­fi­cial mosque in the neigh­bor­hood of Votanikos.

“Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have not ex­plained why the have failed to sign a con­tract with con­struc­tion firms,” the head of the Mus­lim Union of Greece, Naim El-Ghan­dour, said, at­tribut­ing the foot-drag­ging to con­cerns about the po­lit­i­cal cost.

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