Correspondent in Athens
The inauguration of the Athens mosque, owned by the Greek state, and built solely with state funding, it is a fact. It opened its doors, without official opening, at the beginning of November, but on the 7th of the same month a new confinement began, and had to be closed. The building is located on the Via Sacra, Ierá Odos, which goes from Athens to Piraeus, in an area with few buildings, although it is called Eleona (the olive grove), since formerly there were only olive trees.
Problems and delays for its construction
The Greek authorities planned the construction of a mosque as early as 1890, having liberated Athens from the Ottoman forces in 1833, but the bureaucracy and the opposition of a sector of the population, with an Orthodox Christian majority, delayed it for many years. It was one of the pending subjects for the Athens Olympics in the summer of 2004, but it was not built then. The process began again in 2006 with the authorization of the Greek parliament to create a mosque founded by the state and directed and administered by it as well.
Now this mosque is a fact: Mr. Heider Ashir, member of the Governing Council of this mosque, is happy that there is an open mosque where people can pray freely and affirms that it is “a historic moment for the Muslim community living in Athens We had been waiting for a long time. Although it is actually a gray and rectangular building, which has no minaret and is quite small, which is regretted by Naim El Ghandour, the president of the Muslim Association of Greece, an Egyptian national: “It does not look like a place of worship, it is a small, square, depressing building. It has capacity for 350 people, including a part only for women, but now in times of Covid only a maximum of 13 could pray at a time. He and many more Muslims will continue to push to improve this mosque, which without minaret or domes looks like a building anyone in the area. Of course, a park and games for children have been set up around it.
The building itself was built with care, and its prayer room by an Egyptian craftsman, resident in Greece, and the large, light blue prayer mat were specially commissioned in Iran.
The Greek imam of Moroccan origin
Its imam is a 55-year-old Moroccan citizen who has been in Greece for more than 20 years, and is known and appreciated by the entire Muslim community: his name is Sidi Mohammed Zaki, and announced after the inauguration that he was very happy with the opening of the mosque, but sad because with the restrictions derived from the pandemic it was going to have to close for a while. Zaki is a mathematician with Muslim studies and has Greek nationality. Also helpful is someone who speaks Greek and French very well and has a good voice. He charges a civil servant’s salary, and several more jobs have been planned in this mosque, always approved by the relevant ministerial department, under the Ministry of Education and Religion.
The mosque is now closed for the second nationwide lockdown, as are all places of worship, starting with the Catholic and Orthodox churches. It is not the only mosque in the capital: many communities of Pakistanis, Egyptians, Sri Lanka etc. they have privately rented spaces that they have turned into “private” temples over the years, and most of them continue to operate and self-financing, except now, due to the pandemic, that they are closed.