In a report, the BBC highlighted that Athens is the only European Union capital without a mosque and explored the tensions surrounding the quest by Muslims for a place of worship amidst much opposition from nationalists and ultra-religious groups.
In the report. some Muslim leaders underscored what they said was the vehement opposition from groups such as the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party that has 18 seats in Parliament and is rising fast in the polls at the same time there is growing racism and anti-immigrant sentiment directed against foreigners and other faiths.
The story included a brief history lesson explaining that after the Greek Revolution of 1821 and the creation of the first Greek state in 1832 no mosque has ever been built. Being Muslim had been identified with being Turkish, foreigner or even anti-Greek. The Muslim population of Greece, estimated as high as 300,000 complain the state won’t provide them a place of worship.
“It is a very big tragedy for us Muslims that there is no mosque here,” said Syed Mohammad Jamil from the Pakistan-Hellenic Society. A former military camp has been chosen to host the first mosque to be built at the expense of the government during a crushing economic crisis, which has fueled further resentment.
Reactions were positive and negative. Some Greek Orthodox Church leaders and Golden Dawn decry the idea of a mosque and said they see it as an attempt to alter country’s Christian identity.
They accuse immigrants of wanting to Islamize Europe. Government officials declare though that the project will go on, despite political pressure from the Church or other parties. Citizens are also divided as others see it as legitimate claim from Muslims to have an official place to worship while others see the dominant Christian religion as the only acceptable religion in the country.