The first modern mosque to be built in Greece will open in October

The first new mosque to be built in Greece will open next month in Athens. The opening will bring an end to a 14 year process which has seen the project delayed by legal issues and opposition from hard line Greek nationalist groups.

According to Katherimini, “Legislation allowing for the construction of the mosque was passed in 2006 under Minister Marietta Giannakou”, but the project stalled after the minister left office. Three years later, Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos and Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou attempted to revive the project, but again it was delayed because the land had to be transferred from the Greek military to the state.

Far right political groups and Greek nationalists within the Orthodox church then put pressure on civil servants and politicians involved in the project by bringing legal cases against them. The pressure also caused construction firms that had expressed interest in the contract pulling out “amid concerns of the potential damage to their public image and the fear of being dragged through the courts”.

The Greek legislature repeatedly voted in favour of zoning changes to allow the project to go ahead, and the Greek Orthodox leadership also supported the project. The Council of State also voted to go ahead with the project in 2011.

Following the support of mainstream Greek institutions, opponents next decided to occupy the site where the mosque would be built, claiming to be taking them over on behalf of the city’s homeless population. 

In 2015, the leftist SYRIZA government came to power, but again the project stalled because SYRIZA’s coalition partners, the nationalist Independent Greeks, pressured the government not to go ahead with the mosque construction. Eventually, SYRIZA’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras ordered the then minister of foreign affairs, Ioannis Amanatiadis, to push ahead with the project.

By 2019, SYRIZA’s term of office was ending, and on June 7, 2019, the minister for religious affairs, Kostas Gavroglou, decided to officially inaugurate the mosque. However, the mosque has once again sat empty since then.

In August 2020, some Greek Muslims expressed concern that the mosque would not open as part of a political retaliation by Greece following Turkey’s decision to re-convert the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul into a mosque.

However, Greek officials now say that the mosque will finally be opened in early October. Katherimini also reported that Turkey “is seeking the reopening of the historic Fethiye Mosque in the Roman Agora, according to official statements made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”