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The New Arab Staff

Athens' first mosque reopens on Christmas Day following coronavirus closure

The Mosque of Athens will reopen on Christmas Day [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 December, 2020

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The Greek capital's first mosque has been allowed to reopen on Christmas Day after it was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic
Muslim worshippers in Athens will be able to attend prayers today in the first mosque in the city after it was told it could reopen for Christmas – following closure in November due to coronavirus lockdown measures.

The stringent lockdown measures were suspended briefly to allow Greek Orthodox worshippers to attend mass on Christmas Day, and the Greek government gave the same allowance for Muslims.

Giorgos Kalantzis, the secretary general at the ministry of education and religious affairs, told The Guardian: "We’ve decided, without discrimination, that every place of worship can conduct services and prayers as long as congregations are limited to 25 people."

The Mosque of Athens faced many challenges when it opened in November, including government guidelines that some saw as discriminatory.

"When we finally opened in early November it was for five days and just one Friday prayers," the mosque’s government-appointed imam, Mohammed Sissi Zaki told the publication.

"After the lockdown this is a big, big blessing."

Greece was subject to Ottoman rule for hundreds of years until it gained independence in 1832, following a bloody conflict.

Many Greeks still associate Islam with the Ottoman Empire.

The Mosque of Athens has been the target of hate crimes before and the words "stop Islam" are carved in the cement sidewalk outside the gates leading to the building.

The mosque has also been the site of protests by far-right groups.

Due to hostile attitudes, it has been very difficult for Muslims in Greece to gain the right to their own places of worship despite some 250,000 Muslims living in Athens alone. Muslims have been demanding the right to a mosque for over 200 years.

In July last year Greece closed down one of the oldest prayer halls for Muslims in the greater Athens area.

The Education and Religious Affairs Ministry claimed that the Al-Andalus prayer hall – which had been operating since 1989 – lacked a license.

The prevailing religion in Greece is Christianity, with nearly 90 percent of its population belonging to the Eastern Orthodox Church.

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