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The New Arab Staff

Greece officially closes one of oldest 'unlicensed' mosques

The Al Andalus prayer hall had been operating since 1989 [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 July, 2020

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Athens is the only European capital that lacks operational mosques, forcing Muslims to pray in makeshift halls, but the Al Andalus prayer hall has now also been shut.
Greece has officially closed down one of its oldest prayer halls for muslims in the greater Athens area, a report said on Friday.

The prayer hall was closed following a 15-day notice issued by the education and religious affairs ministry to clear the premises in Pireaus – just 12 kilometers from the Greek capital.

The official religious body issued the decision in June after claiming the Al Andalus prayer hall – which had been operating since 1989 – lacks a license.

Greece is estimated to house a quarter-million Muslims in greater Athens, the only European capital without an official mosque.

While a new mosque opened last June, it still lacks an imam – which needs to be approved by Greek authorities – and as a result is not open for worship.

Muslim minorities have accused Greek officials of stalling the appointments of personnel who would make the neccessary arrangements for the mosque to operate. 

"We are sad to announce that we received a closure order for one of the oldest prayer halls of the capital…without any chance of negotiating with the ministry," the Muslim Association of Greece in a press release late June.

The association accused the Greek government of wanting to "suppress religious expression when it is not coming from the predominant religion". 

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

Read also: Hagia Sophia conversion plan comes at testing times for Turkey's Erdogan

"We believe that acceptance and recognition is evolving in society... That is why we consider this unexpected closing a symbolic act on behalf of the government that wants to suppress religious expression when it is not coming from the predominant religion," the Turkish Muslim minority group said.

In the absence of an official mosque, muslims in Greece have been praying in makeshift mosques for years, inside basements, rented apartments, warehouses and garages. Even these spaces have previously been targeted by islamaphobic groups. 

In 2017, after construction plans for the Athens mosque were announced, a group of 15 men in military-style clothes immediately occupied the area, hanging Greek flags on fences and proclaiming it a "hot spot for Greeks".

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