SOCIETY

Number of capital’s makeshift mosques shrinks

A large number of the capital’s makeshift mosques, many of them located in basement and ground-floor apartments, have been shut down because of financial difficulties, sources inside the Hellenic Police and the Education Ministry have told Kathimerini. The reason, they say, is that many Muslim migrants, documented as well as undocumented, have left Greece in search of better prospects in Western Europe.

Government officials insisted to Kathimerini that plans to build a state-funded mosque in the capital will not be affected be the trend, adding that the project is in the “national interest.”

“Neither the big outflow of Muslims from Greece nor any other reason will change this,” an official who asked not to be named told the newspaper. He said construction at the site had been delayed after Greek citizens challenged the decision at the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court.

“The issue has been resolved as there are no other obstacles left,” the official said, adding that construction of the building was only a matter of time.

Kathimerini understands that Athens currently has about 40 makeshift mosques, down from about 100.

“The economic crisis has forced many migrants to leave the country and many mosques have closed as a result,” a police official said, adding that the sites depend on members’ contributions to pay rent and utility bills. Eid celebrations this year attracted a far smaller number of Muslims compared to previous years. The ministry, which has made several sports venues available for the annual prayers to mark the end of Ramadan in previous years, said that about 250 people attended the prayers this year, compared to more than 2,000 people in the past.

However, representatives of the Muslim community claim that many mosques were shut down by police after an Education Ministry circular issued last year tightened the requirements for fire safety and public health.

Meanwhile, members of the Muslim community criticize the government for failing to see through the construction of an official mosque in the neighborhood of Votanikos.

“Government officials have not explained why the have failed to sign a contract with construction firms,” the head of the Muslim Union of Greece, Naim El-Ghandour, said, attributing the foot-dragging to concerns about the political cost.