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Council of State says law on mosque’s construction furnishes Muslims in Athens with the constitutionally supported freedom of expression of their religious beliefs and does not violate principles of equality and free expression of religious beliefs

What AthensWhat Athens’ first official mosque will look like The construction of what will be Athens’ first official mosque in modern times may be legally funded by the state, the country’s highest administrative court announced on Tuesday.

In a ruling, the Council of State rejected attempts to block the mosque’s construction by the Orthodox metropolitan bishop of Piraeus, a nature association called Athena, two navy officers and five residents of Votanikos and the Attica area.

The court found that the legislation for the mosque’s construction does not violate the principles of equality and free expression of religious beliefs, but that it furnishes Muslims of the Attica region the constitutionally supported freedom of expression of their religious beliefs.

The ruling referred several times to a law published in 2006 that cites the need to construct a mosque in Votanikos, Greece’s commitments to international agreements, and the constitution, which says that “all known religions shall be free and their rites of worship shall be performed unhindered and under the protection of the law to the unobstructed exercise of religious obligations”.

The mosque, to be located on Iera Odos near Eleonas metro station, in the western Athens district of Votanikos, will be built at a cost of cost €1.1m on a 1.7-hectare site in a former repair yard belonging to the Hellenic Navy. The structure will not have a minaret.

It will cover religious needs of Muslims living in the greater Athens area.

An intervention in support of the mosque’s construction filed by the mufti of the northeastern city of Komotini was rejected because he had failed to give power of attorney to his lawyer in time.

Makeshift mosques

Athens is the only capital city among the 15 “older” European Union member states that does not have an official mosque. The city’s Muslims – an estimated 120,000, mostly immigrants and refugees – pray at these makeshift mosques, many of them located in basement and groundfloor apartments.

Estimates say there are about 120 unofficial mosques in the capital. A number of former mosques remain from the time of Ottoman rule but are no longer used for religious purposes.

In April, ruling New Democracy’s official candidate for the position of Athens mayor said the city’s first mosque should be built outside of the municipality’s borders on the grounds that the capital does not need “another pole for illegal immigration” or “third-world tents under the sacred rock of the Acropolis”.

Last November neonazi Golden Dawn called for a national referendum on the Athens mosque issue.

Mosque timeline

July 2000 Parliament approves plans to build Islamic Cultural centre and mosque in Peania, a suburb close to Athens International Airport

June 2001 Ambassador Abdallah Abdallah, of the Palestine diplomatic representation and the dean of Arab ambassadors in Athens, says that King Fahd of Saudi Arabia will finance the building of the mosque

July 2002 European Union Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil-Robles says “the secretary-general for religious affairs [Ioannis Konnidaris], as well as Archbishop Christodoulos, assured [him] that they had no objection to the building of a mosque for Muslims established in the Athens district”

October 2002 Father Epifanios, Church of Greece spokesman, says the church would oppose the creation of a mosque in the downtown area because the average Greek is not yet ready to accept the idea of a minaret in the city centre

April 2003 Asked why construction hasn’t begun in Peania, foreign ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis says the government has repeatedly called on Arab ambassadors to hurry up

Foreign Minister George Papandreou renews the government’s pledge to build a mosque in time for the 2004 Olympic Games

August 2003 Peania Mayor Paraskevas Papakostopoulos says he will fight the decision to build the mosque

September 2003 The Orthodox Church comes out against the plan for a mosque in Peania. Athens Archbishop Christodoulos is concerned that its dome and a minaret will send the wrong message about Greece – a Christian country – to visitors flying into the airport

July 2004 Foreign ministry spokesman Yiorgos Koumoutsakos says the mosque project is in “a final stage now”

March 2006 Europe’s human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, expresses his dissatisfaction over the fact that Muslims are forced to “meet in secret in places unsuitable for prayer”

April 2006 Media reports that Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis is against the Peania mosque plan and prefers to have one opened closer to the downtown area. The Orthodox church says it will not oppose efforts to create a mosque in Athens, dropping past concerns

May 2006 Thousands of local immigrant Muslims sign a petition demanding the creation of a mosque closer to Athens

July 2006 The government’s inner cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, approves plans to build a mosque in Eleonas. Archbishop Christodoulos also approves the plans

October 2006 Education Minister Marietta Yannakou holds a press conference to unveil new draft legislation that paves the way for a mosque in Eleonas, near downtown Athens and within walking distance to a new metro station currently under construction.

July 2007 Muslims in Athens use a donation of €2.5m from a Saudi businessman to convert an old textile factory in Moschato into the Greek-Arab Educational and Cultural Centre – a 6,000 square meter prayer site that can accommodate more than 2,000 worshippers

October 2007 Parliament finally passes the draft law for the mosque in Eleonas

August 2011 The government gives Muslims permission to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Olympic Stadium of Athens

September 2011 Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, by holding open-air prayers in public squares in Athens. Some groups are harassed. Members of Golden Dawn tried to physically remove one group, but they were stopped by riot police

Parliament passes with 198 votes (out of 300) a new law (4014/2011) for the construction of the mosque in Eleonas. The law details plans for a larger mosque to accommodate 500 worshippers and estimates the cost at €16m euros.

August 2012 Muslims are once again allowed to celebrate the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr in an indoor hall of the Olympic Complex in Athens

April 2013Government announces it will publish a tender for the long-awaited and controversial mosque project

November 2013 Infrastructure ministry awards €946,000 contract for the mosque’s construction to a consortium comprising the firms J&P Avax, Terna, Aktor and Intrakat

EnetEnglish, ANA-MPA

Original Source: Eleftherotypia

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