Athens’ first mosque in nearly 200 years opens for Friday prayers

Athens’ first mosque in nearly 200 years opens for Friday prayers
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Muslims who live in Greece pray inside the first state-funded mosque in Athens on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. (AP)
Athens’ first mosque in nearly 200 years opens for Friday prayers
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Muslims who live in Greece pray inside the first state-funded mosque in Athens on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. (AP)
Athens’ first mosque in nearly 200 years opens for Friday prayers
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The first state-funded mosque in Athens during Friday prayers on Nov. 6, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 07 November 2020

Athens’ first mosque in nearly 200 years opens for Friday prayers

Athens’ first mosque in nearly 200 years opens for Friday prayers
  • The city has not had a formal mosque since it forced occupying Ottomans to leave nearly 200 years ago
  • Hundreds of thousands of Muslims from countries including Pakistan, Syria and Bangladesh live in Athens

ATHENS: After years of delays caused by red tape, cutbacks and opposition from religious and political factions, the first government-funded mosque in Athens since 1833 opened its doors to worshippers on Friday.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslims from countries including Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan and Bangladesh live in Athens but the city has not had a formal mosque since it forced occupying Ottomans to leave nearly 200 years ago.
Plans to build a mosque in Athens began in 1890 but it took decades for them to materialize due to opposition from a predominantly Christian Orthodox population and nationalists, sluggish bureaucracy but most recently a decade-long financial crisis.
Amid a coronavirus outbreak, only a limited number of worshippers, wearing masks and sitting at a distance from each other due to COVID-19 restrictions, attended prayers.
“It is a historic moment for the Muslim community living in Athens, we have been waiting for this mosque for so long,” said Heider Ashir, a member of the mosque’s governing council. “Thanks to God, finally, we have a mosque which is open and we can pray here freely.”
But other Muslims were unhappy with the mosque’s appearance. A grey, rectangular structure with no dome or minaret, has no resemblance to other graceful, ornate mosques in Europe.
“It does not at all look like a place of worship, it is a small, square, miserable building,” said Naim El Ghandour, head of the Muslim Association of Greece. “We thank them very much for the offer, but we will fight to reach it to the level that we deserve.”
Under a lockdown to curb a surge in COVID infections, gatherings for formal worshipping will be banned from Saturday until Nov. 30.
“We will pray at home, and as soon as the lockdown is over the mosque will again be open for the worshippers,” Ashir said.


France targets mosques in extremism crackdown

Updated 03 December 2020

France targets mosques in extremism crackdown

France targets mosques in extremism crackdown
  • Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that if any of the 76 prayer halls inspected were found to promote extremism they would be closed down
  • Inspections are part of France’s response to two attacks — the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty and the killing of three people in a Nice church

PARIS: French authorities will inspect dozens of mosques and prayer halls suspected of radical teachings starting Thursday as part of a crackdown on extremists following a spate of attacks, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

Darmanin told RTL radio that if any of the 76 prayer halls inspected was found to promote extremism they would be closed down.

The inspections are part of the government’s response to two brutal recent attacks that shocked France — the October 16 beheading of a teacher who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and the stabbing to death of three people in a church in Nice on October 29.

Darmanin did not reveal which places of worship would be inspected. In a note he sent to regional security chiefs, seen by AFP, he cites 16 addresses in the Paris region and 60 others around the country.

On Twitter Wednesday he said the mosques were suspected of “separatism” — a term President Emmanuel Macron has used to describe ultraconservative Muslims closing themselves off from French society by, for example, enrolling their children in underground schools or forcing young girls to wear the Muslim headscarf.

The rightwing minister told RTL the fact that only a fraction of the around 2,600 Muslim places of worship in France were suspected of peddling radical theories showed “we are far from a situation of widespread radicalization.”

“Nearly all Muslims in France respect the laws of the Republic and are hurt by that (radicalization),” he said.
The killing of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his pupils cartoons of Mohammad in a class on free speech, at a school outside Paris sent shockwaves through France, where it was seen as an attack on the republic itself.

In the aftermath of his murder the authorities raided dozens of associations, sports groups and charities suspected of promoting extremism.
They also ordered the temporary closure of a large mosque in the Paris suburb of Pantin that had shared a vitriolic video lambasting Paty.

The government has also announced plans to step up the deportations of illegal migrants on radicalization watchlists.
Darmanin said that 66 of 231 foreigners on a watchlist had been expelled, around 50 others had been put in migrant detention centers and a further 30 had been placed under house arrest.

The minister announced the latest clampdown after receiving fierce criticism for pushing a bill that would make it harder to document police brutality.

Images of officers beating up black music producer Michel Zecler in his studio brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets last weekend against Darmanin’s push to restrict the filming of the police in the new bill.
MPs from Macron’s ruling Republic on the Move party have since announced plans to rewrite the legislation.