ATHENS – Ten years after approving the first government-funded mosque, Greek Muslims hope to pray one day in their long awaited worshipping house.
“I’ll perform a duaa [prayer] for children caught in war – to make all the wars to stop,” Anna Stamou, a mother-of-two and a PR consultant based in the Greek capital, Athens, told Aljazeera on Friday, November 25.
“That’s what I pray for daily, but in the mosque, prayers are supposed to multiply,” adds Stamou, who converted to Islam a few years ago.
Like thousands of Greek Muslims, Stamou has been praying for years in old warehouses and basements.
Dream to get their first mosque started after a law was passed in 2006 permitting the building of the new mosque.
It is expected to accommodate more than 350 worshipers and will be built in place of a 600 square meter former navy warehouse in the Votanikos neighborhood of western Athens.
The complex will also feature a fountain for people to follow the ritual cleansing before praying.
“It’s not going to be anything special,” says Naim Elghandour, 62, president of the Muslim Association of Greece and Stamou’s husband.
“But it is important because it’s going to be the first official mosque with an official imam. Until now, the imams have been volunteers and that was dangerous, but we have been lucky and nothing bad happened in Greece to upset the relationships between Christians and Muslims.”
Earlier this year, the government awarded a contract to a consortium of construction companies to build the mosque at a cost of a million euros ($1.05m). It is expected to be completed in the next six months.
Construction was delayed after a far-right group occupied the warehouse for five-months. The sit in was cleared earlier in November.
Moreover, far-right groups have attacked dozens of makeshift mosques in Athens over the past five years, including one incident in which suspects locked dozens of worshipers inside a prayer hall and set it on fire.
Meanwhile, Golden Dawn, a far-right party with seats in parliament, held a protest at the site of the future Athens mosque, nearly three kilometers from the world heritage site of the Acropolis.
Those who oppose the mosque have found some support in the Greek Orthodox Church.
Athens’ Muslims hope that despite protests by the far-right, the government will stick to its plan to build a mosque. Athens is the last remaining European capital without one.
“We [the adults] are used to praying in the basements for our daily prayers, but I see the second and third generations aren’t happy,” Elghandour says.
He often takes his family abroad during the Muslim holidays to “pray in dignity”.
“The state considers us second-class citizens. Why should my children feel like that?”
Stamou also worries about how the renovated warehouse will turn out and what the new mosque will look like.
“It’s important that it’s nicely renovated in order for the young children to feel they are equal citizens,” Stamou says.
“They get restless in the basements. And even though we don’t force them to pray, they don’t always want to come to the basement to pray. But when we’re abroad, they don’t want to leave the mosque – they play there, they’re happy, they admire the [architecture].”
Awaiting their dream mosque, the family looks forward to celebrating the next Ramadan for the first time in a real mosque in their hometown.
“Maybe we’ll even have the iftar [the breaking of the fast] dinner there,” they say.
Elghandour says he tells them: “Wait. It’s not ready yet.”
“If a mosque is finally built, we’ll be happy, but our excitement is gone,” Stamou said.
“It’s been 10 years of waiting and 10 years of cheap and petty politics.”