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First mosque in Athens heightens tensions over Muslims

ATHENS — Athens‘ Muslims have long made do with living rooms, community centers and basements when seeking out places to pray. But now, the only European capital without an official mosque is about to get one.

The construction has set off both delight and dismay.

“I’m personally fine with praying at my home,” said Abouchan, 26, an Egyptian immigrant and expectant father married to a Greek Orthodox Christian woman, speaking after his Friday prayer at the Arab Hellenic Center for Culture in the working-class Athens suburb of Moshato. “But we also have to have the right to a mosque since we’re living and working in this country.”

The government-built mosque to be opened in April is being built in a renovated warehouse on land once owned by the Greek navy in Votanikos, a neighborhood two subway stops from the center of Athens. The mosque won’t sport minarets, and government officials will appoint an imam.

Athens is the home of some 300,000 Muslims out of a population of 4 million people, but the mosque will be able to accommodate about 350 worshippers, according to the Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs.

“It doesn’t matter to us if it’s small,” said Abouchan, asking to be identified only by his first name, adding that he valued the mosque as a symbol of recognition and acceptance of Muslims rather than as a place for the entire local community to perform daily prayers.

 

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