Muslims in Athens fear first official mosque will not open

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Muslims in Athens fear their own official place of worship that is due to open could be delayed in retaliation for the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Turkey's Daily Sabah reported.

"I think after this incident, it might be even more difficult to open the official mosque that we have awaited for ten years," said Imam Atta-ul Naseer, who runs a makeshift mosque in a central Athens apartment, the Turkish outlet reported.

Athens remains the only capital city in Europe without a mosque and the Greek Orthodox Church and most locals want to retain this.

"I think a mosque should remain a mosque. It should not become a church or whatever. Just as Christians expect Hagia Sophia to remain a church, Muslims expect the same," said Naseer, adding that historic mosques built by Ottoman occupiers should reopen as a place of worship for Muslims.

The first official mosque in Athens has had its opening continuously delayed. When or if it is to open, the mosque will have no minarets, call to prayer over speakers will be forbidden and it will be under the direct supervision of the state.

Naseer, a Pakistani-born Imam who arrived in Greece seven years ago, said that in Athens "Christians and Muslims live together peacefully."

He then complained that the procedures to open a makeshift mosque is "complicated and takes time."

The so-called complications he speaks of are regulations like the makeshift mosque having a fire alarm, emergency exits and sanitary facilities.

In an attempt to regulate the makeshift mosques, the Greek state set strict operational rules.

"Few [makeshift] mosques have obtained permits from the ministry," Naseer said.

A Bangladeshi Imam, Abu Bakr, said that "unofficial mosques that become legal, like ours, will therefore remain necessary to Muslims who wish to practice their faith in Athens," as "the official mosque that the Greek state wants to open is far from the center of Athens where many Muslim refugees live and can only accommodate 350 people anyway."

The Daily Sabah ended their article by saying that "the only mosques dating from the Ottoman era that are currently operating in Greece are located in the border region with Turkey, in Thrace, where a Turkish minority of 150,000 people live."

A complete fabrication considering that of the 150,000 Muslims in Thrace, only about half are Turkish-speaking, with the remainder being Greek Muslims, Romas and Pomaks (Bulgarian Muslims). There are also operating mosques on the island of Rhodes that date back to the Ottoman period.