Greece: Muslims Seek Mosque and Burial Ground

SHAFAQNA - Demanding their religious rights, Muslims in Greece have called on the government to approve and support the building of permanent places of worship and a burial ground for Muslims according to The World Bulletin News.

“I can say prayers for people everywhere, in homes, in the mescit [masjid], on the road, but I cannot bury a dead Muslim just anywhere.”

“Of course, this is a difficult and expensive journey. Sending a body to Western Thrace, to the cemetery in Gümülcine, costs around 1,400 euros. And most of the Muslims who live here are people who have fled war and don’t have that kind of money. So mostly we gather money amongst ourselves to help out. There’s no other solution,” Imam Abdelrahim Abdel-Sayed said on Tuesday.

Muslims, whose number is estimated at about 300,000 in and around Athens, have no place of worship except converted garages or makeshift buildings which can be demolished at any time. These places, as [they are] not officially recognised, have on several occasions posed danger to the lives of Muslims. Two years ago a petrol barrel set fire to a mosque in Athens, the inferno now turned the city as the only European capital without a single mosque.”

Looking at the present increase in the rate of Islamophobia in the West, Muslims have been victims to a series of attacks as the basements garages used for prayers are illegal. This makes the citizens increase abuses on Muslims, endangering their lives and properties.

For example, more than 100 people protested outside a makeshift mosque, threatening to slaughter the congregation in a note revealing their intentions.

In another hate attack, a Pakistani labourer, Shahzad Luqman, who came to Greece in search of work to support his family, was ambushed and murdered by members of the group Golden Dawn, who vowed to murder the first foreigner they saw. Luqman’s death is significantly one of nearly 800 racially motivated attacks since 2012. His killers were sentenced to life in prison, a precedent setting case under Greek law to denounce a racist motive and considered it murder act for the first time.

Traces of Islamophobia in Greece

Golden Dawn has strictly objected to the construction of any mosque in Athens, a view that is also shared by the Greek Orthodox church. In a report to the BBC, although the Greek Church warmed to the mosque idea, some senior figures remain opposed.

Bishop Seraphim stated, “Greece suffered five centuries of Islamic tyranny under Turkish rule and building a mosque would offend the martyrs who freed us.

“We are not a multicultural country. We are one Greek nation and everything else is an invention of the “new order” and of Zionism. They are trying to corrupt our character.”

The cleric added that Greece must preserve its identity.

Although plans were made to turn a makeshift navy barracks into a mosque, with a builder prepared to construct it, the plans were put on hold. With a series of applications sent to ask for building of a mosque, deaf ears were turned to the call, as no contractor has agreed to the request and they refused to take part in any bidding process.

Immigrants who lost their lives in Greece are either taken home through the support of their embassies and donations from Muslim community members, but those from poor countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia and Syria, whose family could not afford the expense to have their deceased family members’ bodies sent to Western Thrace after dying due to situations faced in their countries.

“Even a cemetery that is a few hours away from Athens is sufficient. Immigrants who head to Greece by boat sometimes die and drown in the waters off Greece. On these occasions we have to read some six to seven bodies at the same time for funerals and then send them off to Gümülcine to be buried. I cannot tell you how difficult this is. We wash the bodies, say prayers in the basement of the mescit [masjid] and then we cannot even bury these bodies. We send them too far off to Gumulcine,” stated Imam Abdelrahim Abdel-Sayed in a Todays Zaman report.

Muslims account for nearly 1.3 percent of Greece’s 10.7 million population.

Greek Muslims have long called for building a grand mosque in Athens to accommodate the religious needs of the growing Muslim minority.

Despite objections from its powerful Orthodox Church, Greece had pledged to build a mosque in Athens. But the crunching economic crisis, coupled with public enmity associating mosques with the Ottoman presence, has prevented the pledge from being translated into action.

Decked with minarets two centuries ago, Athens has not had a functioning mosque since the end of Ottoman rule in the early 1800s.

About 130 windowless, airless basements or warehouses in Athens currently serve as makeshift mosques for an estimated 200,000 Muslims in the Greek capital.

Tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants perform prayers in private homes and have had to travel hundreds of kilometres to northern Greece for weddings, burials and other ceremonies.

The Orthodox Church has for years insisted that Greeks were not ready to see a minaret in downtown Athens.

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