ATHENS, Greece — Friday prayers were held for the first time in the Greek capital's first state-sponsored mosque, which opened this week after years-long delays.
The project to build a mosque in Athens took about 14 years and was dogged by protests, political controversy and delays in this heavily Orthodox Christian country. Parliament eventually approved construction in August 2016.
The mosque, located in a mainly industrial area of the capital, was intended to provide an official place of worship for the city's Muslim community, which largely consists of migrants and visitors. Muslims in Athens had been using informal prayer rooms set up in places such as unused stores and basements, which sometimes led to tension and protests from other local residents.
Members of the Muslim community said the new mosque, while far from perfect, was at least a start.
"All this time we have been praying underground. This is a great day for us," said Anna Stamou, a representative of the Muslim Association of Greece. She said the mosque had "many disadvantages and issues that have to be solved," including a small capacity, "but this is a very solid start."
Stamou estimated Athens' Muslim population at around half a million people, and said the new mosque's capacity, at 300 men and 50 women, was too small.
"But this is like a symbolic foundation and establishment that is an official one," Stamou said. It will not provide the services for everybody, we already know that. But this is a good start."
The number of people allowed in all places of worship in Greece currently have been restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic. As of Saturday morning, lockdown-type measures are being imposed nationwide, which will mean churches and mosques only can hold services without the presence of the faithful.