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  • Construction of a mosque in Athens

In contrast to the 300 mosques operating in Western Thrace and despite the large numbers of Muslims living in Athens, the city lacks an official mosque. The construction of mosques was authorised in the 1930s by law and after the authorisation of both the local metropolitan and the Ministry for Education and Religious Affairs. Since then, efforts to proceed to the construction of the Athens mosque have been delayed.
With the prospect of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the socialist government decided to authorise the construction of an Islamic cultural centre and mosque in Peania (located in the proximity of the Athens International Airport). Although the mosque would be financed by Saudi Arabia, Greek officials would oversee it. The Church of Greece approved the plan for the construction of a mosque, as a place of worship, but are opposed to the creation a cultural centre. The construction was also postponed because the conservative mayor of Peania, supported by the local bishop, argued that construction plans had not received proper building licence. The local authorities also cited cultural issues and hold that having a minaret would alter the traditional skyline of the town and, being near the airport, it would give a misleading impression to first-time visitors in Athens. Local residents erected a three metre cross at the highest point of the proposed location. Proposals to erect a mosque elsewhere in Athens are still pending. The Muslim population in Athens is therefore still forced to worship in various unofficial and unauthorised places acting as mosques throughout Athens.
According to new governmental plans, Athens is liable to have a mosque financed by the Greek government by 2010. It would probably be erected in the non-residential area of Eleonas close to Omonia at the centre of Athens. This proposition was submitted to the Greek parliament by the Minister of Education and Religious Affairs end of October 2006. Theoretically, the project has been accepted even though some aspects have been rejected by several political parties. They argue that the government’s request to naming the Imam of the mosque could pose problems as the religious and ethnic background of the Muslims in Athens is diverse (Shiites, Sunnites, Pakistanis, Iranians, Africans, etc.). There are still other pending issues. One relates to the choice of the construction site as no consensus could be reached over it while the other revolves around the setting up of a 7 member committee whose mission would be to run the mosque. This committee will only have 2 representatives from the Muslim community. This matter is presently open and under discussion.

  • Creation of ecclesiastical academic establishments

The Greek Church recently announced that it intends to open primary and secondary schools in Athens and Thessaloniki for the 2008-2009 academic year. This comes after several declarations made by the Archbishop Christodoulos concerning the low academic performance of public schools in Greece and the dechristianisation of the Greek society. Furthermore, the Church had already expressed its disapproval of religious and historical education in Greek public schools. In February 2007, the Greek Church expressed its anger regarding some new history manuals. They only narrate part of the role played by the church during the Greek revolution against the ottoman domination in 1821-1829. Proposed schools will be private. They will be partially financed by the Church and managed by special associations or foundations. According to the Greek legislation, the Church does not have the right to set up academic establishments.

  • Meeting between Pope Bernard XVI and Head of the Greek Church, Archbishop Christodoulos

The Archbishop’s visit to the Vatican in December 2006 was a historical event as it was the first visit of this kind for the head of the Church of Greece. This official visit indicates the desire to collaborate with the Vatican after several tentative dialogues between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Vatican (see the Papal visit to Turkey and to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2007). In this occasion, the Archbishop and the Pope expressed their worry about the loss of the Christian identity in Europe, the necessity to maintain the Christian roots in the European continent and their scepticism about Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
Historically, the relations between the Orthodox Church and Vatican have been tense since the sack of during the Crusades in 1204. The relations became more relaxed after Pope John Paul’s visit to Athens in 2001 where he expressed his regrets for these historical events. However, some Orthodox ecclesiastics and part of the Greek population still remain strongly sceptical about the Catholic Church and the Vatican.

  • Creation of the first crematorium in Greece

In February 2007, the Greek government announced its plan to construct a crematorium by 2009. It will probably be erected at the first cemetery located at the centre of Athens. The place of construction has been contested as the crematorium should be planted in non-residential areas of the city for environmental reasons.
The Greek Church has long been opposed to cremation and the Archbishop Christodoulos confirms that the Orthodox faith authorises only the burial of the dead. The Orthodox clergy has, on many occasions, refused to celebrate the funeral service of people who chose to be cremated.
However, according to some members of the clergy, the Church of Greece is still to revisit the issue in the spring of 2007, taking into consideration the demographic diversity of the foreign population living in Greece, lack of burial plots in the cemeteries and the practice of cremation in the neighbouring countries.

D 12 December 2007    ALina Molokotos-Liederman

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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