Greeks Divided On Mosque Construction There are more than half a million Muslims in Greece, yet the country still lacks an official purpose-built mosque. For years, the Greek Orthodox Church stood in the way of plans to build a mosque in Athens. But even now, as the church supports the idea, hostile public opinion whipped up by far-right political groups could still block construction.
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Greeks Divided On Mosque Construction

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Greeks Divided On Mosque Construction

Greeks Divided On Mosque Construction

Greeks Divided On Mosque Construction

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There are more than half a million Muslims in Greece, yet the country still lacks an official purpose-built mosque. For years, the Greek Orthodox Church stood in the way of plans to build a mosque in Athens. But even now, as the church supports the idea, hostile public opinion whipped up by far-right political groups could still block construction.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS: Twelve men wearing prayer caps are washing their hands in a musty basement in central Athens.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

KAKISSIS: Mohammad Jahangir(ph) was inside that night.

MOHAMMAD JAHANGIR: (Through translator) We were very scared. We were trapped, and we thought we were going to die.

KAKISSIS: Far-right gangs have stepped up attacks on Muslims. Greek police now guard some of the makeshift mosques, but the Muslim community worries the hate is spreading.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATION)

KAKISSIS: Rabab Hasan runs a phone shop in Athens. She was born in Greece to Egyptian parents and wears a hijab. She says because of this, people yell at her.

RABAB HASAN: FOREIGN LANGUAGE SPOKEN

KAKISSIS: Hasan switches to Greek, her first language, and says she considers herself as much of an Athenian as the people yelling at her.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

KAKISSIS: Across the street from Hasan's call center, Egyptian men gather at another makeshift mosque. One is Naim Elghandour, president of the Muslim Association of Greece. He has lived here for almost 40 years but says Muslims feel like second-class citizens.

NAIM ELGHANDOUR: (Through translator) We're part of Greek society until we go to pray. They go to a church; we go to a basement.

KAKISSIS: The powerful Greek Orthodox Church has had issues in the past about where the mosque should be located, but Father Gabriel Papanicolaou, the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Athens, says it supports the idea in principle.

GABRIEL PAPANICOLAOU: When the government approached us and told us that we need to do something like that, we said, of course, we are okay, because we understand that each one has a right to believe and worship in a free place.

KAKISSIS: Kyriakos Velopoulos is a member of the Popular Orthodox Rally, a nationalist party.

KYRIAKOS VELOPOULOS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Evi Hadziandreou, a special adviser at the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, says the government will keep the costs down.

EVI HADZIANDREOU: It is a human - basic human rights issue to allow the expression of religious beliefs. We're also moving in finding a temporary solution until the mosque would be built.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATION)

KAKISSIS: For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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