For more than a century, Muslims in Athens have had to worship in dozens of makeshift mosques, often in the basements of homes. One of the last remaining mosques in Athens from the time of Ottoman rule, which ended in 1829, is now a museum for folk art, having also been used as a prison, army barracks, and storage facility.
Proponents of building the mosque said it could prevent the potential radicalization of the tens of thousands of new refugees who now live in Athens. According to Greek newspaper Kathimerini, Greek Education Minister Nikos Filis said Thursday:
If we wish to avoid the problems facing France and Belgium, we should not make the mistakes that they are now trying to deal with. The existence of makeshift mosques is a shame for the country as well as for the Muslim community and a danger to national security.
The project has faced heavy opposition from conservative and right-wing groups, like the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party, as well as the Greek Orthodox Church, the official religion of Greece.
The Greek government attempted to build a mosque in 2006, but the project was set aside because of legal appeals.