CAIRO - Public enmity to mosques and a crunching economic crisis are stalling plans to build Muslim worship places in Greece, forcing worshippers to go underground to fulfil their religious duties.
"All the other religions here -- Jews, Buddhists -- they have a place but we do not," Osama al-Najjar, 48, a petroleum industry supervisor, told SETimes on Wednesday, July 11.
"If we want to observe our religion, we have to do it underground.
We are not doing anything wrong," he said.
Greek Muslims have long called for building a grand mosque 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 to serve the city's growing Muslim minority.
But the crunching economic crisis, coupled with public enmity associating mosques with the Ottoman presence, has prevented the pledge from being translated into action.
This has left Greek Muslims with no other option but to use basement apartments, coffee shops, garages and warehouses for worshipping.
"Who could come here and pray five times a day? asked Naim Elghandour, 57, chairman of the Muslim Association of Greece, which claims nearly 18,000 members.
All these makeshift mosques are not legal.
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 kilometers 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.
Need for Imams
Greek Muslims also complain of the rarity of imams to help them fulfil their religious duties.
"It is not the same," Elghandour told SETimes.
"Without an official sanction, Muslims are also without an imam," he said.
Muslims make about 1.3% percent of the population in overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian Greece, according to the CIA facts book.
The capital Athens is home to an estimated 100,000 Muslim Albanians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Moroccans, Syrians and Nigerians.
"Many of them [are] illegal immigrants, recent targets of racist attacks and a government purge to rid the city of them, moves which have intensified enmity towards Muslims, Mazen Rassas, a Muslim resident, told SETimes.
More than half of Greeks polled last year opposed an official mosque.
Anti-Muslim tide has been on the rise in debt-hit Greece, which is battling a growing recession that has brought thousands of job layoffs.Last year, Muslims holding an open-air prayer near the city centre in Athens to celebrate `Eid Al-Adha, were harassed by local residents who threw eggs at them and blared loud music from windows.