The International Herald Tribune (IHT) reported today on the conversion of a factory on the outskirts of Athens into a functioning mosque with space for 2000 worshippers. Earlier media reports had described the facility as “the first formal Islamic prayer site to operate in Athens since rule by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire ended more than 170 years ago” and said that the opening was attended by representatives of Muslim organizations in Europe, representatives of the Iranian and Saudi Arabian embassies, senior imams from Muslim countries and a representative of Greece’s Orthodox Church. The facility was described by the IHT as a three-floor building covering 1,800 square meters that appeared similar to a normal mosque with wall-to-wall patterned carpets, Arabic calligraphy on the walls and wide-screen televisions and state-of-the-art speakers. According to the report, the facility was built under the auspices of a small, non-profit organization called the Greek-Arab Educational and Cultural Center using a donation of $3.4 million from a Saudi businessman.
What the IHT did not report is that it is likely that the non-profit organization which built the facility is likely the “Arab-Hellenic Center for Culture and Civilization” (AHCCC), a member organization of the Federation of Islamic Organization in Europe (FIOE), the Muslim Brotherhood umbrella organization with members in Europe, Turkey, and Russia The manner in which the facility was established appears to have been designed to circumvent any local opposition. According to the IHT:
In the case of the Moschato site, the authorities were caught unawares. The local mayor’s office said it found out about the center when a sign went up in mid-June, a week before it opened. Public opposition to the center has been mild, perhaps because it does not look like a mosque. The unimposing faÃ§ade of the red-brick building, sandwiched between old textiles and juice factories, is a relief for many. ‘It is still very new so we can’t be sure of its impact, but it’s not in people’s faces,’ said Spyros Pangalos of a local resident group. ‘It doesn’t have minarets like regular mosques; it is just a cultural center,’ said Moschato’s deputy mayor, Grigoris Papadopoulos.
The Greek FIOE member appears to have learned some lessons from a similar but unsuccessful attempt by FIOE in Germany to build a large Islamic complex in Berlin. In 2005, the AHCCC opened another Islamic center in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city which it says was funded by the Europe Trust, a FIOE-linked organization that has been receiving donated real-estate from Gulf and Saudi donors. Expansion into Eastern Europe and the Balkans is a priority for FIOE which has its own Eastern Europe Department.