Thursday 13 June 2019

Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Greece

Greece has been for good about 400 years under the Ottoman rule from 15th to 19th century, May 11 [1832] to be exact when Ottomans finally granted the Greeks their independence and Greece finally came to be recognized as a sovereign state.  The Muslim population in Greece is not homogeneous, since it consists of different ethnic, linguistic and social backgrounds which often overlap. The country's Muslim population decreased significantly as a result of the 1923 population exchange agreement between Greece and the new Turkish Republic, which also uprooted approximately 1.5 million Greeks from Asia Minor. 

The long presence of Muslims in areas that form part of Greece can be felt as Islam is the only explicitly recognized minority. As per a 1991 census, Muslim population of Greece was approximately 97,605 (0.91% of the population), but unofficial estimates range up to 400,000 Muslims.

There is a small Muslim community in some of the Dodecanese islands (Turks of the Dodecanese) which was not subjected to the exchange of the population between Turkey and Greece in 1923. They number about 3,000, some of whom espouse a Turkish identity and speak Turkish, while others are the Greek-speaking descendants of Cretan Muslims. The community is strongest in the city of Rhodes and on the island of Kos (in particular the village of Platanos).
Minaret of an Ottoman Empire era mosque [Photo taken/made/published by P. Vasiliadis]

Islam in Greece is represented by two distinct communities; Muslims that have lived in Greece since the times of the Ottoman Empire (primarily in East Macedonia and Thrace) and Muslim immigrants that began arriving in the last quarter of the 20th century, mainly in Athens and Thessaloniki. Most of the Turks of the Dodecanese. do not show interest in the Islamic faith in order not to face discrimination of the Greek state for being seen as a remnant of the former Ottoman Empire and as culturally similar to an alien country (Turkey).

The first Muslim immigrants mostly Egyptian, arrived in the early 1950s, and are concentrated in the country's two main urban centres, Athens and Thessaloniki. Since 1990, there has been an increase in the numbers of immigrant Muslims from various countries of the Middle East, North Africa, as well as from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Somalia and Muslim Southeast Asia. However, the bulk of the immigrant Muslim community has come from the Balkans, specifically from Albania and Albanian communities in North Macedonia, and other former Yugoslav republics. Since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, Albanian workers started immigrating to Greece, taking low wage jobs in search of economic opportunity, and bringing over their families to settle in cities like Athens and Thessaloniki.

As of now, the majority of the immigrant Muslim community resides in Athens. While searching for the references for this post, I came across an interesting post with a heading: Greece - "Where Islam flourishes despite being half-underground." The post asserts that in the region around Athens and its port of Piraeus, the de facto Muslim population is thought to be several hundred thousand, but its precise size is anyone’s guess. And a great majority of the region’s Muslims operating in the legal grey area of informal worship spaces, "often in basements," converted garages or modest apartments which are technically just private homes. And these are officially allowed to be operated as prayer rooms as a senior government official says the intention is to regularize these places of prayer by inviting them to apply for licences as religious premises, on the same terms as are offered to any other religious community.

This does not mean that the Greek government is not cognizant of the religious needs of the Muslims, specially mosques and prayer rooms. Although there are mosques in other parts of Greece, the capital has not had a formal mosque since it drove out occupying Ottomans in 1833, and the few that are left have been re purposedIn recognition of their religious rights, the Greek government approved the building of a mosque in July 2006 and is presently genuinely keen to press ahead with the opening of a grand new place of Islamic worship in coming September (at the cost of €850,000 euro ($967,000, Dh3.5 million). Without minaret or dome, the beige, rectangular structure in a former industrial area has none of the ornate grace typical of Islamic places of worship. But for the Muslims of Athens, it is the result of a long-fought battle — and the city’s first formal mosque in more than 180 years.  However, efforts over the years to build a mosque in Athens sparked protests from fringe groups on the far right; a short distance from the mosque, graffiti scrawled on a wall read “Islam Out”.

Greece allows Muslim courts to operate and are allowed to rule in family law matters such as divorce, child custody and inheritance if all parties agree, under the new law supported by major parties. Regular Greek law applies however in cases where all parties do not agree to a religious court settling a dispute. It may be added that Greece has been reluctant to change the law around Muslim family matters, fearful that it could prompt Turkey to request changes to the Lausanne Treaty.
Left: Private Prayer Hall [Photo Cafe Babel] Right: Fillyra Mosque Ibrahim Serif,Thrace [Photo Wikipedia]

Despite all things generally going well, there cases of Islamophobia and concerns about growing Muslim population may one day overtake Greek Christian population - an ill founded concern which is even sounded in many EU countries too. In 2010, an unofficial mosque on the island of Crete was targeted in the night without any casualties, likely as a result of anti-Muslim sentiments in the Greek far right. There has been anti-Muslim rhetoric from certain right-wing circles, including the Golden Dawn party. But theses don't seem to be alarming as such happenings take place all around the world these days. 

There are are number of state funded schools fro Muslim children and 0.5% of places in Greek higher education institutions are reserved for members of the minority. There are two Islamic theological seminaries and under Law 2621/1998, the qualification awarded by these institutions has been recognized as equal to that of the Greek Orthodox seminaries in the country.

How do Greeks view Muslims? Well I read it and I think it says all: Greeks are still somewhat used to the idea that Muslims exist. Those Muslims who came here never intend to go back either. Asked if he would like to go back, Mohammed Rossa’s family came to Greece in 1982 when he was 8, he remarked “If you would send me to Palestine [the roots of his family], I wouldn’t know a thing. I grew up here with Greeks and went to a Greek school. So… it’s in the blood.” 

Suleiman Mosque, Rhodes [Photo/Reference]
The medieval part of Rhodes is home to 14 mosques including the town’s major landmark, the Suleiman Mosque. It was built in 1522 and named after the Turkish Sultan who conquered Rhodes. There is also the Hafiz Ahmed Agha Library, which was founded in 1793. It stores thousands of rare manuscripts from the entire scope of Islamic science. In the new town of Rhodes, you will find a Turkish cemetery from the Ottoman era near the Murat Reis Mosque.
Being a minority, facing social opposition, the Muslim community does not dare to show its religion freely. For Naim El Ghandour, President of the Muslim Association of Greece in Athens, this is a sign of political regress, a roadblock on the way towards a multicultural society within Europe. Although, religious signs in public are not forbidden by the government,  nevertheless, the Muslim community remains discrete in unofficial praying-places. However, Muslims generally feel that there are no negative reactions. The Greek people do not reject them to have an official place to practice our religion. For example when the right wing supporters called for a demonstration against the project of building a mosque, they did not get great support from the people.

However, it remains a challenge for Athens Muslim community; they have to fight for a right, which is already a matter of course in the rest of the European Union. A challenge, all Muslims are willing to take on.

How is the life of Muslims in Greece - watch the video below:
Author's Note: The data above has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

Photo | References: | Main Source:  Wikipedia | Other Sources : | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 |
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