Where Islam flourishes despite being half-underground

Source: The Economist

ON A baking-hot Friday afternoon in the dusty Athenian district of Neos Kosmos, a cheerful assortment of (mostly male) worshippers greet one another in Arabic, Greek and other languages, and enter a nondescript building in a side-street. They descend a steep set of stairs, perform their ablutions, and make their way into a large undergound space, pleasantly carpeted, but with ventilation pipes half-hiding the low ceiling. Soon the imam is leading them in prayer and prostration, and pronouncing a khutba or sermon. Despite the makeshift premises, this has the feeling of a well-organised and confident community. Worshippers include sportsmen from well-known clubs and businessmen using nearby hotels.


This slice of Athenian reality is a reminder that, although theory and practice are both words with Greek roots, they do not always march in step in this part of the world. In constitutional theory, Greece is a country whose prevailing religion, followed by an overwhelming majority, is Orthodox Christianity. With an important exception (the region adjacent to the land border with Turkey), most of the country’s Muslims were transferred to Turkey under an agreed Christian-Muslim population exchange in 1923. There are two small historic mosques in the oldest part of Athens, but they have not been used for regular worship since Ottoman times.

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