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Zaha Hadid is willing to design the Athens mosque

24 November 2010 / 11:11:26  GRReporter
15660 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

Days after the mass prayers of Muslims in squares and parks in Athens Greek media announced that the world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid is willing to design the mosque in the Greek capital for free. Despite the protests of the extreme right against the building of a mosque in Athens and the attacks on praying Muslims, the 17 acres in the district of Eleonas are awaiting the construction first sod turning. Athens is the only European capital where there is no mosque and so the challenge for any architect is great. It seems that Zaha Hadid is among those inclined to engage with the project as so far there is no mosque in her long list of works. She has won the Pritsker prize, which is the Nobel analogue for architects. The buildings she designed adorn many of the biggest capitals in the world from Germany and Spain to Japan and USA. She was born in Baghdad. She studied mathematics at the American College in Beirut, but eventually decided to study architecture in London. She realized there her first projects and established herself as one of the most modern and innovative architects in the world.

GRReporter contacted the Muslim Association of Greece. Its marketing director Anna Stamou could not confirm the news but said that strong interest is expected from architects from around the world. "We want a simple and functional building that will not differ from the old buildings typical for the central part of Athens. It should be in harmony with them." According to Anna, due to the proverbial Greek bureaucracy nothing has been done since 2006, when the mosque construction was stipulated by a law.

"The amount of 15 million euros was granted to the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs in 2006. The money was provided by Greece and the European Union. We wanted to have our mosque in which no foreign country could interfere; even in theological issues like what kind of Islam we would follow. This will happen," says Anna. According to her, preparation works in Eleonas neighbourhood, where the mosque will be built, have already begun. The international competition for the selection of an architect is expected to be held in January 2011.

There is another connection between the two women. Both are in the list of the 10 most influential Muslims in Europe. Anna Stamou received this year an award from the European Network of Muslim Entrepreneurs as the voice of moderate Islam today. She adopted Islam six years ago but not only because she married a Muslim but as a result of her personal searches. Anna Stamou said in an interview for GRReporter that the place of women in Islam is the main reason for adopting it.

According to her, "Islam puts women at a very high level. Women have the same, even more rights than men. Rights that women from other religions in that time had not even imagined. These are the titles, rights of inheritance and equality in everything. Theologically, God does not divide men and women, nor they carry original sin as in Christianity. I want to point out that I am talking about Islam, not Muslims or Muslim countries today. I know that women in many Muslim countries are under great pressure. But if Islam could be administered somewhere though society in this country would be very radical."

For Anna, one of the reasons for the so different attitudes towards women is directly related to the culture of any society: "Traditionally, Islam has spread from Indonesia to Morocco. Nowadays there are Muslims worldwide. There are 20 million currently in Western Europe; there are millions in America too. When a person who bears a specific culture shifts to another culture he or she neither forgets his or her own culture, neither adopts the new one completely. The result is always mixed."

According to the Muslim Association of Greece, the number of those who have adopted Islam has risen significantly in recent years. "They are doing it for different reasons. One of the main reasons is mixed marriages between Greek women and men from Arab countries. In their case, they turn to Islam gradually within family life. Moreover, their children are Muslims anyway, because Islam explicitly states that they adopt the religion of the father. Soon I learned from a representative of the community of Egyptians that only they have already 5 000 women who have become Muslims. We have many marriages with Palestinians and Syrians. The second category includes people who decide to turn to Islam after long searches. There are many people who read and decide to adopt it. There are many Greeks who live abroad and are Muslims. The community is very large already," says Anna.

The Association has no special relations with the Muslim minority in Thrace, mainly because the people there study Islam in Turkish "and we, the Greeks who adopted Islam, study it in English and gradually learn Arabic. Even those of them who live in Athens do not come to our mosques - they have theirs in the neighbourhood of Patisia. Language is what distinguishes us and nothing else."

How many are the praying places in Attica? "There are more than 100 now. But they were only 4 by 1992, which is not so long ago, and all of them were founded by Arabs. The first was founded by Dr. Mounir in the neighbourhood of Gudy in 1984. The second - by my husband Naim in Piraeus in 1989, the third - by Muhedin Ali in Metaksurgio neighbourhood in downtown Athens in 1990 and the fourth - in Neos kozmos neighbourhood in 1992. This shows that there is more than vigorous development. It is connected with the arrival of immigrants from countries where Islam is the main religion. There are praying places now in the suburbs Lavrio, Marathon, even on the island of Salamina. These are the areas where they live and work. The praying place is also a place of socialization, and I think the formation of such places there is a positive development for the regions themselves."

The situation in the centre of Athens, however, is quite different. Praying places there are close to each other, which, according to Anna, is not in favour of praying. "When a person opens a house of prayer he attracts believers. It is quite usual a donation box to be placed in the room for all to donate. There is a phenomenon in the city centre that the imams do not work, but live by donations and use everything for their personal interest." These peculiar mosques usually are housed in warehouses, basements and stores and since they are located in the city centre, where the problem of irregular immigration causes effects of violence anyway, there are attacks against them.

"There was a praying place in a warehouse with no windows on Attica Square. About 40 people from Bangladesh prayed there one night. A group of far-rights locked the door with a big padlock, broke one of its windows and began to hurl naphtha and burning waste to cause fire. The people scared, they called the police, the embassy of their country and began to extinguish the fire with a fire extinguisher. The police arrived but were forced to leave the people inside while dispersing the far rights, who waited for the people to go out and beat them. They still managed to knife wounded two people from Egypt and Afghanistan who came to help the locked. The most tragic thing is that these people are proud of their deeds."

Anna says that the Association has met with many civil society organizations to discuss these issues. She recognizes that the problem of irregular immigrants is serious for the residents of the Athens centre and for themselves. "You can not crowd 50 people in an apartment without water and electricity. This is tragic. But to kill them is not a solution. Far right populism is always gaining ground as is happening worldwide in more deprived areas. These people voted for the far-right Golden Dawn. I think they do not knowing what they did. And this is because they sent 14-year-olds with knives in their hands to attack and beat up immigrants. They destroy a whole generation to show dominance." On the other hand, Anna blames the media in speculating as each time they show the same "angry people". "I saved the reports on the torn Koran 2 years ago. We are talking about the same people," she says.

According to Anna, Muslims in Attica have two main problems: the absence of a mosque and cemetery. When someone dies they send the body in his home country or bury it in the cemetery of the town of Komotini, which is located over 700 kilometers away from Athens. The decision has been taken in 2005 to give the Muslims a part of the largest cemetery in the suburb of Shisto but red tape has not allowed this to happen.

Tags: Zaha HadidMosque in AthensGreek MuslimsHouses of prayerMuslim cemetery
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