Sharia law, the religious law that is the part of the Islamic tradition, is being used in most Muslim-majority countries. Europe’s only country where Islamic courts still operate is Greece. At least it was Greece until Tuesday when lawmakers voted to change procedures dating back more than 90 years. Greek courts will now have priority in all cases. Members of Greece’s Muslim minority have hailed new legislation that will enable citizens to sidestep sharia law in family disputes. According to the new law, the mufti’s jurisdiction will be optional and subject to the agreement of all concerned parties, otherwise the case will be subject to civil courts.
Estimates of the recognized Greek Muslim minority, which is mostly located in Thrace, range around 100,000, about 1% of the population. Following the 1919–1922 Greco-Turkish War and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, Greece and Turkey agreed to a population transfer based on cultural and religious identity. The only exception to the rule was that Turkey pledged to maintain the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and not to expel its Greek minority. In exchange the 120,000-strong Muslim community of western Thrace was allowed to stay put.
The Treaty of Lausanne recognized that the community enjoyed various exceptional rights, including being allowed to live according to its existing customs. Since then, the Sharia law has been applied in Greece as the legacy of the Ottoman Empire. Any problems relating to marriage, divorce and inheritance are settled by the mufti’s office in Xanthi, Komotini or Didymoteicho, the region’s three main towns.
Problems with sharia in Greece were highlighted when the first woman from Greece’s Muslim minority took a case to the European court of human rights in 2015, disputing a ruling based on sharia law that stripped her of part of her inheritance. In October 2013 Greece’s Supreme Court ruled that matters of inheritance involving members of the Muslim minority must be settled by the mufti, as required by sharia law. That’s why Hatijah Molla Salli took the case to the European court of human rights. The tribunal is expected to cast its ruling in June.
“The government knows that the ruling will not be in its favor and is only acting to prevent condemnation by the court,” said Ktistakis, Salli’s lawyer. “This is a political move. The laws governing sharia should be abolished altogether.”
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in a statement that the new law respects the “special characteristics” of Greece’s Muslim minority, while redressing past injustices against community members “who were excluded from the legal guarantees and freedoms that all Greek citizens must enjoy.”
Some people think the new law is just “a half measure” because they (in Greece) “have a situation where laws drafted in 1914 still apply… this new legislation doesn’t go far enough as it still gives muftis (Muslim legal experts) the right to intervene,” law professor Yannis Ktistakis said from Komotini in Thrace, where Greece’s Muslim minority mainly resides.
Photo Credits: Shariah Law in the UK