Published: Wed, January 10, 2018
Business | By Tara Barton

Greece limits Sharia law after European Court challenge

Greece limits Sharia law after European Court challenge

Religious courts that provide for the almost 120,000-strong Muslim minority in the region of Western Thrace will in future only be able to rule on family law matters such as divorce, child custody and inheritance.

The Greek parliament has changed a century-old law that gave Islamic courts priority over family law matters among the Muslim minority in Western Thrace.

Legislation concerning minority rights was based on worldwide treaties following wars in the aftermath of the Ottoman empire's collapse.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the vote an "historic step" that "extended equality before the law to all Greeks" while respecting the "special characteristics" of Greece΄s Muslim minority.

The legislation will allow Muslim litigants to opt for a Greek court to resolve family disputes rather than appealing to Islamic jurists known as muftis.

Although many Muslims in Thrace are Turkish-speaking, the Greek authorities object to the term "Turkish minority" - a phrase Ankara frequently uses - amid growing concerns that Turkey has territorial designs in the region, chiefly over islands in the Aegean.

Greece limits Sharia law after European Court challenge
Greece limits Sharia law after European Court challenge

After initially winning an appeal to Greece's secular justice, the supreme court ruled in 2013 that only a mufti had the power to rule over matters of inheritance involving members of the Muslim minority.

"As a member of the European Union, our country has voluntarily committed to certain treaties, such as the European Convention of Human Rights", he added.

A 67-year-old widow, Hatijah Molla Salli, from the city of Komotini in Western Thrace filed a complaint against Greece over an inheritance dispute with her late husband΄s sisters.

"This is not just a technical adjustment, it's a very important day for parliament", he said, "because of the broad support that is key when addressing issues of democracy and people's rights".

The extreme-right Golden Dawn party rejected the bill, arguing that it failed to adequately outline what powers would be retained by Islamic courts and did not address the issue of locally elected clerics who operate in an unofficial, but influential capacity.

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