The Greek Education Ministry tabled in parliament a new framework for Greece’s muftis that will increase the Islamic clerics’ independence, minority rights website Azınlıkça and daily Ekathimerini reported last Friday.

The new framework will allow Greece’s Muslim minority to form an advisory board of 33 people, chosen from among scholars  of Islamic sciences and imams. The board will assess mufti candidates, and the Education Ministry will choose an appropriate candidate for the post as necessary.

Currently, muftis are appointed by the state. However, Turkey has been encouraging the minority community to elect their own muftis, who oversee matters of Islamic law. The Muslim community in Greece can utilise sharia law on matters of civil law but not for criminal matters, due to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

While the community often elects their own muftis, Greece does not recognise them and takes them to court for impersonating a public official, according to Associated Press.

The new regulations still do not recognise the right to run in elections for the community, Azınlıkça said. The proposal was prepared under advise from the Inter-Party Thrace Development Commission.

The changes “send a clear message against the politicisation of Islam” Kathimerini cited a Greek government official as saying, and aim to protect the particular characteristics of Islam in the region.

“The symbiosis of Christians and Muslims in Thrace is the best example in Europe, and Greece supports it so it can continue to be, together with the Orthodox Church, a factor in strengthening social cohesion and preserving Thrace’s unique characteristics,” the Greek government official told Kathimerini.

The changes aimed to keep Thracian Islam “away from foreign influences”.

There are some 120,000 Muslims in Greece’s Thrace province, making up some 32 per cent of the local population. Overall, Greece is home to some 650,000 Muslims, most of whom live in Athens. The Muslim community is made up of ethnic Turks, Bulgarian-speaking Pomaks and Roma.

In recent years, migrants and refugees from various countries have also joined the population.

Turkey’s attempts to influence diaspora communities have caused issues with other European countries as well, including Germany, home to some 3 million Muslim Turks and 5 million overall Muslims.

In June 2021, Berlin began to train its own imams to reduce foreign influence.