Legislation was changed on Tuesday in the Greek parliament, in what Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has dubbed a “historic step”, giving the country’s Muslim minority equal legal rights with the option to opt for a Greek court to resolve family disputes rather than turning to Islamic jurists.
In the aftermath of the Ottoman empire’s collapse, the 1920 Treaty of Sevres and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne were drafted to include that Islamic customs and religious law would apply to the thousands of Muslims who became Greek citizens. Currently Greece is home to around 110,000 Muslims who mainly reside in Thrace.
As a result, for family legal matters such as inheritance, divorce and child custody, Greek Muslims have generally sought out muftis to resolve the matter.
However a complaint brought against Greece regarding Sharia law by a 67-year-old widow has revealed that the system often discriminates against women.
Hatijah Molla Salli who lives in Komotini has found herself locked in an inheritance dispute with her late husband’s sisters.
When she first appealed to the Greek court system she won the case, but then in 2013 the Greek supreme court ruled in accordance to the century-old agreement that only a mufti has the power to resolve such matters with regards to members of the Muslim community.
With the matter still pending five years on, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is expected to cast its ruling this year.
The issue is complicated, given Ankara sees Greece’s Muslim community as Turkish, which oft-times complains on their behalf to Athens.
However a number of Greek law makers believe the decision has been long overdue, a sentiment shared by Greek Minister of Education and Religious Affairs Constantine Gavroglou.
“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 law passed easily and was backed by the Greek parliament’s largest political parties. While extreme-right party, Golden Dawn rejected the bill under the premise that it wasn’t clear in outlining the powers that the Islamic courts would retain.