Greece’s Muslim minority will be able to resolve family disputes before Greek courts rather than under Islamic sharia law after the parliament on Tuesday changed a century-old legacy.
The prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, immediately called the vote an “historic step” as it “extended equality before the law to all Greeks”.
The legislation will allow Muslim litigants to go before a Greek court for divorce, child custody and inheritance matters, rather than appealing to Islamic jurists known as muftis – a system that rights groups say frequently discriminates against women.
The issue has its origins in the period after the first world war, and treaties between Greece and Turkey that followed the collapse of the Ottoman empire.
The 1920 treaty of Sevres and the 1923 treaty of Lausanne stipulated that Islamic customs and Islamic religious law would apply to thousands of Muslims who suddenly became Greek citizens.
Greece’s roughly 110,000-strong Muslim minority mainly lives in Thrace, a poor, rural region in the north-east bordering Turkey.
The parliament’s move comes as the European Court of Human Rights is expected to rule this year on a complaint brought against Greece by a 67-year-old widow, Hatijah Molla Salli, who is locked in an inheritance dispute with her late husband’s sisters.
When Salli appealed to Greek secular justice, she initially won her case. But the Greek supreme court in 2013 ruled that only a mufti had the power to resolve Muslim inheritance rights.
“The government is only acting to prevent condemnation by the court, which, as everyone knows, is inevitable,” Salli’s lawyer Yannis Ktistakis said in November.
At the time, Tsipras said: “As a European Union nation, this does not bestow honour upon us.”
The issue is complicated by still-tense relations between traditional rivals Greece and Turkey.
The headline that most media outlets are using doesn’t seem quite accurate. Does the new ruling actually “limit the power of the sharia courts” or limit their jurisdiction to only those Muslims who now choose to use the sharia court?
A single paragraph at the end of one ABC article included reservations of one political party: via: Greece limits Sharia law after European Court challenge
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.
If not adequately outlined, then how has the power of the sharia courts changed?
One site had what reads like a more accurate description: Greece makes sharia law optional for Muslim minority.