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PM Tsipras announces bill to limit jurisdiction of Sharia Law in Thrace

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced that a bill will be introduced to limit the jurisdiction of  Sharia Law in Thrace, home of a strong Muslim minority in North-Eastern of the country. Greece is the last European country to recognize the validity of the Islamic Sharia law which settles mostly family matters.

In his speech in Komotini, Thrace, on Tuesday, the prime minister said  the bill will “address the shortcomings and the inequalities effecting the minority population of the country.

He stressed that “Greek citizens who are members of the Muslim minority do not have the right to go to civil courts for personal and inheritance issues.” Tsipras referred to Supreme Court decisions according to which members of the Muslim minority do not have the right to make inheritance wills like all other Greek citizens.

Stressing respect towards the particular cultural and religious identity of the Muslim minority he revealed the upcoming changes as follows:

1. 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.

2. Civil courts will have a presumption of jurisdiction

3. A presidential decree to be issued will enable the mufti to exercise his powers in a specific context that protects the rights of the parties involved.

4. Inheritance relations of members of the minority will be determined by the civil code and not by the Islamic Sharia law, however, giving the option that one decides otherwise in a written declaration.

5. All public wills to date are valid and will be implemented.

“We are open to dialogue to improve the proposal,”Tsipras said emphasizing “the consensual de facto abolishing of the Sharia Law.” The bill is to be submitted to the Parliament within the next days.

In 2015, the first woman from the Muslim minority in Thrace took her inheritance case to the European court of human rights. the 65-year-old widow challenged the Sharia law for having stripped her of her part of her inheritance.

When her husband died in March 2008, he left her all his possessions in a will certified by a Greek solicitor. His family promptly disputed the legacy, complaining to the local mufti that under sharia Muslims are not allowed to make a will.  The widow appealed to the civil courts, which endorsed her claim. But 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.

The mufti is a Muslim legal expert who is empowered to give rulings on religious matters.

The existence of Sharia Law in Thrace was possible after the population exchange in 1923  and the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne, granting the communities exceptional rights, including being allowed to live according to its existing customs. the Sharia law was abolished in Turkey in 1926, however Ankara had supported its existance in [Western] Thrace all these years.

Officially known as the Muslim Minority of Greece, it consists mainly of  Turkish-speaking people but also Bulgarian-speaking Pomaks.

Three muftis, appointed by the Greek authorities, act as religious leaders and judges. In this capacity they enforced sharia law for family disputes, but not for criminal cases. So 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.

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