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  • Rory O'Keeffe

Greece 'not planning to abolish Sharia practice' in Western Thrace - Professor

Professor Ali Huseyinoglu, of Turkey’s Trakya University Balkans Research Institute, moves to reassure Turkish people that Greece is not planning to abolish Sharia practices in Western Thrace.

Some Greek media had suggested that the Greek government was moving to abolish the Islamic legal practice in the region, where some 150,000 Muslims – almost all of Turkish descent – live and work.

This had caused anger and upset in Turkey because some people feared this would detrimentally affect their friends and families in Greece, and others (correctly) pointed out that the practise of Sharia in Western Thrace was a part of the Lausanne Treaty of 1920, which both ‘created’ the modern Turkish state and set its historically mutable and consistently challenged border with Greece.

But Professor Huseyinoglu, in a good example of state news service Anadolu doing its job sensibly and well, has moved to clarify the situation.

Under the new proposals by the Greek government, he explained, the jurisdiction of the mufti will be optional. So, in a case where all sides agree to be judged by the mufti, he will have the jurisdiction on that case.

But if one of the sides declines to be judged by the mufti, the case will be heard by Greek civil courts.

The new law would also mean inheritance issues will be determined by Greek civil law and not Islamic law, if no-one involved in the matter requests Islamic law in writing. In the UK, similarly, Sharia law can be used (for example on inheritance issues) where it does not contradict UK law.

Huseyinoglu said: ‘The legislation was reflected wrongly in some Greek media. They claimed that Islamic law is being abolished in Greece, which is wrong. Sharia is not being abolished in Greece.

‘Currently, if there is an objection regarding inheritance issues from family members they have to be judged by the mufti (Muslim cleric), which caused some unjust treatments. The Greek government wants to make sure that the system is more consistent, and people will benefit from that.’

He also notes – as in all honesty only academics regularly do – that in fact one of the gravest concerns Turkish people have traditionally had about the Sharia system’s operation in Greece, is in fact one of its major safeguards in the state.

Because since 1991, the Greek state has appointed muftis, who are supposed under the strictest readings of Sharia law (and this is not really an unreasonable idea) to be elected by the community.

Huseyinoglu points out: ‘Greece does this because as it says, the mufti has judicial power on family and inheritance matters. The appointment is therefore a confirmation that the Greek government recognises this role, and respects it. Only if those powers were removed would the government allow the community to elect muftis.'

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