⡾ News & Views. Greece

📄 European Court Rules Against Greece Over Shariah Law. Dow Jones Newswires 12-19-18 1256ET

ATHENS -- Europe's top human-rights court ruled on Wednesday that Greece failed to protect a Muslim woman from discrimination, and deprived her of property rights, when it made her follow religious rather than civil law on inheritance.

Chatitze Molla Sali, a 67-year-old widow, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France , claiming she had suffered discrimination after Greece's highest court ruled that her deceased husband's will bequeathing his property to her should be ignored and the inheritance should be divided up based on Shariah law.

" Greece was the only country in Europe which, up until the material time, had applied Shariah law to a section of its citizens against their wishes," the ECHR said in its ruling. It is expected that the Greek state will now have to compensate Mrs. Sali for her lost inheritance.

Greece's practice of applying Shariah law, which has since January 2018 been made optional rather than obligatory, covers only a small part of its population: the 100,000 Greek Muslims living in Thrace, the northern region near the border with Turkey . The practice dates from the 19th century, when Greece gained its independence after more than four centuries under Ottoman Turkish rule.

Under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which settled Turkey's relations with Europe after World War I, Greece promised to let its Muslim minority live under its own customs, and reserved Shariah for family-related matters such as inheritance, marriage, divorce, alimony and child custody. Greece's practice continued even after Turkey abolished Shariah in 1924 as part of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's push to modernize Turkey .

Shariah rules on inheritance don't recognize wills, instead applying set rules for what portions of an estate children and spouses receive. Sons, who are charged with caring for a family's female members, inherit the majority of an estate.

Mrs. Sali has no children, and after her husband's death in 2008, his sisters contested his will as invalid on the grounds that he was a Muslim born in Thrace. After a lengthy legal dispute, Greece's Supreme Court ruled twice that Shariah is compulsory, and Mrs. Sali lost three-quarters of her inheritance.

Her case, and the expectation that Greece would lose before the ECHR, prompted Greece to change the law in January, making Shariah rules optional. The ECHR noted in its ruling that Greek legislation has changed and resource to Islamic law "is now only possible with the agreement of all those concerned."

"The Greek citizens of the Muslim minority in Thrace acquired full equality; what the Greek government refused to do is done by the Strasbourg court," said Mrs. Sali's lawyer Yannis Ktistakis . He said the ruling should lead to Shariah being completely abolished in Greece .

"One cannot guarantee that all parties involved are free to decide whether they should go the mufti or to a civil court," he said. Even if there is apparent consent, he said, "the state cannot ignore that decisions based on Shariah may be against civil law."

However, Greece's left-led government said the ECHR ruling concerned a case from before this year's reform, and that current legislation was compatible with the ruling.

"Mild interventions like this legislation are more preferable than blunt ones, which would lead to Shariah being enforced under the table," says George Kalantzis , the Greek government's secretary-general for religious affairs. "It is a bridge that allows the Muslim population to understand that civil law is not against their religion."

Write to Nektaria Stamouli at nektaria.stamouli@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

12-19-18 1256ET

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