The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Wednesday that Greece violated a prohibition on discrimination by applying Islamic religious law to an inheritance dispute among members of the country’s Muslim minority.
According to an AP report, the court ruled that Greece violated the European Convention on Human Rights by applying Sharia law in the case, under which a Muslim Greek man’s will, in which he bequeathed his entire estate to his wife, was deemed invalid after it was challenged by his sisters.
The man’s widow, Chatitze Molla Sali, appealed to the European court in 2014 after she lost three-quarters of her inheritance. She argued she had been discriminated against on religious grounds, as she would have inherited his entire estate under Greek law, had her husband not been Muslim.
The European court agreed with her argument, but it has not yet issued a decision whether Greece will be penalized, or what the penalty might be.
“Greece was the only country in Europe which, up until the material time, had applied Sharia law to a section of its citizens against their wishes,” the court said in its ruling.
“That was particularly problematic … because the application of Sharia law had led to … a widow who had inherited her husband’s estate in accordance with civil law, but who had then found herself in a legal situation which neither she nor her husband had intended,” the ruling concluded.
Molla Sali’s husband had drawn up his will according to Greek law, and both a local court and an appeals court initially ruled in her favor in the dispute with her sisters-in-law. However, further Greek court decisions ruled that inheritance issues within the Muslim minority had to be dealt with under Islamic religious law, thus deeming the will invalid.
Legislation concerning minorities in Greece was based on international treaties drawn up in the 1920’s, after the exchange of ethnic populations in the aftermath of wars following the Ottoman empire’s collapse.
Civil cases involving the Muslim minority in Western Thrace, which numbered 100,000 in northeastern Greece, were dealt with under Islamic law and presided over by a state-appointed Muslim cleric, or mufti.
But in January of this year, the Greek parliament voted to limit the powers of Sharia. The new law eliminated rules which had referred many civil cases involving members of the Muslim community to Islamic law. It was brought before parliament after Sali filed a complaint.
The European Court of Human Rights said that while it “noted with satisfaction” the change in legislation, the new law “had no impact on the situation of the applicant” as the final rulings in her case had been made under the old system.
Under the new law, Greek civil courts have priority in all cases, and recourse to Sharia law in cases of inheritance, divorce or marriage can only apply if all parties concerned agree, the AP report concludes.