ECtHR rules against Greece in Shariah law case
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled Wednesday against Greece in an inheritance dispute, saying it discriminated against a Muslim woman living in the Western Thrace region by applying Islamic religious law in her case against her will.
The top European court found that Greece violated a prohibition on discrimination by applying Shariah law in Hatice Molla Sali's case, and a Greek domestic court's decision to do so was discriminatory and not reasonably justified.
Under Greek civil law, Molla Sali was to inherit the whole estate after her husband passed away in 2008, but the domestic court instead applied Sharia law and Sali was deprived of three-quarters of her inheritance. Her husband's will, which drawn according to Greek law, was also deemed invalid.
So in 2014, 68-year-old Sali took her case to the ECtHR, saying she had suffered a difference in treatment on grounds of religion.
The landmark ruling said the mandatory application of Sharia law in Greece violated Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, adding that it was the only country in Europe, up until now, to apply Shariah law "to a section of its citizens against their wishes."
"That was particularly problematic in the present case because the application of Sharia law had led to a situation that was detrimental to the individual rights of a widow who had inherited her husband's estate in accordance with the rules of civil law but who had then found herself in a legal situation which neither she nor her husband had intended," the court said.
However, the ECtHR has not yet issued a decision on what, if any, penalty it will apply to Greece.
Legislation concerning minorities in Greece was based on international treaties drawn up in the 1920s following the wars that broke out in the aftermath of the Ottoman Empire's collapse. Civil cases involving the 100,000-strong Muslim minority in northeastern Greece were dealt with under Islamic law and presided over by a single official, a state-appointed Muslim cleric, or mufti.
But in January this year, the Greek parliament voted to limit the powers of Islamic courts. The new law, which was backed by the country's largest political parties, eliminated rules referring many civil cases involving members of the Muslim community to Shariah law. It had been brought to parliament following Sali's 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 Shariah law in cases of inheritance, divorce or marriage can only occur if all concerned agree.