Across Europe, the practice of Islamic family law is under pressure


A GREEK Muslim woman who lost out because her late husband’s will was adjudicated by Islamic law has been vindicated by the European Court of Human Rights, in a ruling that could have implications for other parts of Europe. The decision, issued on December 19th by 17 judges from across Europe, upheld the complaint of Hatice Molla Sali that she had suffered unfair discrimination. She said she had forfeited three-quarters of the inheritance she expected from her spouse, because in the course of a Greek legal battle, his sisters had successfully invoked the principles of sharia to claim their rights to a substantial share of the estate. That was despite the fact that the husband had drawn up a civil will bequeathing his possessions to his widow.

The case highlights the unusual status of the long-established Muslim minority in Western Thrace, a region of northern Greece which adjoins the land border with Turkey. Under the Treaty of Lausanne concluded in 1923, this community (along with the Greeks of Istanbul) was excluded from a compulsory exchange of religious minorities that was enforced in other parts of the region. The community was also guaranteed some respect for its cultural rights. In practice, this has meant that the Thracian Muslims’ marital and inheritance matters have generally been dealt with under Islamic law, with a mufti adjudicating where necessary.

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