By provision of the Treaty of Sevres (1920), by which territories in Western and Eastern Thrace, until then under Turkish sovereignty, were conceded to Greece, the Muslim segment of the population of those territories was to remain, for all matters relating to family law under the jurisdiction of their local religious authority, the Mufti, delivering his verdicts in accordance with the rules of religious Islamic law (Sharia). The Treaty of Lausanne, however, which a few years later (1924) replaced the Treaty of Sevres –the latter having never been implemented–, contained no equivalent clause whatsoever, as Islamic law was about to be abolished as a part of the Turkish legal system itself.
Astonishgly though, the Hellenic State maintained the legal jurisdiction of the Mufti and the validity of Islamic Family Law within the Muslim community of Western Thrace.
Thus, Greece became the only corner of the non-Muslim world where the Sharia is recognized –even if only within the confines of Family Law–, as part of the law of the land. This is, of course, flagrantly contrasting with the legal order of all Muslim countries on European soil (Turkey, Albania, Kossovo, Bosnia) and of many –if not most– Muslim countries on other continents. But, first and foremost, it is utterly incompatible with the European Aquis.
It is ironic that even in Turkey where an increasingly authoritarian government, inspired by religious principles, consistently attempts to alter the secular character of Turkish urban society, the reintroduction of Sharia law would be seen as a step too far.
For long years prudish silence has prevailed in Greece, although the issue has, at times, been raised by human rights and gender equality institutions and organizations. This attitude must change; a serious revision of the issue must at long last begin under the portents of the ever-increasing brutality of fundamentalist Islam and the need to protect and promote secular values and gender equality, even in Muslim countries.
The fact that the jurisdictional competence of the Mufti is subject to ratification by the Greek civil courts, should not be seen as a mitigation of such a departure from the most fundamental principles of secular rule of law. The opposite is true: it adds to the impropriety, because decisions based on Sharia Law are ultimately ratified by a European judicial authority – which, in fact, checks only the formal legality of each exercise of the Mufti’s judicial jurisdiction; not the substance of the verdict.
Also, the potential control of constitutionality by Greek courts does not preclude, as one might think, the practical consequences of the critical differences between the philosophy of Muslim religious law and Greek secular law. That a judicial verdict of the Mufti is not directly unconstitutional, does not imply that it is not different from, or even completely opposite to a verdict delivered under the provisions of the Greek Civil Code; it does, nonetheless, remain valid and accepted by Greek Law (i.e. Supreme Court verdict 2113/2009).
Moreover, the usual argument in support of the judicial jurisdiction of the Mufti, that the right to an option in favour of a Greek court is given to the parties, goes against basic legal principles: secular rule of law is not understood be optional on the soil of member-states of the European Union. Finally, this, supposed freedom of choice by the parties, over the jurisdiction of the Greek courts, is, obviously, only theoretical; under the reality of local social conditions, the male members of families, favoured by Sharia family law, “dynamically” impose on wives, daughters and sisters the option of the Mufti’s jurisdiction.
It would stretch the limits of absurdity if a European country continued to impose on a segment of its citizens Muslim religious law – especially where the latter is in the most flagrant opposition to the principles of equality and individual rights, that is, on family law.
The invocation of “historical reasons” would hardly be credible: Sharia Law was abolished in Turkey in 1926. Its survival in Greece could only be perceived as a neglect to adapt the law of the land to a change of the international conventional obligations of the country. “Historical reasons” would never suffice to justify the implementation within the legal system of country member of the EU, rules of family law in violent conflict with the most rudimentary principles of gender equality.
At any rate the imposition of the Sharia on European citizens is an aberration. The importance of expelling it from European soil, is paramount.