By Tony Rigopoulos and Mehmet Hatipoglu
Greece’s parliament voted Tuesday in favor of a bill that will change how Islamic law is applied in the country’s Western Thrace region, which is home to around 150,000 Muslims.
The bill, brought by the government, was supported by a vast majority of Greek parties. All parties voted in favor of the bill except the far-right Golden Dawn party, which opposed it because they said it failed to spell out what powers will be retained by Islamic courts.
With the new legislation, Muslim Turks in Western Thrace will be able to choose between civil courts or Sharia courts to settle family issues and inheritance matters.
The bill was submitted to parliament after a legal inheritance case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights by a Muslim Turkish woman from Thrace.
"The government today is taking an historic step by bringing to Parliament the bill on Sharia which widens and deepens legal and civil equality enjoyed by all Greek men and women without exception," Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said.
MP Huseyin Zeybek, a member of the Muslim Turkish Minority of Western Thrace, told Anadolu Agency that he welcomed the new legislation but is also calling for measures to be taken in the election of muftis.
"There have been statements by the prime minister on the election of muftis. We are also waiting for that...We also want elections to be held at Muslim pious endowments [waqfs]. I believe that the time has come for these wounds to close," Zeybek stressed.
There is a positive atmosphere in the government about the Western Thrace minority, he said, adding he hopes other problems of the minority will also be put on the agenda in the following days.
The election of muftis by a broad number of Western Thrace Turks was debated during the parliamentary session, although the current bill did not address the issue.
The issue was also debated when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Greece last month.
Western Thrace is home to a Muslim Turkish minority of around 150,000 people, where muftis have the jurisdiction to decide on family and inheritance matters of local Muslims.
The mufti election issue has been a chronic problem of the Muslim Turkish minority since 1991.
The election of muftis by Muslims in Greece was regulated in the 1913 Treaty of Athens between Greece and the Ottoman Empire and was later included in Greek Act 2345/1920.
However, Greece annulled this law in 1991 and started appointing the muftis itself.
The majority of Muslim Turks in the cities of Komotini (Gumulcine) and Xanthi do not recognize the appointed muftis and elect their own instead, who are not recognized by the Greek state.