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Islamic Law Becomes Optional for Greek Muslims in Family Disputes

The Greek Parliament on Tuesday made the practice of Islamic shariah law in family disputes optional for the country’s Muslim minority, changing a century-old legacy.

The legislation will allow Muslim litigants to opt for a Greek court to resolve family disputes rather than appealing to Islamic jurists, known as muftis.

For family law matters, Greek Muslims generally seek recourse to muftis for things like divorce, child custody and inheritance.

The issue has its origins in the period after World War I, and treaties between Greece and Turkey that followed the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The 1920 Treaty of Sevres and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne stipulated that Islamic customs and religious law would apply to thousands of Muslims who suddenly became Greek citizens.

Greece’s roughly 110,000-strong Muslim minority mainly live in Thrace, a poor, rural region in the northeast bordering Turkey.

The issue is complicated by still-tense relations between traditional rivals Greece and Turkey.

Ankara takes a close interest in the Muslim community, which it sees as Turkish, although it also includes Pomaks and Roma, and frequently complains on its behalf to Athens, which considers it interference in Greece’s domestic affairs.

In August, the Greek parliament approved plans to build a mosque and allocated 946,000 euros ($1.1m) of public money to build on land owned by the Greek navy.

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