The Greek parliament voted earlier this week in favor of a bill that will change how Islamic law is applied in the country's Western Thrace region.
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, brought by the government, was supported by a vast majority of Greek parties. All parties voted in favor of the bill except for the far-right Golden Dawn party, which opposed it because they said the bill failed to spell out what powers will be retained by Islamic courts.
The bill was submitted to Greek 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.
Hüseyin Zeybek, a member of the Muslim Turkish Minority of Western Thrace, told Anadolu Agency that he welcomed the new legislation, but he also called 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 want elections to be held at Muslim pious endowments [waqfs]. I believe that the time has come for these wounds to close," Zeybek stressed.
The issue was brought to the agenda recently by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his visit to Greece in mid-December. He said that while "Muslims in Western Thrace are not allowed to choose their own mufti from their community; this is not the case for the patriarch in Turkey."
"You cannot find any discrimination against Turkish citizens of Greek origin in Turkey. However, in the Western Thrace, even writing the word 'Turkish' is not allowed," the president said, adding that Greece lags far behind in terms of meeting the demands of minorities.
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 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 the country's Act 2345/1920. However, Greece annulled this law in 1991 and started appointing the muftis itself.
President Erdoğan stated that the necessary steps for the minority group have not been taken and therefore the Lausanne Treaty should be updated. After the criticism from the Turkish president, Greek officials have shown signs of willingness to find common ground regarding the issue.
The community of Western Thrace Turks is estimated to have between 100,000 and 150,000 members. The Greek government classifies its Turkish population as "Greek Muslims." Greek authorities prohibit the use of the word "Turkish" in organization names, and several minority groups have been closed down for using the term.
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