By Mehmet Hatipoglu
KOMOTINI, Greece (AA) - The recent vote in the Greek parliament on changing the application of Sharia law in Greece has sparked mixed reactions from the Muslim Turkish minority in Western Thrace.
On Tuesday, the parliament voted in favor of a bill that changes how Islamic law is applied in the country's Western Thrace region, which is home to around 150,000 Muslim Turks.
With the new legislation, Muslim Turks in Western Thrace will choose between civil courts or Sharia courts to settle family issues and inheritance matters.
Elected Mufti of Komotini (Gumulcine) and Chairman of Turkish Minority of Western Thrace Advisory Board Ibrahim Serif told Anadolu Agency the new legislation was a negative development for minority rights.
"The minority has lost again," Serif said, adding there would now be a "great" confusion over jurisdiction of the courts.
He said the legislation raised questions on the mufti election issue and it might prevent mufti elections, which is a legal right of the minority guaranteed under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.
On the other hand, lawmaker Ilhan Ahmet, who is also a member of the minority, termed the new legislation a positive development, calling for the process to continue.
Ahmet said the new law did not call for complete abolishment of Islamic law.
"We evaluate the law as a positive step. On the other hand, we expect mufti elections to be within the framework of respect for the minority's own values and treaties," he added.
The election of muftis by a broad number of Western Thrace Turks was debated during the parliamentary session on Tuesday, although the new legislation 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 the 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.