The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Greece must pay a Muslim widow damages for applying Islamic religious law to a dispute over inheritance from her late husband.
STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Chatitze Molla Sali already knew that she’d won the right to inherit her Muslim husband’s full estate two years ago but she had to wait until Thursday to find out just how much the Greek government would have to pay her for illegally denying it to her.
The 13-judge panel at the European Court of Human Rights held that Greece owes the widow more than 50,000 euros ($56,000) for siding with her late husband’s two sisters and for applying “Sharia law to a section of its citizens against their wishes.”
Prior to his death in 2008, Mustafa Molla Sali drew up a will with a Greek notary, in accordance with the country’s civil law, leaving his substantial estate to his wife, including the couple’s apartments and profits from his textile business.
Molla Sali’s sisters were left out of the will and contested it, arguing in Greek court that because their late brother was Muslim, his inheritance should be adjudicated in an Islamic court. Under Islamic law, the sisters would receive three-fourths of the estate.
A lower court sided with the widow, but on appeal Greece’s top court ruled the will was invalid based on 200-year-old treaties between Greece and Turkey.
The high court found that Greek Muslims, a group of around 100,000 who mostly live along the border with Turkey, were governed by the Treaty of Sevres, signed in 1920, and the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923. Both were signed following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, when Turkey wanted to guarantee the rights of Muslim citizens living on what became the Greek side of the border.
The Greek Supreme Court ordered the dispute to be settled by a mufti, an Islamic jurist.
“Her husband decided the way he wanted his inheritance to be passed on. The Greek court should have respected his desire,” Molla Sali’s lawyer, Yannis Ktistakis, told the Associated Press in 2018.
Ktistakis represented Molla Sali before the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, arguing his client was discriminated against on religious grounds.
“If she was not a Muslim, this would not have happened,” he told the court in 2017.
Ktistakis further argued that his client was discriminated against based on her gender: “Her share of the inheritance is smaller because she is a woman.”
While the human rights court ruled in favor of Molla Sali in late 2018, it left the decision on compensation until later. On Thursday, the court held unanimously that Greece owed 51,000 euros ($57,000) in damages plus her expenses.
The case has been widely watched by legal scholars, as it is one of the first instances of an international legal body ruling on the legality of multiple legal systems operating in the same country. It’s also garnered much attention in Greece, where the parliament passed a law limiting the power of Islamic courts in 2018, including a guarantee that Muslims can have their disputes settled before a Greek civil court.