Last month, National Geographic published a photo essay on a Muslim minority community (known as Pomaks) who live in northeastern Greece, in a small, remote region called Western Thrace. What makes this region unique is that it is the only place in the European Union that has Islamic courts that are recognized by the national government—a relic of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne (which provided for the protection of the Muslim minority in Western Thrace as well as the Greek Orthodox Christian minority in Constantinople, Imbros, and Tenedos). These courts only have jurisdiction over family law matters, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. In January of this year, the national government passed legislation formally giving Muslims in Western Thrace the option to use civil courts instead of Islamic courts, in response to concerns about women’s rights. The photo essay sought to capture the impact of “traditional religious guidelines, challenging economic woes, and shifting gender roles” on Pomak cultural identity.
The treatment of women under Islamic law in Western Thrace was highlighted in a SHARIAsourceBlog post in January, which provided a summary of recent scholarship on this subject:
To some observers, this system [of Islamic courts] limits Muslim women’s access to equal justice under the laws of Greece, because the Islamic laws governing their lives are uncodified and often permit differential treatment. This arrangement results in a type of “legal disorder,” Tsavousoglou argues, that twists legal pluralism into a “dysfunctional mechanism” for legal regulation. Moreover, the disparities that the different systems operating in a single region create are, he argues, unconstitutional under Greek law.