Can Islamic religious sharia law override a country’s domestic law in Europe? That’s a question the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights is weighing.
The Court heard a case this week that involves applying sharia law to a disagreement between citizens of Greece who are Muslims.
Christian Concern, a non-profit organization based in London, intervened in the case “because of the importance of the case in European law and its implications for countries across Europe, including the UK,” according to a news release from the organization.
“We intervened in the case in order to make clear that sharia law is fundamentally incompatible with human rights,” wrote Tim Dieppe, head of public policy of Christian Concern, on the organization’s website. “We hope and pray that the judges will see this and act accordingly.”
Christian Concern describes sharia law as “discriminatory” and says its intervention in this case brings to light different problems stemming from the use of sharia law in the UK.
Dieppe said an estimated 85 sharia courts are already operating in the UK.
“The use of Sharia has led to the promotion of parallel societies within the United Kingdom,” he told CBN News in a statement. “Sharia itself has disproportionately (a)ffected women and gives no legal rights to non-Muslims.”
“The United Kingdom has also become the European hub for Islamic finance,” he continued. “Any Grand Chamber ruling promoting the use of Sharia would only further give weight to the growing segregation of the Muslim community in England and its disassociation with democratic and British values.”
The case, Molla Sali v. Greece, deals with a dispute over an inheritance. After her husband died, Sali inherited his entire estate under his will written according to Greek law.
However, two sisters of the husband say sharia law should govern how the inheritance is divvied up because the man was a member of the Muslim community in Thrace, and the mufti should oversee that process. A mufti is a Muslim legal expert in religious law.
“They relied in particular on the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which provided for Islamic customs and Islamic religious law to be applied to Greek nationals who were Muslims,” a news release from the European Court of Human Rights stated.
“A ruling that sharia law should have precedence over the state’s civil law would set an alarming precedent for the Council of Europe’s 47 Member States, including the United Kingdom,” Dieppe wrote on Christian Concern’s website. “By contrast, a ruling that civil law should overrule sharia law would have legal benefit throughout the Council of Europe.”
“We are hoping that the Court continues its line of precedent that Sharia is incompatible with a democratic society,” he told CBN News. “However, if the Court were to rule that Sharia law should have been applied in Miss Molla Sali’s case, it would in essence be ruling that Sharia can enjoy legal supremacy over a nation’s domestic legislation even where the consent of all of the parties to its use in a matter is not present.”
Back in Greece, the prime minister there announced a bill that would make applying sharia law in Thrace optional. The measure says civil law overrides sharia law, unless everyone involved agrees to abide by sharia law.
Rulings handed down by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights cannot be appealed. The Court is expected to issue its decision in the next few months.