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European Court to determine whether sharia law can overrule domestic law

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The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will today hear a case concerning the application of sharia law to a dispute between Greek citizens who are Muslims.

The Court's decision will determine whether sharia law can have supremacy over a member state’s domestic law.

Christian Concern has intervened in the case because of the importance of the case in European law and its implications for countries across Europe, including the UK.


'Inheritance dispute'

The case is Molla Sali v. Greece (application no. 2042/14) and involves an inheritance dispute.

Ms Molla Sali inherited the entire estate of her husband when he died under the terms of a will that he had drawn up in accordance with Greek law.

Two sisters of her husband are claiming that since her husband was a Muslim, the inheritance should be allocated according to sharia law, adjudicated by the mufti.

There are provisions for sharia law to be applied to Greek nationals who are Muslims.

Rulings of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights cannot be appealed.

A ruling at this level that sharia law can have supremacy over a member state’s domestic law could have dire effects on the Council of Europe’s 47 member states, including the United Kingdom.


Our intervention

The court granted Christian Concern permission to intervene in the case. Our application to intervene relied on the joint expertise of Christian Concern, in relation to Islam and sharia law, and of the Christian Legal Centre, in relation to international human rights law.

Christian Concern's intervention consists of a ten-page legal brief co-authored by:

  • Andrea Williams, Chief Executive, Christian Concern
  • Roger Kiska, Legal Adviser, Christian Legal Centre
  • Tim Dieppe, Head of Public Policy, Christian Concern
  • Yassir Eric, Professor for Islamic Studies at the European School for Culture and Theology.

The brief is available online here and will be used in the court’s analysis of the case.

The intervention also attached a peer-reviewed expert opinion on the incompatibility of sharia law with Western legal tradition, authored by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, which is available here.

Discriminatory nature of sharia law

Christian Concern's intervention highlights various problems arising from the accommodation of sharia law in the UK. A network of sharia courts is operating across the country, creating a de facto parallel legal system which undermines the fundamental principle of one law for all.

It also highlights the discriminatory nature of sharia law which means, for example, that non-Muslims cannot inherit from Muslims, and females only inherit half of what is due to males.

Sharia law is fundamentally incompatible with human rights, and our intervention explains that the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights restricts freedom of speech and freedom of religion, as does the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights.

Sharia law incompatible with human rights

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali commented:

“Sharia law is based on the inequality of certain kinds of persons whereas western public law is based on the equality of all persons. Muslims, like people of any other faith, are free to practise their faith, but because sharia is incompatible with western public law, it should not be given supremacy over the domestic law of western states.

“The specific case in this part of Greece is based on an historic agreement that should not be applied to the rest of Europe or taken as a precedent for the rest of Europe.”

The Law Lords in the UK ruled in 2008 that sharia law is wholly incompatible with human rights legislation.

The European Court of Human Rights has also previously ruled that sharia law is incompatible with human rights. In a 2003 judgment, the court affirmed:

“It is difficult to declare one’s respect for democracy and human rights while at the same time supporting a regime based on sharia, which clearly diverges from Convention values, particularly with regard to its criminal law and criminal procedure, its rules on the legal status of women and the way it intervenes in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts.”

This incompatibility of sharia law with Convention values was reaffirmed more recently in a 2013 judgment.

Hearing in December

The case is set to be heard in the Grand Chamber on 6 December 2017. It may be some months before a judgment is handed down.

Tim Dieppe, Christian Concern's Head of Public Policy, commented:

"We hope that our intervention will help to show the judges that they should not allow sharia law to overrule a member state’s domestic law."


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