Greek Village's Muslim Culture Clashes With Athens

Komotini is a village in the Greek province of Thrace. Its Muslim population dates back to the time of Ottoman occupation. They still speak Turkish and Shariah law still applies to Muslim residents in family matters, a state of affairs that has inflamed some politicians in Athens. Meanwhile, residents say their bigger problem is poverty.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Reporter Joanna Kakissis traveled to the province of Thrace, in northern Greece, to look into a religious controversy. What she found, like so much in Greece these days, was a story about the sad state of the economy.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE TALKING)

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Recep Pacaman greets friends at his family home in the village of Komotini. The male visitor is wearing a prayer cap; the woman, a dark headscarf.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE TALKING)

KAKISSIS: They're speaking Turkish. For 400 years, Greece was ruled by the Ottoman Turks. When the Ottoman Empire finally collapsed after World War I, many Greeks were left in Turkey, and many Turks found themselves in a now-independent Greece. A brutal war followed, and Greeks were expelled from Turkey - and Turks from Greece. But the peace treaty ending the war allowed about 100,000 Turks to stay in Thrace. Recep Pacaman's family was among them.

RECEP PACAMAN: This house is more than 150 years. You can see, you can feel this. It's from Ottoman Empire.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALL TO PRAYER)

KAKISSIS: The Muslim call to prayer rings out, and minarets dot the skyline in Komotini. Cemali Metzo is the mufti here.

CEMALI METZO: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Metzo explains that he studied Islamic law in Saudi Arabia, and now heads the sharia - or Islamic law - court here. He doesn't order beheadings or public stonings. Sharia applies only to Muslims here, and only in family law matters - like a case that lawyer Ahmet Iksan is arguing before the mufti sharia court. He represents a family in an inheritance dispute.

AHMET IKSAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: He explains why his clients want to make sure one daughter of a local ethnic Turk does not inherit his money. The Greek supreme court has ruled that disputes like these can be decided here according to the Quran. An outrageous ruling, says Yiannis Ktistakis. He represents the daughter in this dispute, and has taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg. He wants sharia repealed in Greece.

YIANNIS KTISTAKIS: It's a religious law. Like we don't apply, also, Byzantine law for the same reason, because it's religious anachronistic law.

KAKISSIS: People here, though, seem less perturbed. In this insular society, it's hard to get anyone, particularly women, to comment. Those who do, point out that marriage by sharia law is optional. Lawyer Halil Mustafa opted out of a religious ceremony for his wedding. He's secular, but says the Muslim minority of Thrace have much bigger problems than sharia - like a bleak job market and bad schools.

HALIL MUSTAFA: In the past years, we didn't have the opportunities, or the education, to go to a Greek university because we learned nothing.

KAKISSIS: Mustafa went to university in Turkey. Thrace has record-high unemployment, and Turkey's economy is red hot. Even the ethnic Greeks are asking him about jobs there.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis.

MARTIN: And this NPR News.

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