Islam in Greece

Islam in Greece is represented by two distinct communities; Muslims that have lived in Greece since the times of the Ottoman Empire (primarily in East Macedonia and Thrace) and Muslim immigrants that began arriving in the last quarter of the 20th century, mainly in Athens and Thessaloniki. Muslims in Greece are mainly immigrants from The Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran), other Balkan regions (Montenegro, Turkey, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina) & North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt).

Islam in Europe
by percentage of country population[1]
North Macedonia
  < 1%

Muslims in GreeceEdit

Young Greeks at the Mosque (Jean-Léon Gérôme, oil on canvas, 1865); this oil painting portrays Greek Muslims at prayer in a mosque).

The Muslim population in Greece is not homogeneous, since it consists of different ethnic, linguistic and social backgrounds which often overlap. The Muslim faith is the creed of several ethnic groups living in the present territory of Greece, namely the Pomaks, ethnic Turks, certain Romani groups, and Greek Muslims particularly of Crete, Epirus, and western Greek Macedonia who converted mainly in the 17th and 18th centuries. The country's Muslim population decreased significantly as a result of the 1923 population exchange agreement between Greece and the new Turkish Republic, which also uprooted approximately 1.5 million Greeks from Asia Minor. Many of the Muslims of Northern Greece were actually ethnic Greek Muslims from Epirus and Greek Macedonia, whereas the Muslims of Pomak and ethnic Turkish origin (the Western Thrace Turks) from Western Thrace were exempt from the terms of the population exchange. Successive Greek governments and officials consider the Turkish-speaking Muslims of Western Thrace as part of the Greek Muslim minority and not as a separate Turkish minority. This policy is aimed to give the impression that the Muslims of the region are the descendants of Ottoman-era ethnic Greek converts to Islam like the Vallahades of pre-1923 Greek Macedonia and so thereby avoid a possible future situation in which Western Thrace is ceded to Turkey on the basis of the ethnic origin of its Muslim inhabitants.[2]

The term Muslim minority (Μουσουλμανική μειονότητα Musulmanikí mionótita) refers to an Islamic religious, linguistic and ethnic minority in western Thrace, which is part of the Greek administrative region of East Macedonia and Thrace. In 1923, under the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne, the Greek Muslims of Epirus, Greek Macedonia, and elsewhere in mainly Northern Greece were required to immigrate to Turkey; whereas, the Christians living in Turkey were required to immigrate to Greece in an "Exchange of Populations". The Muslims of western Thrace and the Christians of Istanbul and the islands of Gökçeada and Bozcaada (Imvros and Tenedos) were the only populations not exchanged. For more information on this community, see Muslim minority of Greece.

20050327 25 March Greek national day Mufti Meco Cemali

There is also a small Muslim community in some of the Dodecanese islands (Turks of the Dodecanese) which, as part of the Italian Dodecanese of the Kingdom of Italy between 1911 and 1947, were not subjected to the exchange of the population between Turkey and Greece in 1923. They number about 3,000, some of whom espouse a Turkish identity and speak Turkish, while others are the Greek-speaking descendants of Cretan Muslims. The community is strongest in the city of Rhodes and on the island of Kos (in particular the village of Platanos).[3]

The Pomaks are mainly located in compact villages in Western Thrace's Rhodope Mountains. While the Greek Roma community is predominantly Greek Orthodox, the Roma in Thrace are mainly Muslim.

Estimates of the recognized Muslim minority, which is mostly located in Thrace, range from 98,000 to 140,000 (between 0.9% and 1.2%), while the illegal immigrant Muslim community numbers between 200,000 and 500,000.[citation needed], predominantly in the area of Asea[4] Albanian immigrants to Greece are usually associated with the Muslim faith, although mostly, or all, are secular in orientation.[5]

Immigrant Muslims in GreeceEdit

The first immigrants of Islamic faith, mostly Egyptians, arrived in the early 1950s from Egypt, and are concentrated in the country's two main urban centres, Athens and Thessaloniki. Since 1990, there has been a large increase in the numbers of immigrant Muslims from various countries of the Middle East, North Africa, as well as from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Somalia and Muslim Southeast Asia. However, the bulk of the immigrant Muslim community has come from the Balkan states, specifically from Albania, Albanian communities in North Macedonia, and other former Yugoslav republics. Since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, Albanian workers started immigrating to Greece, taking low wage jobs in search of economic opportunity, and bringing over their families to settle in cities like Athens and Thessaloniki.

The majority of the immigrant Muslim community resides in Athens. In recognition of their religious rights, the Greek government approved the building of a mosque in July 2006. In addition, the Greek Orthodox Church has donated 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2), worth an estimated $20 million, in west Athens for the purpose of a Muslim cemetery.[5][6] Greece’s government gave the green light to begin construction in 2016, but both commitments continued to remain dead letters by 2017. However, Kostas Gavroglou – Greece’s education and religious minister from 2016 to July 2019 – says the country’s first state-sponsored mosque is likely to begin operations in September 2019.[7] Still, the country faces strong opposition from some of its citizens, who consider mosques to be a means of spreading Islam in Europe. Despite the fact that the construction and operation of this Athenian mosque is within legal regulations, the strong ideological spread of the Greeks will likely perpetuate the controversy.[8] If the mosque is built, it will end an almost two-century wait.[9]

For prayers that are required to be performed in congregation, the Thessaloniki Muslim community meets inside apartments, basements, and garages for worship.[10] In addition, there are very few Muslim cemeteries – forcing some to travel hundreds of kilometres to bury their dead.[11]

In 2010, an unofficial mosque on the island of Crete was targeted in the night without any casualties, likely as a result of anti-Muslim sentiments in the Greek far-right,[12] but no suspects had been identified.[13] There has been anti-Muslim rhetoric from certain right-wing circles, including the Golden Dawn party.[14][15][16] A survey published in 2019 by the Pew Research Center found that 37% of Greeks had a favorable view of Muslims, whereas 57% had an unfavourable view.[17]

Conversion to ChristianityEdit

There are two groups who have converted in large numbers from Islam to Christianity. The first group are the Turks of the Dodecanese. Being seen as a remnant of the former Ottoman Empire and culturally similar to an alien country (Turkey), many Turks do not show interest in the Islamic faith in order not to face discrimination of the Greek state.[18]

The second case are the Albanian immigrants who have shown a preference for rapid assimilation into Greek culture. They form the largest migrant group in Greece, and the majority do not want to be identified as Albanian. Many Albanian newcomers change their Albanian name to Greek ones and their religion from Islam to Orthodoxy:[19][20] Even before emigration, many Muslim people in southern Albania presented themselves as Greeks and adopted Greek names instead of Albanian Muslim ones in order to avoid discrimination before immigrating. As such, they seek to increase their chances to get a Greek visa and work in Greece.[21][22][20] After migrating to Greece, they get baptized and change their Muslim or Albanian names in their passports to Greek ones.[20]

Application of Islamic law in GreeceEdit

In Greece, Islamic law can be applied in two different situations. One of the two, like in many other countries, is used in the case of private international law when the utilization of a foreign law controlling family relations that may be religious is used due to conflict rules. The second case refers to Greece only, as the only country in the European Union with Islamic religious courts.[23] There have been many international conventions between Greece and Turkey starting in 1881, which have dealt with the Greek minority in Turkey and the Turkish minority in Greece. Consequently, the Mufti, as a religious leader of all the Muslims in Greece, was given power by law to make decisions regarding the personal status of the Muslim minority. This was still the case in Western Thrace, in the northeast of Greece, until 2018, when the laws were largely limited.[23] Even though this law is restricted to only about 120,000[23] Greek citizens, which represent this minority, the law can be viewed as a certain section of the national Greek legal system.[24]

On January 9, 2018, the domain of Islamic religious courts for the Muslim minority was restricted when the legislation was passed. It was decided that the courts will have a limited reach when ruling about matters related to family law. According to the law, this includes child custody, inheritance, and divorce, but only when all of the individuals comply. When that is not the case and not all of the individuals comply with the Islamic religious courts settling a dispute, regular Greek Civil law is in place. A woman from Komotini named Chatize Molla Sali lodged a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and that is when the law came into the spotlight. She went against Greece due to a dispute over inheritance rights with the sisters of the deceased husband. After her appeal was accepted by the secular justice system of Greece, her win was overruled by the Supreme Court, stating that no one other than a Mufti has the competency to decide on the issues related to inheritance in the Muslim community.[23]


Greece and Turkey signed the Convention of Istanbul in 1881, which was the first groundwork for the Islamic religious courts. As the Ottoman Empire was slowly losing its European territories, it lost most of Thessaly, which is central Greece today, due to this convention. On the other hand, this convention provided the remaining Muslim population with a set of rights, which allowed them freedom of religion and the survival of Muslim religious courts, which were to keep their legitimacy and make decisions on issues related to religion. Those issues often refer to family and succession law, which fall under the personal status. At the end of the first Balkan war in 1913, Greece and Turkey signed the Athens Treaty of Peace. Greece has conquered new areas, primarily Macedonia and Epirus, and pushed Turkey further away, which left many Turks and other Muslims in Greece’s new territories. This new convention protected them and it gave power to the Mufti over laws regarding family and succession among the Muslim population. Some of the laws that were passed in order to enforce these Conventions were later repealed; others have stayed in force, but the laws that were introduced after the most important convention have been limited only recently in 2018.[23] The Convention of Lausanne in 1923, applied to entire Greece except for the Dodecanese islands. Greece and Turkey signed the convention, agreeing that all of the issues related to the personal status of minorities should be dealt with according to religious law and not the civil one. Religious courts were not addressed in this convention, but it left room for the possibility of future different regulations of these questions. This was deemed possible only in case a special commission is formed in order to represent the minority and make decisions. In 1926 this happened in Turkey as it repealed the role of the religious law. Minorities agreed to annul their previous special status and be subject to the new The Turkish Civil Code. Greek authorities, on the other hand, have waited for a long time to consider changing laws that address Muslim family matter until 2018, fearful that Turkey would call for amendments to the Lausanne Treaty.[23][24]

Sharia in Western ThraceEdit

Muftis make decisions on various questions in accordance with Sharia law as the Islamic legal system primarily based on the Qur’an and Islamic tradition. How Sharia law is interpreted and applied depends on Islamic legal schools of thought and they are often very different from one another. The Muslims of Western Thrace are far from homogenous and vary both ethnically and religiously. Half of these Muslims are of Turkish origin followed by Pomaks and Roma, and the vast majority professes Sunni Islam, while around 10% are from the Sufi Bektashi order. Despite these differences among this Muslim minority of Greece, they all seem to mostly agree on the important aspects of Islamic law regarding their personal status, which is namely considered to be Hanafi law as it was in the Ottoman Empire. There are, on the other hand, areas of conflict between the basis of Sharia family law and both Greek and international legal systems. One of the two areas is the principle of equality of the sexes; Islamic laws that deal with divorce and polygamy prove the unequal treatment of the sexes. The other is the concern for the best interest of the child; there are rules in Islamic law that clash with the rights of the child as guaranteed by the UN Convention that addressed the marriage of minors and child custody.[24]

There were two schools of thought regarding the employment of Islamic law on Muslim communities in Greece. The first and the widespread one states that Sharia law should be applied only to the Muslim community in the Western Thrace region and that other Muslims across Greece (including those on Dodecanese islands) should be under the jurisdiction of the Greek Civil Code, which took effect in 1946. According to the second one, Islamic law should be applied to all Muslims in Greece, regardless of the region in which they live, which is what the Supreme Court held in 1980. It asserted that Mufti being a judge is legally consistent with a concept of a ‘’natural judge’’. In one case after a divorce, when the woman applied for alimony for her child and herself, the jurisdiction was given to the Mufti from Xanthi in Western Thrace because the ex-spouses were Muslims, despite the fact they were both from Athens. In another more recent case of 2007, the Supreme Court proclaimed that Muftis had many issues involving Muslims within their purview, given that Sharia law covers them. Some of them were marriage, divorce, alimony, inheritance, different issues regarding minors, and others.[25]

Molla Sali v. GreeceEdit

The aforementioned Greek citizen called Chatitze (or Hatijah) Molla Sali lived in Komotini, a city located in North-Eastern Greece in the region of ‘East Macedonia and Thrace’. Her deceased husband was also a Greek citizen and he was associated with the Muslim minority of Thrace. After the husband’s death, Molla Sali was entitled to the entirety of his property, including estates in Istanbul and Komotini. The deceased husband had written a testament according to the Greek Civil Law, in which he leaves everything to his wife. However, based on their brother being a member of the Muslim community, the late husband’s sisters decided to litigate. They argued that issues related to the inheritance of property were subject to Islamic and not civil law and that the Mufti was the one who would look into the matter. This would have given the opportunity to other members of the family to claim parts of the deceased’s property. At first, the court disapproved of sister’s claims and in 2011 after an appeal, the court stood by its decision on the grounds that the deceased had written a will, which should be respected as his statutory right as a Greek citizen. Then on 7 October 2013, the judgment was annulled by the Court of Cassation, stating that these kinds of issues related to inheritance should be dealt with within the community and by the Mufti according to Islamic law. Even though the case was remitted afterward, nothing has changed and Molla Sali’s appeal got rejected. Because of this outcome, Molla Sali was set to lose three-quarters of the property bestowed to her by her late husband. Finally, she appealed to the ECHR complaining about the application of Islamic law to her case, emphasizing that her husband’s testament was written in accordance with the Greek Civil Code, which drew a lot of attention outside of Greece.[26] The ECHR in its 2018 ruling, found unanimously that the mandatory application of Sharia law on the Muslim minority to be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), by Greece.[27][28]

The Molla Sali v. Greece case raised many questions regarding basic human rights. Even though the case narrowly connected to inheritance rights, many other general issues were raised because of it. The focus was put both on an individual and his or her right, and also on the position of Sharia law within the countries with a Muslim minority and within a broader European legal network and the ECHR. According to McGoldrick, some of the specific issues raised were: "(i) the relationship between religious and secular law; (ii) the compatibility of Sharia with contemporary-modern human rights standards... ; (iii) the relationship between the individual rights in the ECHR and another human rights treaty which, at least arguably, had as one of its objectives, protecting the minority rights of a group as such; (iv) the nature of minority rights in terms of whether they are mandatory or optional... ; (v) the relationship between individual and group rights... ; (vi) the relationship between religious autonomy and individual equality, and within the latter, gender equality; (vii) the application and interpretation of ECHR non-discrimination obligations in a religious minority protection context."[26]



Muslims have lived within the borders of modern Greece since the Emirate of Crete era (824-961). These earliest followers of Islam were either killed, enslaved or converted to Christianity by missionaries such as Nikon the Metanoeite. Their settlements, mosques and walls were torn down after the Byzantine reconquest of Crete in 961 AD.[29][30]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Religious Composition by Country, 2010-2050". Pew Research Center. 12 April 2015. Retrieved 22 October 2017.
  2. ^ See Hugh Poulton, 'The Balkans: minorities and states in conflict', Minority Rights Publications, 1991
  3. ^ "Lecturer of Turkish language in Rhodes breaks old stereotypes".
  4. ^ Ta Nea 23 April 2010
  5. ^ a b "Greece".
  6. ^ "Failure to settle matter has rankled sensibilities here and abroad - Kathimerini".
  7. ^ "Greece: Athens mosque likely to open by September, official says". Retrieved 2019-11-19.
  8. ^ Tsiachris, Christos. "Is there a legal basis for banning or restricting mosques in Greece and Switzerland?". UNILU/CCCLR Working Paper Series WP 01/14.
  9. ^ Dilouambaka, Ethel. "Is Athens Getting Its First Mosque After A 180-Year Ban?". Culture Trip. Retrieved 2019-11-19.
  10. ^ "Thessaloniki's Turks have no place to worship or bury their dead". Retrieved 2019-11-19.
  11. ^ Dilouambaka, Ethel. "Is Athens Getting Its First Mosque After A 180-Year Ban?". Culture Trip. Retrieved 2019-11-19.
  12. ^ ""Φωτιά στα τζαμιά" διά χειρός Χρυσής Αυγής". 24 June 2016.
  13. ^ "Attentat contre une mosquée en Grèce". Le (in French). Le Figaro. 2 April 2010.
  14. ^ "Rising tide of Islamophobia engulfs Athens". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  15. ^ "Greeks Shout Obscenities, Egg Muslims as they celebrate Eid".
  16. ^ Kitsantonis, Niki (1 December 2010). "Attacks on Immigrants on the Rise in Greece" – via
  17. ^ "European Public Opinion Three Decades After the Fall of Communism — 6. Minority groups". Pew Research Center. 14 October 2019.
  18. ^ "The Muslim Communities in Kos and Rhodes: Reflections on Social Organization and Collective Identities in Contemporary Greece" (PDF).
  19. ^ Armand Feka (2013-07-16). "Griechenlands verborgene Albaner". Wiener Zeitung. Retrieved 2016-03-02. Er lächelt und antwortet in einwandfreiem Griechisch: ‚Ich bin eigentlich auch ein Albaner.‘
  20. ^ a b c Kretsi, Georgina (2005). "Shkëlzen ou Giannis? Changement de prénom et stratégies identitaires, entre culture d'origine et migration [Shkëlzen or Giannis? Change of Name and Identity strategies, between Culture of Origin and Migration]". Balkanologie. 1 (2). para.1-63
  21. ^ Lars Brügger, Karl Kaser, Robert Pichler, Stephanie Schwander-Sievers (2002). Umstrittene Identitäten. Grenzüberschreitungen zuhause und in der Fremde. Die weite Welt und das Dorf. Albanische Emigration am Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts = Zur Kunde Südosteuropas: Albanologische Studien. Vienna: Böhlau-Verlag. p. Bd. 3. ISBN 3-205-99413-2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  22. ^ Kitsaki, Georgia (2011). "Ethnic groups:Identities and relationships in the Greek-Albanian border". In Nitsiakos, Vassilis (ed.). Balkan border crossings: Second annual of the Konitsa Summer School. Lit Verlag. p. 151. ISBN 978-3-643-80092-3. "The recent socio-political changes in Albania have brought on this change. Work in Greece is of vital importance, so in order to acquire entry or a work permit in Greece, you have to declare being a member of the Greek Minority or prove your ‘Greek origin’, which has acquired tremendous social and economic value in Albania. Different identity cards were provided by the Greek state to ‘Greeks by descent’ (homogeneis), i.e. to Albanian citizens claiming Greek origin. A great number of Vlachs in the south-east of Albania have also claimed Greek homogeneis identity based on their pro-Greek social networks and identity idioms of the past. There have even been cases of Albanian Muslims who made similar claims by falsifying their Albanian documents. This is the potential effect of Greek policy, since people in Albania believe that there is discrimination by the Greek state against Muslims or ‘non-Greeks’ in favour of ‘Christians’ or those of ‘Greek origin’."
  23. ^ a b c d e f "Greece limits Islamic Sharia law courts for Muslim minority". Deutsche Welle (DW). Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  24. ^ a b c Tsaoussi, Aspasia; Zervogianni, Eleni (25 May 2011). "Multiculturalism and Family Law: The Case of Greek Muslims". European Challenges in Contemporary Family Law: 209–219. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  25. ^ Greece: Status of Minorities (PDF). The Law Library of Congress. October 2012. pp. 38–39. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  26. ^ a b McGoldrick, Dominic (1 October 2019). "Sharia Law in Europe? Legacies of the Ottoman Empire and the European Convention on Human Rights". Oxford Journal of Law and Religion. 8 (3): 519–522. doi:10.1093/ojlr/rwz026.
  27. ^ "Human rights court rules against Greece in Sharia law case". ekathimerini. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  28. ^ "ECHR condemns Greece over mandatory Sharia Law in Thrace". protothema. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  29. ^ Canard (1971), pp. 1084–1085
  30. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 96

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit