THESSALONIKI, Greece — Ahmet Mete, who was recognized by Turkey but not Greece as the elected mufti for the Muslim population in the Xanthi region, died on Thursday at the age of 57, his family said.
The family did not speak about the cause of death, but Mete had been suffering from cancer for several years.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted in Turkish: “Wishing God’s mercy to Ahmet Mete Hocaefendi, the elected Mufti of Xanthi. My condolences to the family (and) loved ones of our late teacher and all my brothers and sisters living in Western Thrace.”
A mufti is a religious official who decides on matters of Islamic law. In Greece, the Muslim community is subject to Sharia in matters of civil law, particularly family and inheritance law, but not criminal law. Sharia even takes precedence over EU civil law.
According to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the Greek state is responsible for enforcing Sharia law in the Muslim minority and appoints the muftis. But in a game of influence, Turkey has encouraged Greek Muslims to elect their own muftis in the Xanthi and Rodopi regional units.
Greece does not recognize the elected muftis and often takes them to court for “posing as officials”.
Mete, who was born in Xanthi and educated in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, was elected mufti for the region after the death of his predecessor in 2006 by just over 9,500 believers who attended prayer services. He was prosecuted for officiating at a funeral for the second time after being the state-appointed mufti.
The Muslim minority in the Greek province of Thrace is estimated at 117,000 people, or about 32% of the population. Muslims make up 43% of the population in Xanthi.
The Muslim minority is multi-ethnic, consisting of Turks, Bulgarian-speaking Pomaks and Roma, and all have long faced discrimination from the Greek state, including movement restrictions. But Greece abolished discriminatory laws in the 1980s and 1990s and began to emphasize the multi-ethnic composition of the Muslim minority.
Among Greek Muslims, acceptance or rejection of the official or elected mufti is seen as a sign of loyalty to Greece or Turkey.
Nellas reported from Athens, Greece.