Iraq Seeks New Religious Policies

8/2/2005 7:39:59 PM

Religion will play a major role in Iraq's new constitution, which might designate Islam as "the main source" of legislation in the country, stated members of the committee drafting the document.

Committee members said Wednesday at a news conference that part of the current draft constitution states no law will be approved that contradicts "the rules of Islam" – language that could potentially see Iraq transformed into an Islamic state, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The language also goes further than U.S. officials had wanted in defining the role religion will play in shaping the country's laws, the Tribune continued. It could also open the door to a strongly Islamic style of governance in the future.

According to the U.K.-based Barnabas Fund, some church leaders are fearful that if Islamic law is given a position in the constitution, Christians and other non-Muslims will face the same kind of discrimination and second-class status which they experience in other countries where the law is based on Islamic law, or Shari’a.

However, Humam Hamoodi – the Shiite clergyman who chairs the constitutional committee - said there would be no role for clergy enshrined in Iraq's constitution as it is in places such as Iran, where a powerful council of unelected clergy vets laws to ensure they comply with Islam.

"Clergymen will not interfere in the government's work," he said, according to the Tribune. "The constitution will not impose anything on people."

Members of Iraq's small Christian community as well as other religious minorities will be free to practice their religion, he said.

The president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, similarly told the London-based Guardian that Iraq would enshrine federalism, democracy and pluralism.

"Human rights and individual liberties, including religious freedom, will be at the heart of the new Iraq," the president said at his residence in Baghdad.

Under the former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, an interim constitution provided for individual freedom of religion if it did not violate "morality and public order." However, in practice, the regime severely limited freedom of religion, repressed the religious leadership of Shi'a Muslims, and sought to exploit religious differences for political purposes, according to the 2003 International Religious Freedom Report released by the U.S. Department of State.

The report found that the Government exercised repressive measures against any religious groupings or organizations that were deemed as not providing full political and social support to the regime.

The regime systematically killed senior Shi'a clerics, desecrated Shi'a mosques and holy sites, interfered with Shi'a religious education, prevented Shi'a adherents from performing their religious rites, and fired upon or arrested Shi'a who sought to take part in their religious processions. Security agents were reportedly stationed at all the major Shi'a mosques and shrines and searched, harassed, and arbitrarily arrested worshipers.

Although Shi'a Muslims are the largest religious group, Sunni Muslims dominated economic and political life during the Hussein regime.

The Government also severely restricted or banned outright many Shi'a religious practices and for decades conducted a brutal campaign of murder, summary execution, arbitrary arrest, and protracted detention against religious leaders and followers of the majority Shi'a Muslim population and sought to undermine the identity of minority Christian (Assyrian and Chaldean) and Yazidi groups.

Committee members said Wednesday at a news conference that part of the current draft constitution states no law will be approved that contradicts "the rules of Islam" – language that could potentially see Iraq transformed into an Islamic state, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The language also goes further than U.S. officials had wanted in defining the role religion will play in shaping the country's laws, the Tribune continued. It could also open the door to a strongly Islamic style of governance in the future.

According to the U.K.-based Barnabas Fund, some church leaders are fearful that if Islamic law is given a position in the constitution, Christians and other non-Muslims will face the same kind of discrimination and second-class status which they experience in other countries where the law is based on Islamic law, or Shari’a.

However, Humam Hamoodi – the Shiite clergyman who chairs the constitutional committee - said there would be no role for clergy enshrined in Iraq's constitution as it is in places such as Iran, where a powerful council of unelected clergy vets laws to ensure they comply with Islam.

"Clergymen will not interfere in the government's work," he said, according to the Tribune. "The constitution will not impose anything on people."

Members of Iraq's small Christian community as well as other religious minorities will be free to practice their religion, he said.

The president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, similarly told the London-based Guardian that Iraq would enshrine federalism, democracy and pluralism.

"Human rights and individual liberties, including religious freedom, will be at the heart of the new Iraq," the president said at his residence in Baghdad.

Under the former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, an interim constitution provided for individual freedom of religion if it did not violate "morality and public order." However, in practice, the regime severely limited freedom of religion, repressed the religious leadership of Shi'a Muslims, and sought to exploit religious differences for political purposes, according to the 2003 International Religious Freedom Report released by the U.S. Department of State.

The report found that the Government exercised repressive measures against any religious groupings or organizations that were deemed as not providing full political and social support to the regime.

Although Shi'a Muslims are the largest religious group, Sunni Muslims dominated economic and political life during the Hussein regime.

The Government also severely restricted or banned outright many Shi'a religious practices and for decades conducted a brutal campaign of murder, summary execution, arbitrary arrest, and protracted detention against religious leaders and followers of the majority Shi'a Muslim population and sought to undermine the identity of minority Christian (Assyrian and Chaldean) and Yazidi groups.