Role of Islam in regional constitution sparks debate
Report, IRIN, 19 June 2006
ARBIL - Islamic parties in northern Iraq have called for Islam to be a "principal source of legislation" in the regional constitution and have criticised the secular character of the current draft charter.
Their statements followed the launch of discussions on the formulation of a draft constitution for the country's northern, majority-Kurd region.
"As in the federal constitution, we want Islamic Law to be a principal source of legislation since the majority of people in Kurdistan are Muslim," said Zana Rostayi, a parliamentarian from the Sunni Kurdistan Islamic Group.
Rostayi added that his party - together with the Kurdistan Islamic Union, another major Sunni party - will campaign against the draft and "won't concede to a constitution that doesn't consider Islam as a primary source of legislation".
The second article of the national constitution, ratified in October 2005, states that Islamic law constitutes a principal source of legislation and recognises Islam as the official religion of the state.
The draft regional constitution, by contrast, stipulates - in one of only two references to Islam - that, "This constitution safeguards the Islamic identity of the people of Kurdistan and respects other religions and guarantees their freedom".
The draft will soon be released by parliament after further discussions with political parties and public figures. The document will then be referred to parliament for final ratification.
Some local human rights officials, however, voice concern that the inclusion of Islamic Law in the constitution will serve to hamper women's rights, particularly in issues like divorce and inheritance. "A constitution with Islam as a major source of legislation would be an encroachment on civil rights, especially those of women," said Narmin Qaradaghi, general director of the human rights ministry within the Kurdish Regional Government. "And it would serve to strengthen the patriarchal structure of society."
Other rights groups, though, say there is room for compromise. "Since the majority of people in Kurdistan are Muslim, Islam should be a source of legislation," said Ali Karim, head of the Kurdistan Institute for Human Rights.
"Nevertheless, the constitution has to be a modern one, and conform to all the international documents and conventions on human rights."
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