Saturday, July 30, 2005

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know
About Sharia States
But Were Afraid To Ask

From Associated Press:

CAIRO, Egypt - The framers of Iraq's constitution appear likely to enshrine Islam as the main basis of law in the country — a stronger role than the United States had hoped for and one some Iraqis fear will mean a more fundamentalist regime.

Arab constitutions vary widely over the role of Islamic law, ranging from Lebanon, where the word "Islam" never appears, to Saudi Arabia, which says the Quran itself is its constitution.

Culture weighs far more heavily than the constitution and law, particularly when it comes to women. In Gulf nations — where the constitutions spell out a slightly lesser role for Islamic law, or Sharia, than in Egypt — women are more segregated and wear more conservative veils covering the entire face.

Kuwait, for example, bans alcohol and only gave women the right to vote this year, in contrast to Egypt, where beer, wine and liquor are sold openly and women have been voting since the early 20th century.

Yet most Gulf nations' constitutions state that Sharia is "a main source" of legislation, while Egypt takes the more definitive phrasing of "the source" — a fine distinction taking on major importance in Iraq.

Former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat amended the constitution during the 1970s, changing the language from "a source" to "the source" to beef up his Islamic credentials rather than to start implementing Sharia.

But in Iraq, some fear the Shiite Muslim leaders who want similar wording in Iraq's constitution hope to lay the groundwork for a more fundamentalist rule, at least in Shiite-dominated areas.

Already, Shiite leaders in some southern cities have tried imposing Islamic-based rules, pressuring women to wear headscarves and forcing liquor stores and music shops to close.

A draft of the constitution published last week in the government Al-Sabah newspaper put Islam as "the main basis" of law. But the constitutional committee — made up of Shiites, Kurds and some Sunnis — is still haggling over the language.

Fouad Massoum, the Kurdish deputy head of the committee, said it will discuss the role of Islam in meetings Sunday.

"We, in the Kurdish coalition, want Islam to be one of the sources of legislation," he said.

Iraq's most prominent Shiite Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has said he wants to preserve a strong role for Islam in the document, but also shuns the direct rule by clerics seen in his country of birth, mainly Shiite Iran.

Mouafak al-Rubaie, a national security adviser and a Shiite, met al-Sistani on Saturday and said the main concern of the Shiite religious leadership is to "preserve the Islamic identity of Iraq and its people, which means preserving a united Iraq and people as a state."

When U.S. administrators ran Iraq, they insisted on language setting Islam as "a source" of legislation when an interim constitution was approved in March 2004. But the same Shiites who backed "the main source" last year now dominate, and American officials have less influence over a sovereign Iraqi government.

Six Arab nations do not mention Sharia at all in their constitutions: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Lebanon and Jordan.

Lebanon, where the Christian population is large and the president is a Christian, is the sole Arab state not to set Islam as the national religion — in fact, the constitution does not use the words "Islam" or "Christianity" at all, a reflection of its 1975-1990 civil war between sectarian militias.

Tunisia has taken one of the most liberal tracks in the Arab world, abolishing polygamy in 1956 and banning the headscarf in schools and other public establishments. Authorities regularly urge women to avoid the hijab, though more women have been donning scarves in past years.

The one area where Islamic law is nearly universal is in personal status law — rules concerning marriage, divorce and inheritance. Sharia allows men to divorce their wives by proclamation and grants daughters half the inheritance that sons receive.

In Syria and Libya, the constitutions are more concerned with laying out their nationalist ideologies — Libya's socialism and Syria's pan-Arabism — than with Islam.

At the opposite extreme lie Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran's constitution lays out its Islamic Republic headed by a supreme leader, supposed to be the country's most knowledgeable Muslim cleric.

Saudi Arabia, home of Islam's most sacred shrines, states in the first article of its Basic Law that the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad's traditions are the nation's constitution, later saying, "Saudi society will be based on the principle of adherence to God's command."