Thursday, August 25, 2005

Islamic Slant in Charter Decried

Iraqi secularists fear that religious hard-liners will gain strength, and rights may erode, from the draft constitution's endorsement of Islam.


BAGHDAD — As Iraq's transitional National Assembly prepares to approve a new draft constitution as early as today, legal experts and some political leaders warned Wednesday that the charter's explicit endorsement of Islam could give religious hard-liners a tight grasp on a country that was once one of the Middle East's most secular.

In an effort to strike a compromise between the nation's religious and secular communities, Iraq's proposed constitution reserves a central place for Islamic law in the legal system while safeguarding personal freedoms and democracy.

But the text's ambiguous language and apparently conflicting provisions left neither side particularly happy, and if approved, the document probably will be the subject of heated debate in Iraqi courts for years to come.

For instance, the draft constitution makes Islam the "official religion" of Iraq and "a main source" of law rather than "the" source, as many Shiite conservatives sought. But secularists remain concerned about a clause that prohibits any law that "contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam."

Critics fear the provision could be used by religious hard-liners to impose a strict version of Islamic law, such as banning alcohol, restricting women's rights and imposing harsh Koranic punishments such as stoning....

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