The Role of Islam in the New Iraq
The parliamentary triumph of the Shi'ite parties supported by a clergy that was once denigrated and spied upon by Saddam Hussein has provoked a political debate on the role of Islam in new Iraq. After 84 years of secular government, the likely future Premier of Iraq, Ibrahim Jaafari, has said in an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel that he is in favor of Sharia while assuring that its application would not be as strict as in Saudi Arabia. His party, the al-Da'wa al-Islamiyya (Dawa), like its rival, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), spent years in exile in Iran and does not conceal the desire to build an Islamic state.
As a Muslim living in a Muslim state, amidst other Muslims, I would like to see Islam observed, says Jawad al-Maliki, Dawa's Number 2, who added that Islam will be imposed only if it is the will of the people.
A recent opinion poll says he's partially right. 48% believe that religion should play a role in government against 46% who favor separation of religion and state, while only 4% favor the imposition of Sharia.
For the time being the debate is focused on the Fundamental Law, which stipulates that Islam is "a source for legislation". The secular parties remain attached to the inclusion of similar wording into the Permanent Constitution, which must be drafted and adopted before the end of the year.
Outgoing Premier Allawi wrote in a letter released last weekend intended to outline his conditions for participation in the new government. In it, Allawi said that the Shi'ite clergy does has no place in government. The letter was actually a virulent attack on the Shi'ite clergy led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who played a major role in the the 30 January elections and in the victory of the United Iraqi Alliance which obtained 146 seats out of 275 in the National Assembly. Even if this religious figure, emblematic of Iraqi Shi'ites, has never explicitly demanded the imposition of Sharia, he hopes that laws will not contradict the principles of Islam.
But for the Muslim clergy and its supporters, it is a question of redressing the erosion of their power by the state beginning with the revolution led in 1958 by Abdel Karim Kassem.
In December 2003, the religious parties, led by SCIRI's Abdel Aziz Hakim of SCIRI, attempted to revoke the 1959 law concerning personal status which imposes the rules to be observed by religious courts concerning marriage, divorce and inheritance. The law granted judges little marginal discretion in interpreting Sharia, gave women equal rights in a divorce proceedings and placed religious courts under the control of civilian courts. For the clergy, such measures, beginning as early as the 1921 revolution, have sapped their influence.
In the next few months the religious parties will try once again to formalize their convictions. But it will be difficult to get it adopted. The Constitution not only has to be approved by the majority of Iraqis but can be rejected by only three provinces if the "No" vote against is 2/3.
On the eve of the formation of a new government, Saad Jawa, chairman of the political wing of SCIRI, summarized position of the Shi'ite Islamist camp: No law in violation of Islamic values can be adopted. It's not a question of the beliefs of the clergy but of values which are more than a thousand years old.