Iraq’s draft constitution borders on sharia rule, debate needed, says expert

.- An open debate among Americans and Iraqis about Islamic sharia law is critically needed as Iraq prepares to finalize its constitution, which points to the creation of a state governed by sharia, says religious freedom expert Nina Shea.

The draft constitution is expected to be completed next week and be put to a referendum in three months.

“This plan for the radical transformation of Iraq has been introduced into the draft, without public debate or a legislative mandate,” said the director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom. “Terrorist violence and neighborhood-based Shiite vigilantism have also worked to mute a public critique of sharia rule.”

Shea is also a member of the USAID-funded International Advisory Group to assist the Iraqi Constitutional Committee. She says the debate should be a priority for Americans and for Iraqis, who like most Muslims have not lived under sharia and may not understand its implications.

According to Shea, Iraq’s draft constitution:

  • stipulates that "sharia is the main source of law"
  • includes a "repugnancy clause" that states no law can contradict Islam
  • limits freedom of speech, religion and association with the phrase "in accordance with the law," which Shea says can be interpreted as sharia
  • states that women’s equality must not violate sharia law
  • jeopardizes a woman’s ability to defend herself in court, since extreme sharia states give less weight to women's testimony, as well as her rights regarding marriage, inheritance and child custody
  • fails to formulate religious freedom as a right of the individual. 

She pointed out that the draft does not specify who will interpret sharia, “leaving the door wide open for unelected clerics or other Islamic experts to supplant the legislature and exercise unbridled power to veto and even make laws.”

“Iraq's current Transitional Administrative Law banned detentions for ‘political or religious beliefs,’ but that provision has now been dropped,” said Shea, who also serves as vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

She warned that in extreme sharia states, religious minorities, including Muslim minorities, are treated as a danger to society.

The draft's failure to formulate religious freedom as a right of the individual will likely reinforce prosecutions for blasphemy and remove Iraqi women’s right to “opt out of religious control,” she added.

“Extreme sharia states tend to foster anti-Americanism… [and] requires an official posture of hostility toward the West,” Shea said.

“No American blood should be spilt for the creation of a sharia rule state,” she concluded.

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