Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Non-Muslims' Constitution Fears

Religious minorities concerned about prospect of enlarged role for Islam in new constitution.
By Yaseen Omer

Members of Iraq’s non-Muslim population say they are worried about how their rights might be affected if Islam were to be included as the main source of legislation in the country’s new constitution.


Under the Transitional Administrative Law, TAL, currently in place, Islam is taken into account as a source of legislation. But religious Shia, among others, are pushing for a stronger role for their religion in governance.


Jalalaldin al-Saghir, a representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and a member of the parliamentary constitution committee, argues that Iraq’s Islamic identity should be preserved.


“The constitution should state that Islam is the basic source for legislation,” he said.


But it is this proposition that has met with opposition from the roughly ten per cent of Iraq’s population that is non-Muslim, most of this minority being made up of Assyrian, Roman Catholic and Chaldean Christians.


Other non-Muslim communities in Iraq include Yazidis – whose religion incorporates elements of Islam and Christianity – as well as Kakayees and Mandaeans, whose faiths both trace back to an ancient religious tradition.


Salim Toma Kako, a leader in the Assyrian Democratic Movement, worries that if Islam is cited as the main source of legislation, Christian practices will not be recognised and non-Muslims will have to obey the Sharia, or Islamic law.


“We don’t have any problems with the religion of Islam,” he said. “We have problems with interpretations of Islam.”


Segvan Murad Jundi, a member of the Yazidi Affairs Office in Sulaimaniyah, says that the only way to guarantee the protection of people’s rights is to have a secular constitution.


“If Islam is to be identified as the sole source of legislation, we won’t vote for the constitution,” he said.


Iraq’s non-Muslim population are also concerned that giving a stronger role to Islam could lead to an expansion in Muslim power, perhaps culminating in the formation of an Islamic state like Iran.


“We think having Islam as the sole source of legislation is a big injustice against Iraq and this will lead us to a dark future,” said Zadooq Adam, a member of the political bureau of the Beth-Nahrain National Union, part of the Chaldo-Assyrian Democratic Coalition of Rafidain list.


Kheiri Shangali, general manager of Yazidi affairs at the ministry of religion in Iraqi Kurdistan, says that during Ottoman rule, 1.5 million Yazidis were killed in the name of Islam. Now he is afraid history will repeat itself.


“The most frightful thing is for Sharia to become like that of Afghanistan,” he said. “If so, there is a possibility of annihilating Yazidis again.”


Others are careful to point out that they do not object to Islam playing a strong role in this Muslim-majority nation. “But identifying Islam as the sole source of legislation is a big threat to all religions, even to Muslims themselves,” argued Rebwar Bawa Weli, a Kakayee. “We have to work with a new mentality as we live in the 21st century.”


Dr Muhammed Omer Mawlood, a member of the TAL drafting committee, says he has no problem with Islam being the official religion of Iraq.


But he agreed that citing Islam as the main source of legislation could be a dangerous move. “Non-Muslims have a right to be concerned,” he said, “because this might become a factor in their persecution in the future.”


Yaseen Omer and Hemi Baqir are IWPR trainees in Sulaimaniyah. Dhiya Rasan, an IWPR trainee in Baghdad, also contributed to this report.


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