ARBIL - Disputes have arisen within Kurdistan over the role Islam should play
in a new constitution.
The Iraqi national constitution asserts Islam as the country's official religion
and a major source of legislation. But not everyone wants that for a Kurdish
Secular forces call for a clear separation of religion from state, while the
Islamists insist that Islam should be at least "a principal source of legislation"
if not "the principal one."
Kurds have been running their own affairs for the past 16 years, but without
a constitution. Divisions have surfaced now that they are going to write one.
Article seven in the draft constitution emphasizes the Muslim identity of the
majority of Kurdistan people and recognizes "the principles of Islamic
Sharia as one of the sources of legislation."
Secularists want to omit this reference to Islam and to the "Muslim identity"
of Kurdish society, saying it will restrict the rights of certain social groups
and of religious minorities within Kurdistan.
"Women will be most negatively affected by a religious constitution, and
their rights in terms of divorce, inheritance, testimony, and others will be
violated," says Sozan Shahab, a female member of the Kurdistan parliament
in the regional capital, Arbil.
Shahab, alongside several other activists, has collected more than 4,000 signatures
from Kurdish associations and political parties in a campaign to remove article
Under Islamic rules a woman gets half of a man's share as inheritance, and
it takes the testimony of two women in court to equal that of one man.
An early version of the draft constitution, comprising 160 articles, was released
last September. The Kurdish parliament has received more than 10,000 proposals
to amend the draft. After approval by the regional parliament, the draft will
be put to public referendum in Kurdistan's three provinces, Arbil, Sulaimaniya,
and Dohuk. Lawmakers say this will happen next year or later.
The two powerful Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by
Iraq's president Jalal Talabani, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by
the regional president Massoud Barzani, say they support a secular constitution.
However, during the drafting of Iraq's constitution they conceded to demands
by Shia Islamic parties on a role for Islam.
That presents a serious challenge, since the Iraqi constitution says regional
constitutions should not contradict the national charter. Kurdistan is currently
the only autonomous region within the country.
"But, legally speaking, if you don't mention Islam it does not go against
the Iraqi constitution, since you haven't alluded to its role in any way,"
Islamists are equally fervent in rejecting a secular constitution, which they
see as ignoring the will of the Muslim people of Kurdistan.
"Islam is not a religion that only concerns the personal and moral aspects
of human lives," Hassan Babakr, member of the regional parliament from
the Kurdistan Islamic Group, told IPS. "It is a comprehensive religion
that has its own rules and program for all aspects of life, from social to economic
to political and military."
Since Muslims are the vast majority of the population in Kurdistan, "the
regional constitution should give a strong and prominent role to Islam,"
Babakr, whose party has six seats in parliament, criticized the KDP and the
PUK for falling under "the hegemony of the U.S. and the West over the Islamic
world" and the influence of "American military presence in Iraq."
In what was interpreted as a clear backing for a secular front, Barzani recently
told a gathering of Christians and Yazidis followers of an ancient Mesopotamian
faith that "religion ought to be separated from state."
The Kurdish region is home to tens of thousands of indigenous Christians and
Yazidis, who all oppose an Islam-dominated constitution.
Amid campaigns and counter-campaigns to influence the draft constitution, both
Shahab and Babakr say they will not give up until they find "success."
But they do agree on one thing: they will not vote for a draft in a referendum
if it is not what they want.