Iraqi Church Leaders Fear Imposition of Islamic Law

Iraqi Church leaders are petitioning for the new constitution to ensure the equality of all faiths in Iraq.

As Shiite members of the committee drafting Iraq's new constitution push for a greater role for Islam in civil law, Iraqi Church leaders are petitioning for the new constitution to ensure the equality of all faiths in Iraq.

In a letter signed by leaders of nine Christian denominations, the Iraqi believers expressed their concerns over reports that the Shiite majority are pressing for Islamic law (Shari’a) to be enshrined in the constitution, according to the UK-based Barnabas Fund.

The letter, which was presented on July 14, states: “If there is a move towards the confirmation of the role of the Islamic religion in Iraqi society, then it is only natural to confirm the role of other religions that have been historically established in Iraq. We are only asking for … equality, freedom and equal opportunities and the prevention of racial, religious and denominational discrimination.”

According to the Barnabas Fund, the church leaders are fearful that if Shari’a is given a position in the constitution, Christians and other non-Muslims will face the same kind of discrimination and second-class status which they experience in other countries where the law is based on Shari’a. There are also concerns that a greater role for Islam in civil law could also erode women's rights in such matters as marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Bishop Andreas Abouna, who presented the letter, said that a pro-Shari’a constitution would result in such a massive exodus of Christians from Iraq that the Christian presence could all but disappear.

However, some experts point out that Islamic law, like Jewish law and Christian canon law, means different things to different people in different times and places. In the hands of fundamentalists, it is legally binding on all people of the faith, and even on all people that come under their control. However, in the hands of moderates, the religious law can be moderate, even liberal.

Currently, Iraq is operating under a secular 1959 civil status law that treats every person according to the sect to which he or she belongs. According to the Associated Press, this law will still be in effect even after drafting of Iraq's new constitution - which Iraq said would be ready within two weeks, ahead of the Aug. 15 deadline.

Although the draft constitution has to be completed before the parliamentary deadline, the first two weeks of next month will be for the parliament to discuss the document before it goes to a referendum on Oct. 15.