Women, Christians Protest Over Islamic Law in Iraqi Constitution

Reports that Iraq's draft constitution could give Islamic law a powerful role in society have sparked strong reactions by Christian and women's groups, who fear the move will greatly curb religious and women's rights.

Last week, dozens of women gathered at a busy intersection in Baghdad, handing out flyers to passing motorists and pedestrians and waving banners that read, "We want to be equal to everybody. We refuse to be second-class citizens."

According to the Washington, DC-based Voice of America, the demonstration was in response to reports that Shi'ite Muslim members of the committee drafting Iraq's new constitution were pushing for Islam to be the major source for law in Iraq. Although Shi'a Islam is only the second largest Islamic denomination, Shi'ites are the majority in Iraq and dominate the 71 member committee drafting Iraq's new constitution.

The head of the Baghdad-based Women's Freedom in Iraq Movement, Yanar Mohammed, told VOA that women in Iraq should not be forced to accept the imposition of Islamic laws, known as Shari'a.

"We are being forced to turn into something like Afghanistan of the Taliban, where Islamic Sharia rules, where a man can have four women in marriage, where he can marry female children, where domestic abuse is a right for a man to discipline his wife, and even where adultery is punishable by killing," said Mohammed.

"A constitution is a political body that regulates people's relationship with the state. Why should it have religion? Why don't people practice their religion in mosques? That's the question," she added.

Last week, Iraqi Church leaders also expressed concerns over reports that the Shiite majority were pressing for Islamic law to be enshrined in the constitution, according to the UK-based Barnabas Fund.

In a letter signed by leaders of nine Christian denominations, the Iraqi believers stated, “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.