New Iraqi Constitution Grants Islam Special Role

Iraq's new interim constitution establishes Islam as the nation's official faith and a source of all laws.

The role of Islam in the new constitution has been the subject of conflict for months. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq's government was essentially secular. Since the U.S. war and Hussein's fall, the country's Shiite Muslims have demanded a greater official role for Islam.

Article 12 of the interim Constitution reads, "All Iraqis are equal in their rights without regard to gender, sect, opinion, belief, nationality, religion, or origin, and they are equal before the law. Discrimination against an Iraqi citizen on the basis of his gender, nationality, religion, or origin is prohibited."

But Article 7, Section A asserts, "Islam is the official religion of the State and is to be considered a source of legislation. No law that contradicts the universally agreed tenets of Islam, the principles of democracy...may be enacted during the transitional period. This Law respects the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights of all individuals to freedom of religious belief and practice."

The Constitution is to remain in effect until the Iraqis hold elections and draft a permanent governing charter.

Some U.S. lawmakers are worried that Iraq may eventually become an Islamic theocracy. In January, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) wrote to Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, to request that Iraq's interim document contain a complete guarantee of religious liberty for all.

Shortly after that, Bremer, while speaking at a women's center in Iraq, said he would block any moves to make Islam the backbone of Iraq's laws.