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Iraq 'ruling' council backs shari'a law...

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David Traynier

Joined: 14 Jan 2004
Posts: 112
Location: Colchester, UK

Post Post subject: Iraq 'ruling' council backs shari'a law... Reply with quote

This is from 'Riverbend' in Iraq one of Mediachannel's major sources for Iraq news (so much for bring human rights):

Shari'a and Family Law...

On Wednesday our darling Iraqi Puppet Council decided that secular Iraqi family law would no longer be secular- it is now going to be according to Islamic Shari'a. Shari'a is Islamic law, whether from the Quran or quotes of the Prophet or interpretations of modern Islamic law by clerics and people who have dedicated their lives to studying Islam.

The news has barely been covered by Western or even Arab media and Iraqi media certainly aren't covering it. It is too much to ask of Al-Iraqiya to debate or cover a topic like this one- it would obviously conflict with the Egyptian soap operas and songs. This latest decision is going to be catastrophic for females- we're going backwards.

Don't get me wrong- pure Islamic law according to the Quran and the Prophet gives women certain unalterable, nonnegotiable rights. The problem arises when certain clerics decide to do their own interpretations of these laws (and just about *anyone* can make themselves a cleric these days). The bigger problem is that Shari'a may be drastically different from one cleric to another. There are actually fundamental differences in Shari'a between the different Islamic factions or 'methahib'. Even in the same methahib, there are dozens of different clerics who may have opposing opinions. This is going to mean more chaos than we already have to deal with. We've come to expect chaos in the streets… but chaos in the courts and judicial system too?!

This is completely unfair to women specifically. Under the Iraqi constitution, men and women are equal. Under our past secular family law (which has been in practice since the '50s) women had unalterable divorce, marriage, inheritance, custody, and alimony rights. All of this is going to change.

I'll give an example of what this will mean. One infamous practice brought to Iraq by Iranian clerics was the 'zawaj muta'a', which when translated by the clerics means 'temporary marriage'. The actual translation is 'pleasure marriage'- which is exactly what it is. It works like this: a consenting man and woman go to a cleric who approves of temporary marriage and they agree upon a period of time during which the marriage will last. The man pays the woman a 'mahar' or dowry and during the duration of the marriage (which can be anything from an hour, to a week, a month, etc.) the man has full marital rights. Basically, it's a form of prostitution that often results in illegitimate children and a spread of STDs.

Sunni clerics consider it a sin and many Shi'a clerics also frown upon it… but there are the ones who will tell you it's 'halal' and Shari'a, etc. The same people who approve it or practice it would, of course, rather see their daughters or sisters dead before they allow *them* to practice it- but that's beyond the point.

Anyway, secular Iraqi family law considers it a form of prostitution and doesn't consider a 'pleasure marriage' a legitimate marriage. In other words, the woman wouldn't have any legal rights and if she finds herself pregnant- the child, legally, wouldn't have a father.

So what happens if a married man decides to arrange a pleasure marriage on the side? In the past, his legitimate wife could haul him off to court, and ask for a divorce because the man would be committing adultery under Iraqi family law. That won't be the case now. Under certain clerics, a pleasure marriage will be considered legal and the woman won't have a case for divorce. Under other clerics, he'll be committing adultery- so who gets to judge? The cleric she chooses, or the cleric he chooses?

Another example is in marriage itself. By tribal law and Shari'a, a woman, no matter how old, would have to have her family's consent to marry a man. By Iraqi law, as long as the woman is over 18, she doesn't need her family's consent. She can marry in a court, legally, without her parents. It rarely happened in Iraq, but it *was* possible.

According to Iraqi secular law, a woman has grounds to divorce her husband if he beats her. According to Shari'a, it would be much more difficult to prove abuse.

Other questions pose themselves- Shari'a doesn’t outlaw the marriage of minors (on condition they've hit puberty). Iraqi secular law won't allow minors to marry until the age of at least 16 (I think) for women and the age of 18 for men.

By Iraqi civil law, parents are required to send their children to complete at least primary school. According to Shari'a, a father can make his son or daughter quit school and either work or remain at home. So what happens when and if he decides to do that? Does Shari'a apply or does civil law apply?

There are hundreds of other examples that I can think of and that make me feel outrage. I practice Islam, but do I want an Islamic government? No. I feel that because we have so many different methahib and religions, any religious government is bound to oppress some faction of society. It's already happening in the south where fundamentalist Shi'a are attacking Christian families and shops.

Juan Cole had something to say about the subject and he referred to an article written in Financial Times appropriately titled, "Iraqi plan for Sharia law 'a sop to clerics', say women". Unfortunately, the writers of the article apparently have no background on secular Iraqi law beyond what the GC members have told them. The fundamentalist GC members claim that civil Iraqi law forced people to go against their doctrine, which isn't true because a large part of civil law was based on Shari'a or the parts of Shari'a that were agreed upon by all the differing Islamic factions (like the right to divorce) and taking into consideration the different religious groups in Iraq.

Women are outraged… this is going to open new doors for repression in the most advanced country on women's rights in the Arab world! Men are also against this (although they certainly have the upper-hand in the situation) because it's going to mean more confusion and conflict all around.

What happens when all the clerics agree that a hijab isn't 'preferred' but necessary? According to this new change in the 'ahwal shakhsiya' laws or 'personal circumstances' laws, all women will have to cover their heads and according to Shari'a, if a woman's husband decides that she can't continue her education or work, she'll have to remain a house-wife.

Please don't misunderstand- any oppression to women isn't a reflection on Islam. It's a reflection on certain narrow minds, ignorance and the politicization of religion. Islam is a progressive religion and no religion is clearer on the rights of women- it came during a time when women had no rights at all.

During the sanctions and all the instability, we used to hear fantastic stories about certain Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar, to name a few. We heard about their luxurious lifestyles- the high monthly wages, the elegant cars, sprawling homes and malls… and while I always wanted to visit, I never once remember yearning to live there or even feeling envy. When I analyzed my feelings, it always led back to the fact that I cherished the rights I had as an Iraqi Muslim woman. During the hard times, it was always a comfort that I could drive, learn, work for equal pay, dress the way I wanted and practice Islam according to my values and beliefs, without worrying whether I was too devout or not devout enough.

I usually ignore the emails I receive telling me to 'embrace' my new-found freedom and be happy that the circumstances of all Iraqi women are going to 'improve drastically' from what we had before. They quote Bush (which in itself speaks volumes) saying things about how repressed the Iraqi women were and how, now, they are going to be able to live free lives.

The people who write those emails often lob Iraq together with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan and I shake my head at their ignorance but think to myself, "Well, they really need to believe their country has the best of intentions- I won't burst their bubble." But I'm telling everyone now- if I get any more emails about how free and liberated the Iraqi women are *now* thanks to America, they can expect a very nasty answer.

- posted by river @ 7:55 PM
Tue Jan 20, 2004 11:46 am
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Sue S

Joined: 15 Jan 2004
Posts: 72
Location: UK

Post Post subject: Latest Reply with quote

Riverbend's latest posting on the subject...


Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Still Brooding...

My head has been spinning these last few days with decision No. 173 on changing Family Law to Shari'a. I've been darkly mulling over the endless possibilities. I'm not the only one- everyone I talk to is shaking their head in dismay. How is this happening? How are we caving in to fundamentalism?

Talabani was saying that the decision wasn't taken or passed because it didn't get enough votes by the GC, but all the signs say that the decision was made and might be implemented as soon as they get Bremer's signature. Nisreen Barwari, the only female minister on the cabinet, was out demonstrating with several of the women's rights parties a few days ago against the decision. Christopher Allbritton over at Back to Iraq 3.0 has written something on the subject and so has the Washington Post.

The question is, even if the personal status laws aren't going to be subjected to change now- immediately- what about the future? What does that say about 6 months from now when Bremer's signature isn't necessary?

Two days ago, there was a conference on women's rights in the elegant Nadi Al-Sayd (or Hunting Club) in Baghdad led by the major women's rights groups and they were condemning decision No. 173 saying that it'll be a blow to women's rights in Iraq. The frightening thing was that one of the more secular members of the GC was championing the decision and claiming that it was going to be a 'great advance' in the rights of Iraqi women. He didn't explain how or why, but he condescendingly sat in front of the angry mob of women and gave them a mysterious Mona Lisa smile that, I assume, was supposed to be reassuring.

Seeing some of the GC members give press conferences these days, reminds me of the time I went to watch my cousin's daughter 'graduate' from kindergarten. They had about 20 kids up on this little stage with their teacher, Miss Basma, standing benevolently in their midst. As long as she was on the stage, they all stood correctly; simultaneously reciting a poem they had learned just for the occasion. The moment Miss Basma stepped down, there was a stampede- 20 students rushed for the only microphone on the stage all at once, grappling to see who could reach it first and drown out the other voices with their own.

Now we face a similar situation. Miss Basma- er, I mean Bremer- has been off the stage (in Washington and New York) and there has been a rush to grab the metaphorical microphone. For example, while the decision on family law seems almost definite, Talabani adamantly denies it… other members only reluctantly discuss it.

A couple of weeks ago, when federalism was all the rage with the GC, Talabani made statements on how the decision was almost final: federalism based on ethnicity was just around the corner. The same week, Ibraheim Al-Ja'affari, head of Al-Da'awa Al-Islamiya Party, also made an appearance on either LBC or Al-Arabia, claiming that there was no chance Iraq was going to be split up. Adnan Al-Pachichi then gave a press conference stating that while federalism was an option, it wasn't going to be immediate or 'loose'.

There is now talk of it being some sort of a tradeoff or compromise- federalism for the Kurds on the GC, and Shari'a for the Shi'a Islamic groups… It doesn't matter in the end- the Iraqi people will be the losers.

Meanwhile, there have been huge demonstrations in the south these last few days and in Baghdad, demanding elections. The roads were blocked in Baghdad in the areas around the demonstration and there were helicopters overhead all day. Most of the demonstrators were supporters of Sistani who has made himself a national figure in this mess. He was eerily silent about the occupation in the beginning and now he is probably the most influential challenger of the GC. He fluctuates- one day, he claims that if elections aren't held there'll be a fatwa ordering civil disobedience. On another day, he claims that the decision to hold elections should be made by Kofi Annan. The most significant thing he has said so far is that even if elections are held, people from abroad shouldn't be able to run (i.e. 95% of the GC).

I watched the meeting today between some GC members, Bremer and Kofi Annan on CNN. They didn't seem to come to any conclusion except that *maybe* Kofi would send a delegation to assess the situation in Iraq. Meanwhile, 100,000 Shi'a and Sunnis demonstrated in Baghdad today (although the Shi'a outnumbered the Sunnis by far on this occasion), holding up pictures of Sistani, Al-Sadr and some others. It wasn't violent, but it was angry, forceful and frightening. This has been the largest demonstration since the war.

I'm torn on the topic of elections. While I want elections because it's the 'democratic' thing to do, I'm afraid of the outcome. All the signs lead one to believe that elections will lead to a theocracy (which I dread). The current GC is *not* representative of the Iraqi people- neither Sunnis nor Shi'a approve of them… but will elections bring about a more representative group of would-be leaders? Furthermore, what if the Iraqi 'majority' *do* want a theocracy like the one in Iran? If the choice boils down to a democracy styled like the one in America or a theocracy styled like the one in Iran, how do you think a Muslim country is going to choose?

For more info on Al-Sistani, check out his site- it's in Arabic, Farsi, English, French and Urdu... quite impressive. His biography is here: Sistani's Biography and for those who were *very* interested in temporary marriage, check this out.

- posted by river @ 5:48 AM
Fri Jan 23, 2004 2:04 pm
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