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Last Updated: Friday, 27 June, 2003, 06:23 GMT 07:23 UK
Islam and the Afghan constitution

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC correspondent in Kabul

Afghanistan has begun the process of choosing a new constitution, the first one since 1964.

Man praying in Kabul
Islam will have an important role in the new constitution
It is an important and difficult exercise in a country that is still deeply divided along ethnic lines.

For many Afghans it presents a chance to voice their opinions on the future shape of their country.

But it is an emotive issue that is also raising some uncomfortable questions.

In a packed hall at Kabul University a heated debate takes place between the students and faculty and a team presenting a draft of the new constitution. It is a scene being repeated across the country.

'Respected'

Teams of experts have spread out to the provinces; some have even travelled to Pakistan and Iran to speak to Afghan exiles there. Their aim is to solicit public opinion.

Constitutional Commissioner Fatima Gailani
Sometimes people do make mistakes between their pre-Islamic traditions and Islam... There is nothing in this constitution that will be against Islam
Fatima Gailani
Constitutional Commissioner

Farooq Wardak heads the 33-member Constitutional Committee.

"We want this new constitution of the country to be respected," he says.

"The Afghan people will only respect and implement it if they feel it is something of their own. Once people understand that this constitution is the product of their own aspiration, recommendations, opinion - they are going to respect it."

So how are ordinary Afghans reacting when approached?

Constitutional Commissioner Fatima Gailani has been spending her days travelling across Kabul and nearby provinces.

She says wherever they go they are greeted with great enthusiasm.

"Everyone wants to have a part and say something about the constitution. But they also run into some obstacles," says Ms Gailani.

"Because people are so upset and angry after the past 24 years of war and lack of law and regulation in this country they look at everything with suspicion."

A law professor at Kabul University is clear about what is needed. "The character, background and quality of those on the constitutional commission should be transparent," he says.

The role of Islam

Others question whether their views will really be incorporated or the whole thing is a giant public relations exercise.

Student at Kabul University
Many students do not want a western-style democracy
But there are also other sensitive issues which the commission has to address. One of the most important is the role of Islam in the new constitution.

Kabul University students are quite clear about where they stand.

"The constitution should contain all the principles of Islam, the kind of regime should be democratic but not like western democracy," says one student.

It is a view shared by others and even by some women. "Islamic law contains all social, individual and humanitarian aspects of life whether within or outside Islam," says one young woman.

But when the issue of women's rights is raised, the divisions are clearer.

In the public meeting at the university, a radical student is cheered when he asks Ms Gailani - the only woman on the panel - if she proposes equality between men and women.

It is an uncomfortable moment for her as she tries to sidestep the issue.

This question is not relevant, she says, but her voice is drowned by shouts and jeers.

Women

It is an illustration of the challenges faced by people like Fatima Gailani to try and find some middle ground between the conservatives and the moderates.

Market in Kabul
Constitutional debates are likely to continue for some time
She says they are not planning a constitution and a role for women which will go against Islam.

"But sometimes people do make mistakes between their pre-Islamic traditions and Islam," she says.

"We are prepared to face this challenge and to explain that there is nothing in this constitution that will be against Islam."

Afghanistan is once again at a crossroad. While the hard line rule of the Taleban is now history, its present rulers have to find a way to give the country's Islamic roots a democratic face.


SEE ALSO:
Afghan constitution claims rejected
18 Jun 03  |  South Asia
UN rejects Afghanistan criticism
15 Jun 03  |  South Asia
Afghans prepare new constitution
25 Apr 03  |  South Asia
Kabul's cyber cafe culture
13 Jun 03  |  South Asia


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