Part I: Islam and the New State

Oct 03, 2012

            This new series provides a platform for women to engage in a free and fluid exchange about pivotal Middle East issues. For the first piece, women across the region were asked this question:

What should be the role of Islam in your society? And what should be Islam’s role in your government?

Sara Salah Aldeen, Director of Widows Training & Development Center, Iraq

            Islam should play a role in steering society away from religious radicalism. It must be neutral, and recognize all religions to spread tolerance among the Iraqi society. This will help our society to address all of its problems. But Islam should be separated from the government and kept away from influencing policy.

Moushira Khattab, Former Egyptian Ambassador and Former Minister of Family and Population

            Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance that does not differentiate between rich or poor, able or disabled, man or woman and Muslim or non-Muslim. But now religion is used to divide society. Women are defined by their dress code. Their dresses are getting longer, bigger and thicker while the space given to them is paradoxically shrinking by the day. It has become almost common practice to assume that an unveiled woman is non-Muslim, a perception that would have been unthinkable when I was a child. These taboos and stereotypes must vanish. Islam preaches unity, honesty, peace and tolerance; a far cry from what our society practices today.
            There should be clear cut separation between religion and the state. Islam, like any other religion is something very personal between God and the individual. No individual has a right to judge the piety of others. The people have mandated the government and it is accountable to the people. So the constitution must ensure equal rights for each and everyone one regardless of sex, religion, race, ethnicity or political views. It should stipulate that the state takes all measures, legislative or administrative, to ensure eradication of discrimination and violence against any citizen. It must ensure the civil rights and freedoms of every citizen.

Pascale Warda Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, Former Iraqi Migration and Displacement Minister

            Islam in my society should have a spiritual role. People can promote Islam but not impose practices on others. Islam can improve personal relationships and inspire people to do good deeds, with the belief that God is the source of goodness. Islam should remain apolitical in order to respect diversity of religion, ethnicity and language. My country is not adopting an Islamic system, even if the laws are inspired by the Sharia. The respect for democratic principles is embedded in the constitution.

Athra al Hassani, Activist and model, Iraq

           We believe in Islam, which means peace. Islam promotes tolerance and peaceful coexistence among all religions and peoples. But unfortunately after the changes that occurred in Iraq, Islam became synonymous with terrorism for many people. This is a damaging distortion. The rise in radicalism and sectarianism led to the division of communities. The groups fought against each other and claimed the lives of a lot of innocent members of society.

Nada Dhaif, Chairman of Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization

            Islam should provide a government with guidelines that play an enlightening role. But Islam should not be used as an authoritarian tool. In the 21st century, societies consist of multiple ethnic and religious groups, so a civil state is required to protect both the majority and minorities.

Namees Arnous, Executive Director of Bokra for Media Production, Egypt

            Islam should play a role in promoting justice and tolerance in society, as they are the main principles of Islam. But Islam, like any other religion, should be separated from the government. The state should rule according to civil law, which ensures equality between citizens.

Lamia Talebani, Voice of Independent Women Organization, Iraq

            The role of Islam in any society must be - cultivating a culture of peace and solidarity among different religions. Islam should lay down effective strategies for accepting one another to build one unified society and eventually one unified world. The government should be selected on the basis of efficiency and not religion. I believe in secularism and the separation of religion from state. Politicians should not legislate according to their religious beliefs, which should be kept private.

Magda El Sanousi, Country Director of Oxfam Lebanon, from Egypt

            The Egyptian government has an Islamic reference and is trying to apply some religious legislation on society. But much of society wishes for the application of civil law because the Egyptian people belong to other religions besides Islam.

Zinab Kheir, Executive Manager of the Egyptian Association for Economic and Social Rights

            The government should stay committed to be civil and not religious, as the people of the country have different beliefs and religions. The role of Islam in society should be to promote justice, equality and respect for others. These are the core values of Islam.

Shatha Naji Hussein, Women for Peace Organization, Iraq

            As per the constitution in Iraq, the government is based on sectarian quotas. But religion is controlling the country by through the government itself. This is detrimental to the country’s development as people busy themselves with religious issues rather than concentrating on real problems such as the lack of public services, lack of education, poverty and unemployment. There are also many widows and divorcees without any social security.

Nahla Arif, U.S. Institute of Peace in Baghdad, Iraq

            Islam as a faith is a set of social norms that promote peace and coexistence with other religions. Muslims in my society should reflect these norms in their daily life and when dealing with members of other religions. In a diverse country like Iraqi, Islam should be one of the sources for legislations and not the main source.



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The Islamists Are Coming is the first book to survey the rise of Islamist groups in the wake of the Arab Spring.  Often lumped together, the more than 50 Islamist parties with millions of followers now constitute a whole new spectrum—separate from either militants or secular parties.  They will shape the new order in the world’s most volatile region more than any other political bloc. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals.

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