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Study Hopes To Promote Dialogue On Islam And Human Rights

(Washington, DC--July 12, 2005) With the drafting of Iraq's constitution underway, it remains unclear what role religion and human rights will play within the document. Tad Stahnke, Deputy Director of Policy for the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and Robert C. Blitt, a legal policy analyst for USCIRF, told a recent RFE/RL audience that a recently released study by the commission could serve as a resource in the drafting of Iraq's permanent constitution.

The study, "The Religion-State Relationship and the Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief: A Comparative Textual Analysis of the Constitutions of Predominantly Muslim Countries," analyzes the constitutional provisions that exist across the Muslim world on the role of Islam, the relationship of religion to the state, freedom of religion or belief, and related human rights questions such as equality. The study reviewed the texts of 44 constitutions in countries where more than half the population is Muslim. According to the study, the global Muslim population is estimated to be over 1.3 billion, with 1 billion living in the 44 countries studied. The countries studied stretch from Europe to Africa, through the Middle East and into Asia and include several the commission follows closely, because of concerns about religious freedom: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The study placed the countries into four constitutional categories: declared Islamic states, states where Islam is the state religion, states with no constitutional declaration, and declared secular states. Twenty-eight percent of the one billion people live in ten countries whose constitutions declare themselves to be Islamic states. The study found that a country with a constitutional provision declaring it to be an Islamic state allows for a broader, more significant role for Islam within that country, although the ramifications of such provisions are not uniform. Each of the constitutions of the ten declared Islamic states, also proclaim Islam to be the official religion of the state. These states are: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Brunei, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.

Iraq, under the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), has declared Islam to be the official state religion, but has not designated itself an Islamic state. The study placed eleven other countries in this category, including Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait. In combination with the previous group, 22 states declare Islam as the official religion, accounting for 58 percent--or approximately 600 million--of the one billion Muslims living in predominately Muslim countries.

Eleven of the states studied proclaim themselves to be secular -- six in Africa and five in the Middle East, including Turkey. Another 11 have not made any constitutional declaration concerning the nature of the state, including Indonesia and Syria.

While the study analyzes the text of 44 constitutions it does not look at the practice or application of the constitutional provisions. However, the study found that the designation of "an Islamic state [in the constitution] and the right of freedom of religion is not mutually exclusive," said Stahnke.

The study was recently presented at a conference in Amman, Jordan which focused on the possibilities for Iraq's permanent constitution. "The study was able to provide the starting point, but the Iraqis wanted to go even deeper into the application and what the real meaning of what these constitutional provisions were on the ground," said Blitt. "It's a useful document to have to get people understanding that there's more than one way to approach the issue of religion within Islamic countries."

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is a federal government commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor religious freedom in other countries and advise the US government on how best to promote it. The study, is available both in English and Arabic at the commission's website,