Iraqi women eye Islamic law
The majority United Iraqi Alliance supports sharia.
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In the nearly two years since the regime of Saddam Hussein fell, pressure has grown for women to conform to stricter Islamic standards. "The Baath Party, with all the things many believe they did wrong, [still ensured that Iraqi] women had the most rights in the region," says Rime Allaf, an associate fellow with the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, where she is researching women's status in Iraq. "Now, a lot of women are being very careful about how they dress. They are being told by perfect strangers, 'You need to cover your hair ... [and] your arms.' "Skip to next paragraph
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As a result, a central concern is how Islamic law might be interpreted and implemented. "Sharia depends on the man who is giving the law, the [religious leaders] and others. No one can guarantee sharia will be applied perfectly," says Abeer Rashid, a female candidate on Allawi's list who didn't win a seat.
On the ground, Iraqi women have very different ideas about what sharia means.
Umm Hibba, Aseel Abid, and Umm Sermat, politely ask about each other's families and health over tiny glasses of sweet tea in a relative's house. But the three, all wearing head scarves and loose-fitting black robes, erupt over questions of their rights under the new government.
Sharia is a good idea, they say, if it is mixed with civil rights to guarantee they won't become second-class citizens. But Umm Hibba, who declined to give her full name for security and because it is sometimes considered inappropriate for a married woman, believes sharia is the only option. She has been told a secular government means one run by "infidels."
Ms. Abid says that, as a good Muslim, she supports sharia. But she likes a secular government and supports Allawi, who campaigned on his secularism.
Umm Sermat, who also would not give her full name, thinks Islamic law is a good idea but wants the protections she had under Mr. Hussein's secular regime. "The law [then] was with the women 100 percent," she says. A man "had to get his wife's permission to take a second wife. They should share the [assets] if the wife is separated. In a divorce, they have to prepare a furnished house for her.... We don't want a sharia constitution like the Iranian model. We're not worried about [UIA] being like Iran because it also includes (Ahmed) Chalabi, a Shiite" who is secular.
But Umm Hibba jumps in with concerns that Iran's theocracy is making Iraq more conservative. "They said what I am wearing is devil clothes," she says of the time she was recently turned away from the main mosque in Baghdad's Shiite Kadhimiya neighborhood. She pulls incredulously at the shapeless black robe that got her banned because openings between the fasteners revealed flashes of the long formless dress underneath.
Umm Sermat dismisses her concerns, saying the women in the national assembly will stand up for them, even those in conservative rural areas. "We aren't worried because these women are there," she says. "They have to give more rights to women, especially in the south, [where] the women are treated in an unfair way."