Role of Islamic Law in Tunisian Constitution Provokes Debate

By Asma Ghribi | Mar 22 2012 Share on Linkedin Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Share on pinterest Print

Tags: Abd Fatteh Mourou ,Abd Sattar Ben Moussa ,Adel Almi ,Al Chariaa ,Al Chariah ,

Tunisian National Constituent Assembly

Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly (NCA) has begun the process of drafting the country's new constitution, and consequently different political movements have lobbied tirelessly to influence the composition of the new constitution.

Inevitably, the question of how Tunisia’s Arab Muslim identity should be expressed has been central to the debate surrounding the formation of the country’s new constitution.

Adel Almi is the president and founder of the Moderate Association for Awareness and Reform, a civil society organization that advocates for the implementation of Islamic law.

Almi was among the organizers of a demonstration held last Friday in front of the NCA, during which a number of associations and thousands of demonstrators gathered together to urge the members of the NCA to use shariaa “ Islamic law “ as the fundamental source of legislation for Tunisia's constitution.

This is not a new demand¦This is an extension of our ancestors' struggle against the attempts of former Tunisian presidents Bourguiba and Ben Ali to erase the Tunisian Islamic identity, Almi declared.

Almi asserted that founding a new, purely Islamic state goes hand in hand with Tunisia's civil character. Almi said that Tunisia will be a pioneer in establishing a civil Islamic state, abiding by teachings of the Quran instead of “Western” laws. Almi argued that Tunisian laws that contradict Islamic teachings should be amended so as to conform to standards suitable  of a Muslim country and Muslim people.

Among those Tunisian laws that conflict with some interpretations of shariaa, are those that allow individuals who adopt a child, or single mothers, to give it their surname. This practice is considered haram -meaning forbidden in Arabic – as it may result in jumbled origins and even in incestuous relationships.

Tunisian law also punishes men who marry more than one wife. According to Almi, this law challenges the teachings of Allah and the Prophet Mohamed, as Islam allows for men to engage in polygamy.

Additionally, Almi has proposed legislation that would criminalize eating in public during the Islamic, holy month of Ramadan – during which Muslims are supposed to fast from sunrise to sunset – and drinking alcohol.

However, Almi's plan is not only limited to Tunisian domestic law. Almi suggested that international treaties that contradict Islamic teachings should be disregarded. We don't need these treaties¦protecting human rights is a part of Islam…We should withdraw from these international treaties that advocate gay rights, which I'd rather call animal rights, he stated.

A sign that reads "No for Implying Al Chariaa in the constitution" during last Tuesday demonstration on Habib Bourguiba Avenue

However, convictions such as these have raised concerns that the implementation of some interpretations of shariaa could compromise civic integrity of the nation's future constitution.

On March 20th, thousands of Tunisians flooded Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main thoroughfare running through downtown Tunis. The protesters celebrated Tunisia’s Independence Day, and expressed their commitment to the civil character of the Tunisian republic. Some of the demonstrators brandished signs, asserting that Tunisia is a Muslim country without needing to resort the implementation of shariaa within the constitution.

Abd Sattar Ben Moussa, president of Tunisian League of Human Rights, described attempts to use shariaa law as a source of legislation as, a nightmare.

We are part of an international community. We cannot live in an ivory tower and forget about universal values, he argued, highlighting the importance of international treaties in protecting domestic civil rights.

Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the former secretary general of the center-left Ettakatol party and current president of the NCA, announced in an televised interview last Sunday that there is no way for including shariaa in the text of the Tunisian constitution.

Shariaa is open to several interpretations, because it is not a Quran - agreed upon by the different Islamic interpretations and groups. Referring to it [shariaa] in the constitution may cause a deep rift within the Tunisian society, and spur unwanted social discord, he added.

Ben Jaafar stated that though shariaa law was never explicitly mentioned in the previous Tunisian constitution, Tunisia succeeded in remaining a moderate Muslim society, open to universal values. In our land, Islam is not jeopardized, he added.

This new constitution will be the constitution of Tunisia and not the constitution of Ettakatol, Ennahda, or CPR [the parties that constitute Tunisia’s ruling, tripartite coalition], he concluded.

While some chose to protest and celebrate in the street on March 20th, others opted to attend a conference held by a number of Islamic civil society organizations to discuss the role shariaa law in Tunisia's new constitution. NCA members affiliated with Ennahda, Tunisia's moderate Islamist movement and the dominant party in the country’s ruling coalition, participated in the debate.

Oussama Ben Amor Sghaier, an NCA member representing Ennahda, stated that there are different opinions within his party, ranging from using shariaa to define the constitution to using it as one source of legislation – among others. Nevertheless, Sghaier asserted Ennahda’s commitment to a civil state. Islam only recognizes a civil state, he added.

Some Tunisians consider the mere existence of this debate as futile and redundant. Tunisia's first constitution, founded in 1959, explicitly states in its first article that Tunisia is a free, sovereign, and independent state, whose religion is Islam, language is Arabic, and regime is republic. This reference to Islam as the religion of the state serves as evidence for some that the country’s constitution has always been founded on the basis of shariaa.

Abd Fatteh Mourou, a Tunisian Islamist politician and head of an independent list that didn't win any seats during last October˜s elections, conveyed that having this debate in Tunisia now is premature. Mourou also stated that this issue cannot be settled through a vote, and stressed the need for a national debate to decide on such a delicate controversy.

Whether to use shariaa should be determined by national dialogue and consensus, not by the vote of the majority. The majority is not eternal and things can drastically change overnight, he said.

For Mourou, the first article of the Tunisian constitution is sufficient to protect the Arab-Muslim identity. He also stressed that the leading party should not take advantage of its electoral hegemony to try to pass an ill-timed social initiative. We have other priorities and other freedoms that need to be protected by the new constitution, he asserted.

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    I wonder why these Muslims never demand that sex slavery be brought back? Allah and his prophet had no problem with slaves or having sex with slaves. Or how about pedophillia? Why don’t they teach that diseases are not contagious as said by the prophet in Hadiths? Muslims are just hypocrites.

    • quite simply skander you are either wilfully lying or a moron. Trotting out the tired old slanders as above does you no credit. Half truths may allow obsfication but ultimately remain lies.

      • Well Riba, you make some large accusations by calling me a liar. what am I lying about. Does Islam not say slavery is allowed and you can have sex with your slaves. Or does Islam forbid pedophilia? Or that Mohamed said diseases are not contagious. I have links for each one, I just want you to first say that it does not exist in Quran and if it exists then I am not a Muslim because God would not be so stupid and immoral. You won’t say that because you will believe the Quran no matter what non-sense it will say.

        • i forgive you skander. This is not the forum to clarify the twisted representations you make above. I am sure you can find forums to discuss your opinions and you may be open minded enough to listen. There is no way we can have a discussion in chunks of disjointed text so I wont bother. Perhaps you might like to read the 14th century tract by Ibn Tufail “Hayy ibn Yaqzan” as a simple introduction to Islam.

  1. why devote over half the article presenting such a polarised debate. The religious fundamentalists and the secular fundamentalists are both minorities and both extreme in their silly positions. Are you stirring like the other tunisian media or are you scared to highlight the moderate consensus of the majority groups in the government and society at large.

    Islam as Tunisians religion is based on the Quran. That is enough. From that springs values moral and ultimately is reflected in laws. Sharia means law, legal rulings judgements views etc…..An islamic legal system (sharia) will naturally evlove in a Muslim society.

    • the article also fails to mention an international seminar in Tunis today on consitutional issues. It saw the government taking advice from senior European legislators and discussing issues of religion, environment, human rights etc. The director of the strategic studies institute (Paris) commented that the Tunisian government was “on the right path” in its current approach. So why the bullshit from Tunisia Live. Why the slavish polarisation. You must bear some responsibility for irresponsible journalism

  2. As are Christians, Skander. I apologise, we don’t all think the same. I just hope that what ever is decided dignity and equality for all can be protected. And that includes people’s ability to provide for their family. Many in Tunisia depend on the tourist industry. This needs to be kept in focus also in the decision making process.

    • I agree Bridget. I can’t help having a go at some of the comments from secular fundamentalist types on here but I hope those with authority rise above that petty squabble and keep the two groups apart. We can only go on the words and subsequent actions of the Government and it seems good so far

  3. The burning question that I would like to ask to all those Tunisians who want to impose Sharia: “When you’re down and unhappy with how things are going in Tunisia and want to get away from it all and immigrate to a new place, a new beginning, a better future, do you say to yourself “Ah I wish I could immigrate to Iran!, Afghanistan!, Saudi Arabia!, where Sharia is implemented, so I can be happy and have a great life”? Or do you dream of going west, to a secular country? Rached Ghanoushi definitly went west and this is a hypocrisy that I can never tolerate.

    • sorry? You think it hypocrisy for Sheikh Ghanoushi to have gone to the UK? WHat sort of intolerent views do you hold? Should muslims who criticise aspects of European foreign and domestic policies not be permitted to visit and reside in these countires. He should have gone to live in Afghansitan because? Because they are good muslims and he says he is one so he should live there? If thats your burning question then you seriously need to get a life!

      • The hypocrisy is obvious for anyone who is not bias. There is nothing wrong of saying that Britain has things that need improving. That is fine. However he is saying the laws of Saudi Arabia and Iran are much better than Britain and we should make our laws like them, but then live and choose to stay in countries that have opposite laws is where the hypocrisy is.

        • dont be silly skander. Shiekh Ghanouchi comes from a leftist political background and is certainly opposed to the type of conservative salafist ideology of Afghanistan and Saudi so he would never have chosen to locate there. If you can’t distinguish between political trends in muslim societies thats your problem.

  4. @Riba

    You make it sound like the Constituent Assembly is just one big, happy tunisian family where everybody gets a long and shares the same religious values that one day will be reflected in the constitution as shariaa.

    Well, politics doesn’t work like that.

    For gods sake, there are even communists in the Constituent Assembly. Do you really expect them to play nice and agree with everything Ennahda is proposing? Is that how you see politics? If the answer is yes then you are one naive tunisian.

    Sure, reaching some kind of consensus is essential in drafting a new constitution. But that’s not the same thing as saying that everybody share the same religious values, morals and views.

    Why even mention shariaa in the constitution when the political division in the assembly itself proves that there is no consensus in Tunisia? Why try to impose one ideology on everybody else?

    Ennahda and the crazy fundamentalists who are screaming against women and gays outside the assembly should accept that even if they are many, they don’t represent all tunisians. Far from it!

    The islamists must consider a Tunisia where islam is alive and plays a vibrant role amongst a majority of the people, but where it is not necessarily mentioned in the constitution. Because the constitution is for everybody. Even for the atheist communists of Tunisia.

    • by what logic do you feel that what you term a ‘majority’ sentiment, (ie a muslim sensibility and moral framework) should not be mentioned in the constitution because it is not held by some minorities. What sort of naive politics do you hold with? No-one is discriminating against minorities by highlighting the dominant moral and ethical framework of the majority. I think you are confused by the adjustment from the Bourgiba Ben Ali tyrannies where the minority dictated to the majority. Hopefully a majority held sentiment will in time allow more confidence and pluralism and therefore be more open and inclusive to the minorities of communists and homosexuals that you mention. Unlike under Borgy and Ben Ali who were always in fear of the revolting masses!

  5. Dear W.
    Of course the tunisian people are not one homogenous group and ‘long live difference’. Allah says “We created you as nations and tribes in order that you might know one another” ie understand and negotiate differences. There should be space for all shades of opinion and even some degree of tolerance of wrongdoing as it is part of human nature. To expect the guiding principles to be quranically derived is not unreasonable in a muslim society. This is where consensus of all serious actors lies and as such is the minimum requirement and starting point of the new constitution. That is covered by the term Islamic identity. Ennahda have said that is enough. It really is only a big issue to the fanatical secularists and their mirror image salafist friends. The former can’t accept that they are no longer in a position to enforce their minority programme of undermining religion down peoples throats any more. They should stop crying and let serious minded Tunisians focus on the economy, jobs, social development etc.

  6. I hope that Parliament and people reject this move by a minority at the moment to inflict Islamic Law upon Tunisia. To adopt these laws would destroy the tourist industry, an industry that is vital to the nations future. Investors in the country would be frightened away and the at present alarming unemployment rate will soar. These laws will not feed and home people. There may well be well foundered reservations about foreign investment but the alternative is far worse.

    • dear peter there is absoloutly no doubt that the parliment will not adopt the demands of the salafi agitators. Bearing in mind they are a minority pressure group with no representation in parliment it is clear the dominant position will be that based on a consensus of at least the three main parties who are all satisfied with a simple reference to the Islamic identity of tunisian society.

      • Thanks Soloway it is very reassuring to know. These problems are the price of democracy something Tunisia has not known before. Freedom of speech has its problems but a price worth paying

  7. This is a piece of shit-article, one that only salafists can write about salafists.
    Adel Almi is an idiot without any education. He is a dropout from mid-school without any knowledge of anything. He used to be a fresh produce street seller. Then revolution came along, and this shitty thought he could turn into an Islamic scholar. After the revolution, hundreds of idiots started letting their beard grow and overnight proclaimed themselves sheiks and Islamic preachers. With a dozen of other idiots like him, Almi started a group they called: hayet al 3mal bil ma3rouf wa’nahye 3la al mounkar, the same name as the Saudi religious police that wonders around and harasses women that forgot to cover all their skin from head to toe (police des moeurs). Ennahdha found the name too provocative, so to disguise the group role, they changed the name in something less provocative and less evocative of the famous Saudi religious police. Almi is presented in this article as a president and founder and is cited profusely as if he were a pillar of Islamic knowledge.
    This Adel bullshit, with his gang of violent jihadists prevented, Ikbal Gharbi, an Islamic theology professor, at the Zitouna University, from getting to her work as director of Radio Zitouna. Dr. Gharbi, with over 20 years of experience in education, is well known and has written extensively in the subject of her expertise. But in post-revolutionary Tunisia, with Ennahdha Islamic party in full control of the government, salafists like this Almi de Merde are the ones who impose the will of the ignorant over the crème de la crème in Tunisia. Ennahdha and its numerous fanatic groups have made Tunisia walk upside down (marcher sur sa tète). They do not understand the Tunisian century’s culture and mind of moderation in everything, and the strides it made since the independence 56 years ago, are trying to impose a foreign extremist culture imported directly from the backward, archaic, and tribal Gulf States. It simply does not work, but these idiots do not understand.

    • thanks for a balanced view of things. you highlight how the main concern in tunisia is how to handle the extremist secular and salafi trends. Both think they have a right to dictate to the majority and use any means to twist and distort issues to their percieved benefit. Moderation is required and surely Islam ” is the religion of moderation” even if many arab muslims have forgotten that fact.

  8. You forgive me? Did I ask for your forgiveness? That is what I call avoidance. I asked you which of my statements were a lie and you completely ignored my question. Because you know they are all true. I know more about Islam than anyone you know. I read the Quran, and all Hadiths. I was religious once upon a time, but I followed religion not because scared of death, but searching for truth, in the search of truth, I learned it’s all a lie. It’s funny how you call the Quran “disjointed” texts. But that really what it is, messed up texts that is written by barbarian morons, not the God of the Universe. As for the verses,

    Sex Slavery verses
    4.24 Prohibited to you are all married women except those your right hand possesses….. You can’t have sex with married women unless they are your slaves, we call that sex slavery. It’s said again at

    33.50 Which says Mohamed can have sex with his wives, sex slaves, cousins, and women who want to have sex with him. Your beloved prophet is a sex fiend.

    Pedophilia, Mohamed married Aisha at age 9 while he was in his 50’s. That is the definition of pedophilia, and no where in the Quran it bans the practice for anyone else.

    As for Dr. Mohamed you can read the hadiths here.

    The Prophet said, ‘No ‘Adha (i.e. no contagious disease is conveyed to others without Allah’s permission); nor (any evil omen m the month of) Safar; nor Hama” A bedouin said, “O Allah’s Apostle! What about the camels which, when on the sand (desert) look like deers, but when a mangy camel mixes with them they all get infected with mange?” On that Allah s Apostle said, “Then who conveyed the (mange) disease to the first (mangy)

    The parentheses is just false translation, the real Arabic text does not say that. Either case, a Bedouin tells Mohamed that when a sick camel gets in contact with other camels they all get sick. That is using rational, your moron prophet told him then how did the first camel get sick? Obviously knowing very little about disease and germs.

    I know you are not going to reply now because Muslims are the biggest cowards. However, the verses are very clear, I’m not lying, but the question is are you lying or are you ignorant. If you were ignorant, you have been notified of the evils of Islam, so now you have no excuse but your own personal cowardice to believe in it. If you are lying and just a hypocrite, then do you really think God will let a person like you in Heaven?

  9. Another weak Muslim response. That is called avoidance. It’s what weak minded people do to avoid difficult questions. I hope those who read this see what Islam is. I put some strong proofs showing why Islam is not true and the Muslim simply gives me a stupid personal insult. Again for you “moderate” Muslims which in reality are simply ignorant Muslims like I was once before you have shown the truth. See what Islam did to Sudan, S. Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and nevermind the historic damages. It’s an evil that destroyed so much and still can destroy so much. To continue to believe ignorantly you are just as much as guilty as the Salafists would later terrorize the country. There are things more important than yourself and desire to live forever.

  10. To Skander: I applaude your courage, perseverence, accuracy, and apparent deep knowledge… I applaude how you let insults go right through you and stick to the issue / question.

    • What do you mean Alyssa. They both appear to have been trading insults. Religion is a personal choice and I don’t expect someone to be insulting religion in a newspaper. The article was about the nature of the constitution, nothing to do with if he believes in Islam or not. Skander didn’t appear to have any intelligent comments about that. If this was a moderated newspaper in Europe such rude comments dressed up as “facts” would be removed to avoid offence.

      • “Religion is a personal Choice” WHAT IS THIS ARTICLE ABOUT LATIFA? It’s about making Tunisian law based on Sharia law. And what is their argument for making Sharia law constitutional law? Quran is the book of God. Now I’ll dumb it down for you. If the Quran is the book of God, and God is good then one should make Sharia law of Tunisia, however if Quran is not from God then it would be stupid to make Sharia law of Tunisia. You see sharia itself does not matter what it says, like have sex slaves is OK, but people follow it because they think God said so. So the only argument against Sharia is not how stupid it is, but it is NOT from God. If the Muslims make religion a personal choice and agree that State and religion are separate I would not show Islam faults and let people live in their delusion, but the fact that they use religion for politics, that makes the religion itself part of the public debate. Muslims are big hypocrites. They say make Islamic law and merge politics with Islam, but DO NOT TALK BAD ABOUT ISLAM. That is how dictatorships work. I don’t care if you are offended, the reason you’re offended because believing in Islam is an emotional safeguard of escaping death. Your fear of death is not my problem, my issue is Muslims destroying the nation and you could continue to put your head in the sand fearing death or you can accept reality and fight the evil of Islam before it destroys Tunisia.

        • no one in the government is calling for that though so you are wrong to say they are. An extremist fringe have a very narrow interpretation of Islam as do an extremist secular fringe have a narrow understanding of it. Neither party are particularly relevant to Tunisia except in so far as they are both causing a lot of trouble and strife. Neither have a large constituency amongst the Tunisian population. Around 60% voted for the moderate Enahda CPR and Ettakatol all of whom agree on the inclusion of a reference to a civil tunisian state deriving its moral guidance from its Islamic roots. If you consider that Aridha took around 8% and that they also have an Islamic ethos purportedly. That means at least 70% of Tunisians are happy with an islamic source to their moral guidance in the constitution. That clearly suits the vast majority. Of those left the rag tag bunch of secular parties barely got 1 or 2% each… Clearly they do not have much purchase with the Tunisian population. Perhaps the secular fundamentalists and religious fundamentalists should consider that before braying like donkeys. They both have a place in Tunisia but God forbid it will ever be one of political power.

          • What is moral guidance do you get from Islam? stoning, slavery, killing apostates, or following some ruler like sheep? 90% of Tunisians do not even know what Islam is, I want them to know it so they can make a decision of to be Muslim or not. For the longest time Tunisians were simply Muslim hypocrites. They follow parts of the Quran they like and ignore the things they think is barbaric or backwards. The people who want to use Islam but be picky on which laws to follow are called “moderates” as for the ones who want to follow all the laws are called extremists. You think that Tunisians could believe in Islam and at the same time not follow the extreme views found in the Quran. You are going to lose. The extremists will always win because they have the Quran by their side and the moderates are going to be seen as hypocrites who want to live like infedels. Enadha got 47% simply because they have Muslim in their name. They are hypocrites who seek political power, but they are morons who know nothing about economy or anything. They will use the salifists as their military wing who will do their dirty work for them. They will publicly denounce them, but secretly work with them. However, eventually two things will happen. Either Enadtha and the extremists merge together to have an Islamic dictatorship in Tunisia, or fight against each other and have a civil war, something Islam seems to do very well.