February 2004 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A national assembly in Afghanistan has approved a constitution that includes a provision recognizing Islam as the nation's religion.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the constitution, approved Jan. 4, includes an amendment declaring that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." While non-Muslim religions are ostensibly "free to perform their religious ceremonies," no provision ensures minorities' rights.

U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad also confirmed that the constitution "recognizes that the religion of the state of Afghanistan is Islam." President George W. Bush praised the document as "the foundation for democratic institutions...."

Some Islamic militants say the new constitution allows for the enforcement of religious law in the overwhelmingly Muslim country.

Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai told The Times, "In my mind, the constitution uses Sharia [Islamic] law. It doesn't say the word 'Sharia,' but it means the same thing. The demands of Islam are fulfilled."

Human rights activists, however, argued that the constitution fails to ensure a host of fundamental rights for minorities or free and fair elections this year.

"The constitution fails to adequately address the role of Islamic law and its relationship to human rights protections," Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group with offices around the world, stated in a Jan. 8 press release. "Human Rights Watch is concerned that conservative factions could use appointments to the new judiciary to implement interpretations of Islam that may violate human rights standards."