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A beautiful plant or a man-eating monster?
An Islamic constitution



Tina Ehrami
June 12, 2006

I remember the first day I attended class at the Leiden University, Faculty of Social Sciences. The subject was " Introduction to Public Administration". The professor gave us such an inspiring and confronting task that even now, a year after graduating I still think back with admiration.

He split the class in half and gave us the following mission: "Your airplane with passengers from different countries has crashed into a deserted island and with no hope of ever having contact with the outside world, you have to start a whole new society. Just how will you shape this? Will you create a government? What kind? What would be your constitution? What would you base your shared values on?"

In some way it reminded me of Ernest Hemingway's Lord of the Flies!

Our class consisted people from different backgrounds, both cultural, social, ethnic and religious. It was a long struggle to start our brainstorm session and to establish some sort of mutual agreement on the basic shared values. It was funny to see that even the non-religious  people decided that the basic shared values should be based on Moses' 10 orders. Thy shall not lie, thy shall not steal, etc.

We then decided to have some kind of power division, so chose a system based on the Trias Politica thought of Montesquieu. From there we started elaborating the government model with separate political parties, a presidential election and a parliament. It was basic, but showed that we were able to reach a common understanding of how our micro-state should look like. After this first part of the game our professor made us present our state to the other half of the class. Surprisingly, the other half of the class had followed the exact same pattern of choosing a religious basis for its shared values and Montesquieus division of powers to create a certain rule of law.

Later on, this made me think a little. Why is it that the majority of people trust on these certain religious values to be strong enough to form the fundamentals of a society, even though they're not religious? Obviously, religion has its functional and regulatory objectives that make it appealing for all people. The division of powers and the rule of law principle on its turn create safety and security for its civilians, giving them the feeling that they can depend on the system because the system is there to protect them.

Hypothetically speaking, if my class would have been a micro-cosmos representing the world, this would mean that all states would be able to function as they were designed on a moral/religious basis and according to a written and known system of law. Given this hypothesis, a state as the Islamic Republic of Iran should function according to Islamic shared values, according to a written and known law. But practice has unfortunately shown otherwise. As much as religion on an abstract scale presents a solid basis for core shared values, it sometimes can mutate from a beautiful plant in a crystal vase into a man-eating-out-of-control-monster that grows into every cell of the legal system and suffocates it from inside killing every fundamental basis for a rule of law and division of powers.

I wonder why it is possible for some states to have religion as their basics for shaping their constitution, they seem to be able to have division of powers and a decent rule of law, and for some other states this does not work! It makes me wonder if it has to do with the integrity of its people, politicians and government employees. Or does it, in the case of the failure of the Islamic Republic of Iran, have to do with Islam being the basis of the constitution? Is it possible for a state to have an Islamic constitution and a decent rule of law at the same time? Can anyone come up with an unbiased and current example of a successful state which answers positively to this question?


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