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Head of Afghan Constitutional Assembly Urges Adoption of More Moderate Form of Islam - 2003-12-15


The head of Afghanistan's constitutional assembly says the country should seek a more moderate form of Islam, rather than the strict interpretation of the country's former Taleban rulers.

Sabghatullah Mujadidi says many Muslim leaders have misinterpreted Islam, giving the world a wrong impression that shows a hardline and sometimes violent religion.

Mr. Mujadidi was elected Sunday as chairman of Afghanistan's grand council, or loya jirga, which is meeting in the capital Kabul to adopt a new constitution.

With debate among the more than 500 delegates expected to touch on the role of Islam in the nation, the remarks by Mr. Mujadidi indicate a major break from the Taleban government ousted two years ago.

The Taleban meted out harsh punishments against any practice they deemed un-Islamic, ranging from women's education to the playing of music and flying of kites.

Mr. Mujadidi also says he favors a government run by a president, but backed by a strong parliament.

The debate between having a presidential system or a parliamentary one has been a major issue leading up to the loya jirga.

While some, like transitional President Hamid Karzai, see a single strong leader as necessary to pull the country together after decades of civil war, others believe a diverse parliament would better represent Afghanistan's different ethnic and social groups.

Argument between the two camps is likely to be heated.

But international observers, like United Nations spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva, note that Mr. Mujadidi carried more than half the total number of votes, suggesting that most of the delegates will be able to agree on this issue. "They got to a good start by electing the chairman by [an] absolute majority. And let us hope they will continue in this mood of consensus throughout the days to come," he said.

The loya jirga is scheduled to run through Saturday, but the assembly can vote to extend the session if necessary.

Following adoption of the constitution, Afghanistan is slated to hold national elections by June 2004, although some observers are predicting these may be delayed.

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