TUNIS - The moderate Islamist Ennahda party rejected Monday, March 26, calls for making Islamic Shari`ah as the main source of legislation in Tunisia's new constitution.
"Ennahda has decided to retain the first clause of the previous constitution without change," senior party official Ameur Larayed told Radio Mosaique.
"We want the unity of our people and we do not want divisions."
The party, which leads Tunisia's government, has not formally announced its final position.
A constituent assembly, elected in October, is hashing out a new constitution as part of Tunisia's transition after the ouster of President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali last year.
Ennahda, led by Rachid Al-Ghannouchi, occupies over 40 percent of seats in the assembly, which has a year to draft the document.
Ghannouchi promised before the election that his party would be satisfied with the existing first clause of the constitution.
However, he said a month ago that Ennahda was debating the idea of including Shari`ah and had yet to reach a conclusion.
Ennahda's stance on the role of religion in government will have a huge impact on the constitution that finally emerges.
In Islam, Shari`ah govern issues in Muslims' lives from daily prayers to fasting and from to inheritance and marital cases to financial disputes.
The Islamic rulings, however, do not apply on non-Muslims, even if in a dispute with non-Muslims.
Ennahda's opposition comes a day after thousands of Tunisians took to the streets to demand the inclusion of Shari`ah in the new constitution.
"This is not a show of force, but they should know that we can mobilize hundreds of thousands on the streets if they refuse the application of Shari`ah," a young man who gave his name as Abu Jihad told Reuters.
Nearly 10,000 Tunisians marched in central Tunis on Sunday to demand Shari`ah as a main source of legislation in the new constitution.
"The people want an Islamic state", "the people want Shari`ah," chanted the protesters.
"We are in a Muslim country, so the talk about Islam in the constitution should not be feared," said Abu Jihad.
But Tunisia's secularists have rejected calls for including Shari`ah in the new constitution.
The existing constitution names Islam as the religion of state but not as a source for legislation.The constituent assembly has the power to make the new constitution law if the majority is large enough, otherwise it must go to a referendum.