Fatwa on a hug

A Muslim cleric calls for a female Pakistani official to be canned after she hugs a man in public.

Published April 9, 2007 5:41PM (EDT)

Remember Islamabad's female vigilantes who last month detained two police officers and kidnapped three women, accusing them of running a brothel? Now the chief of their mosque, Lal Masjid, has issued a fatwa against a female government official who was photographed hugging a man. Cleric Abdul Aziz called for the Pakistani government to can Minister of Tourism Nilofar Bakhtiar after the offending photos hit local newspapers. (And you thought American tabloids were unforgiving.) "Her act was un-Islamic and against our social norms. She earned a bad name for Islam," Aziz told Reuters.

What exactly was the nature of Bakhtiar's embarrassing, un-Islamic offense? She was para-jumping in France as part of a fundraiser for victims of Pakistan's devastating 2005 earthquake which killed 73,000 people. Understandably elated from having survived her jump, Bakhtiar hugged her male para-jumping instructor and the paparazzi clicked away. But, on top of having the audacity to publicly hug an unrelated man, Bakhtiar is a female official (no small offense in the eyes of the pro-Taliban cleric) who works within the government of President Pervez Musharraf (Aziz's archenemy).

By most accounts, Lal Masjid's followers are becoming increasingly brazen and violent in the face of Musharraf's insistence that Pakistan is a country of "enlightened moderation." Perhaps Bakhtiar's lucky to have escaped with just a call for her job, rather than her head; in February, a Muslim extremist murdered a female Punjabi official just because he didn't feel women belonged in politics.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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