ISLAMABAD: The Lal Masjid administration on Sunday issued a fatwa against Tourism Minister Nilofar Bakhtiar and asked the government to “punish and sack” her from the cabinet for being snapped with paragliders of Paris in what the mosque administration called an ‘obscene manner’.

The decree was issued by Darul Afta of Lal Masjid which had issued in 2003-04 a fatwa saying that military personnel killed in the operation in tribal areas “were not martyrs and they did not deserve religious funeral”.

Meanwhile, parents of a number of girls studying in Jamia Hafsa have warned the administration of Lal Masjid to withdraw their decision of enforcing Sharia through violence and said they would not let their daughters become part of the ongoing adventure of the institution.The federal minister is the first person against whom Darul Afta, which has now been named Qazi court, has given a ‘verdict’. The federal minister who took part in a dare-devil paragliding mission was seen being hugged by a veteran paraglider in a picture recently published in some newspapers.

However, the government appeared to be continuing to look the other way and refusing to draw the line between genuine religious activities and fanatic violence. The murder of Punjab minister Zille Huma by a fanatic who had been allowed to go scot-free after having gunned down several women has been forgotten and a virtual free hand has been given to extremists to harass women activists.

The official reaction to Sunday’s decree came from Minister of State for Health Shahnaz Sheikh who said Darul Afta had no authority to issue a decree against anyone. “These people are misinterpreting Islam and we strongly condemn this act,” she added.

People’s Party Parliamentarians information-secretary Sherry Rehman said no-one should be allowed to take law into his/her hands. “Women are being exploited and subjected to discrimination and excesses.”

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairperson Aasma Jahangir said the decree had no credibility. “No importance should be attached to it. What authority they wield to issue fatwa in accordance with their free will,” she asked.

COMPLAINTS LODGED: The recently-established Qazi court in Lal Masjid has received a few complaints of disputes which will be decided in accordance with what the administration of the mosque called ‘Islamic laws’. “Yesterday we received a complaint lodged by a woman police officer and today we have received a few others,” Lal Masjid deputy in-charge Maulana Ghazi Abdul Rasheed told Dawn on Sunday.

However, he declined to say anything about the number of complaints received, names of complainants and the nature of disputes.

According to the mosque management, the woman police officer complained that she had been sexually harassed by her male colleagues.

PARENTS’ THREAT: “We have admitted our daughters there to study Islamic subjects and not to carry sticks or guard their academy,” Sanober Khan, who belongs to Mardan, told Dawn on Sunday. Around 70 per cent of students studying in Jamia Faridia and Jamia Hafsa belong to the central NWFP –- Peshawar, Mardan, Swabi, Swat, Buner, Charsadda and Nowshera.

Mr Khan, who did not wish his daughter’s name be published, said that he had talked to the Lal Masjid administration and had objected to the clerics’ action of using young women in the movement.

“A dozen of other parents have also asked their children to refrain from any violent activity inside or outside their madressah”, Mr. Khan, who is a farmer, said.

“We have been assured that the students of Jamia Hafsa will not be used for enforcing Sharia, while the students of Jamia Faridia will continue their routine activities”, he added.

When asked what his reaction was to the news of a raid by Jamia Hafsa students on a house allegedly used as brothel, he said: “My villagers were taunting me that my daughter was searching for prostitutes rather than concentrating on her studies”.Mohammad Rasool of Buner told Dawn that his daughter was not well and had refused to join her ‘stick-brandishing’ fellows but she was forced to do so. Mr Rasool said that in tribal traditions a woman was not supposed to take arms or fight enemies, adding that the action of Lal Masjid was not only against the Pashtoon culture but also a misuse of female students.

Another parent, Abdul Jabbar, said the Lal Masjid administration did not allow him to take his daughter out of the madressah, adding that he did not want his daughter to study in Jamia Hafsa any more.

When contacted, Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, deputy in charge of Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Faridia, told Dawn that there was no restriction on students leaving the madressah, adding that parents who wanted to remove their daughters from the seminary should contact him.

“We have not forcefully retained the students in madressah nor have we imposed any restriction on removing children,” he added. Ghazi Rasheed pointed out that Jamia Hafsa students would not be used for enforcement of the Islamic law, but said they reserved the right to self-defence in case the government launched an operation against the students. He criticised the media for highlighting the violent side of the Sharia movement.

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