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Women's Rights In Pakistan

A self-styled Sharia court in Pakistan's capital Islamabad has issued a religious decree, or fatwa, condemning the country's tourism minister Nilofer Bakhtiar for receiving a congratulatory pat on the shoulder from a French paraglider pilot. Ms. Bahktiar completed a paragliding flight at a charity event in France . The event was staged to raise money for child victims of the earthquake that struck Pakistan in October 2005.

Ms. Bahktiar said, "I do not feel ashamed at all for what I did, and I am not afraid of anyone except God." Ms. Bahktiar said Pakistan is going through a period of transition and "negative forces are bound to come up." She said Pakistani women "are adamant that we will face them."

The self-appointed Islamic court that issued the fatwa was recently set up by the chief cleric at the Lal Mosque in Islamabad. Pakistani government officials and religious leaders say it has no legitimate legal, moral, or religious authority to take the law into its own hands and to impose its religious views on society. Pakistani authorities have taken steps to curb some of its radical activities.

Sabiha Sumar is a Pakistani filmmaker concerned about religious extremists and the threat they pose to Pakistani women. In her film "For A Place Under the Heavens," she interviewed Pakistani women such as Hina, who aspires to be a successful model. Hina says Muslim extremists have a warped conception of Islam:

"I am human also. I have been given these rights by Islam, by God, they can't take it away from me."

Shaheen Sardar Ali, a former provincial minister of health, headed Pakistan's National Commission on the Status of Women. She says extremists take the Koran out of context:

"I found it so interesting to see that out of the six-thousand, six-hundred-sixty-six verses of the Koran six verses only create a gender hierarchy, six-thousand-six-hundred-sixty call for complete equality."

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Pakistan's President Pervez Musharaf "has instituted a number of reforms in Pakistan in reaction to the threat from violent extremism. . .and in those efforts we certainly do support him." The U.S. will support Pakistan, said Mr. McCormack, as it proceeds on the "pathway of increased democracy, economic-political reform. . .human rights, freedom of religious, freedom of expression and in other areas."