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RNS Weekly Digest—4 May 2007

By: on May 4, 2007

School OKs Long Hair After Boy Cites Faith

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (RNS) A high school student who was sent home for having long hair was allowed back into school Wednesday (May 2) wearing a headdress after telling school officials he was a Sikh.

The Sikh religion requires that followers do not cut their hair and requires that they wear a distinctive head covering much like a turban.

Cullman School Superintendent Hank Allen said the student, Tommy DeForest, was sent home from Good Hope High School because the length of his hair violated the school's dress code.

Allen said he was surprised when DeForest later professed to be a Sikh and said his long hair was part of his religion.

"We didn't have any idea he would return a Sikh," Allen said. DeForest could not be reached immediately for comment.

Officials with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty sent Allen a letter saying the school system was violating DeForest's constitutional rights.

"The school literally forced Tommy to choose between his education and his faith," Derek Gaubatz, director of litigation for the Becket Fund, said in a statement issued Wednesday.

Allen said DeForest was not wearing a headdress when he was sent home from school. But he returned with information showing he had become Sikh and was following the practice of wearing a headdress and not cutting his hair, Allen said.

Allen said that, after research and communication with other Sikhs about the requirements of the religion, DeForest was allowed back in school and is attending classes wearing his headdress.

—Kim Chandler 

Magazine Names Young Muslim `Visionaries'

(RNS) A novelist, a doctor and an imam are among "10 Young Visionaries" highlighted in the May issue of Islamica magazine, a bimonthly glossy that covers Muslim current affairs and culture.

Islamica's editors spent more than a year scouring the North American Muslim community for potential profile candidates, but decided on this group of seven men and three women because of their innovative and successful civic engagement, said Firas Ahmad, deputy editor in the magazine's Cambridge, Mass., office.

"We wanted to offer examples of what Muslim Americans were doing to make America a better place," Ahmad said.

One of those profiled is Manal Omar, who grew up South Carolina. She braved the dangers of Baghdad to set up an office of Women for Women International, an aid group, and today is Middle East Manager for Oxfam-Great Britain, one of the biggest non-governmental organizations in the world.

Other portraits include physician Mansur Khan, who in 1997 helped establish the University Muslim Medical Association, a clinic in south central Los Angeles that serves some of the city's poorest residents, and entrepreneur Omar Amanat, who established a $100 million film fund to help lesser-known filmmakers.

Ahmad said editors sought to find "up-and-comers" who were not nationally known, but had strong support from local Muslim communities. Ahmad added that he hopes the people profiled will be seen as more legitimately representing Muslims than extremists like Osama bin Laden or Muslims-turned-Islam critics like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

"We're saying, these are the people we want to be represented by," Ahmad said. "Legitimacy comes from the community, it can't be ascribed onto the community."

There is at least one Shiite in the group, which also includes a TV director, a lawyer and a social worker. Ethnically, there are six South Asians, two Arabs and two African-Americans. 

—Omar Sacirbey 

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