Local Time

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Muslim head scarf debated

The basketball player opts to sit out a tournament game rather than take off her hijab. At halftime, officials relent.
By SHERRI DAYPublished April 5, 2005


TAMPA - Briana Canty doesn't regret standing up for her religion.
But last weekend her convictions temporarily sidelined her hoop dreams.
Briana, a sixth-grade student at Greco Middle School in Temple Terrace, is Muslim.
As a sign of her faith, she wears a hijab, a head covering worn by many Islamic women after reaching puberty.
Last Friday, at an Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament in Orlando, Briana had to choose between her faith and her passion for basketball.
Tournament officials told her to remove her hijab or sit on the bench.
For Briana, 12, the decision to sit out was easy.
"It's my religion, and I'd rather follow my religion than to break it to play basketball," Briana said Monday, reflecting on the weekend's events. "I was sort of disappointed, but I was still cheering on the team."
She went to Orlando to play forward for the Tampa Extremes, a local AAU girls' basketball team.
Briana played in the team's first game Friday afternoon without incident. But she sat on the bench for much of the day's second game after officials cited NCAA rules prohibiting players from wearing head coverings and jewelry during games.
Her mother, Carla Canty, was outraged.
Canty said she couldn't believe this was happening in America in 2005.
After her initial attempts to negotiate with tournament officials were unsuccessful, Canty called the Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations in Tampa.
The group intervened on Briana's behalf.
Tournament officials first agreed to let Briana play if her mother would sign a document agreeing to take responsibility for her and any players who could be injured because of her hijab.
Canty refused.
At halftime, tournament officials finally allowed Briana to rejoin her teammates. She also played Saturday, but her team was eventually eliminated.
"It just breaks my heart that I had to go in there and go back and forth with those people," Canty said. "It's just kind of sad that they would actually try to tell the child she can't play because she's wearing her scarf."
This is not the first time religious issues and athletics collided. Last fall, a University of South Florida basketball player was at the center of a national controversy when she converted to Islam and insisted on wearing a hijab, long-sleeved shirts and long pants in games.
The school agreed to petition the NCAA for an exemption to its uniform rules. But the issue disintegrated when the student quit the team, moved back to her native Oregon and ultimately left Islam for Christianity.
In the latest incident, Ahmed Bedier, a spokesman for the Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations, commended the AAU for accommodating Canty's religious stance. But athletic groups need to do much more, he said.
"We are in the process of trying to petition the NCAA to change their rules so it's more clear that there would be some sort of exemptions based on religious rights," Bedier said.
Officials from the NCAA and the AAU did not return calls for comment.
Briana Canty is glad to have the incident behind her.
At Greco Middle School, she runs track, and plays basketball, soccer and volleyball. She always wears her hijab and hopes that other Muslim girls will learn from her example.
"I hope that other Muslim girls do the same thing that I did so they can stand up for their religion because our religion needs to be stronger," she said.

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