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What Would You Choose?

Parviz Tursunov, a Tajik football player who has allegedly been banned because of his beard.
Tajik soccer player Parviz Tursunov is facing a hard and rather unusual choice: the athlete has been told to choose between his bushy beard and his career in sports.

Tursunov has recently been barred from taking part in a national championship because of his beard. He plays for the Khair soccer team in Vahdat, a district in a Dushanbe suburb.

"I don't have any problem with Tursunov's beard, but the local police office is not happy with his appearance," the head coach of the team, Tohir Muminov told Tajik media.

"Tursunov's facial hair didn't affect his performance on the pitch but his absence is hurting our team's chances now," the coach complained.

Officials at the Interior Ministry, however, insist they have nothing to do with Tursunov's case, and that Tajikistan's laws to do not prohibit soccer players from growing a beard.

Tursunov has yet to officially announce his decision. Local media, however, reported that the athlete has hinted he will stick to his beard and quit soccer.

In a separate incident last year, an imam of a Vahdat mosque, Odina Maruf, complained he was summoned to the police station and questioned over his "reasons" for growing a long beard.

Tajik laws, indeed, do not ban beards. But unofficially, men below the age of 50 -- especially students and public sector workers -- are strongly discouraged from growing one.

-- Farangis Najibullah