It was a scene straight out of Donald Trump's worst nightmare: On Wednesday morning at Maryvale High School in West Phoenix, a group of students showed up wearing hijabs. They said their student government members encouraged them to do it.
In fact, the news that Trump had signed an executive order temporarily banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries made students even more enthusiastic about participating.
“We've had this planned for a while but we're putting more effort into it because of the executive orders that have been placed,” explained Ruby Arriaga, a Maryvale senior and the student body executive administrator, who wore a hijab for the day.
“People are scared and we just want everyone to know that our voices can be heard, we've all got each other's backs.”
Before you freak out and start calling up the principal and ranting about sharia law, some necessary background:
World Hijab Day is an international event, celebrated on February 1 every year. It was founded in 2013 by Nazma Khan, a Bangladesh native who immigrated to New York as a child and was the only hijabi at her Bronx middle school.
The idea isn’t to convert anyone to Islam, but rather to spread cultural awareness by teaching non-Muslims about the significance of the headscarf. It's also intended to build empathy by giving participants a chance to experience the discrimination that hijabis face every day — from unwelcome stares to outright hostility and violence.
This is the first year that Maryvale High School has celebrated World Hijab Day. The idea came from Noor Alhasany, an Iraqi-American student who wears the hijab, and suggested that Panthertown, the school’s diversity club, sponsor the event.
She estimated that roughly 60 students and teachers showed up for the information session where she demonstrated how to tie a hijab. “I was really proud of all of them for being willing to try it,” she said.
Elsewhere in the country, World Hijab Day has met with controversy.
Last year, a Boston-area high school canceled the event after angry community members flooded school officials with angry e-mails, calls, and posts on social media, claiming that the administration was allowing Muslims to proselytize in the school. When a school in Rochester, New York, held a similar “Hijab Day,” it faced a similar backlash, and parents complained that they hadn’t been informed.
So far, that hasn’t been a problem at Maryvale, where roughly 90 percent of the student body is Hispanic. Neither the principal’s office nor the school superintendent’s office report getting any angry phone calls or e-mails.
“Our school is very diverse,” Arriaga pointed out, adding that students at Maryvale staged a walkout on Election Day to protest Donald Trump and Joe Arpaio. “We don't expect much negativity, maybe just the occasional childish teenager.”