MONROEVILLE, Pa. — A suburban Pittsburgh school said Muslim students it banned from wearing traditional neck scarves because of tensions involving Jewish students will be allowed to wear them again.Gateway High School’s principal had told seniors Mohammad Al-Abbasi, 18, and Ahmad Al-Sadr, 17, on Tuesday to remove the checkered kaffiyeh scarves or they couldn’t go to class. The students kept the Arab attire and went home.
“This is what my ancestors wear,” said Al-Abbasi. “This is my roots. This is my Arabic culture.”
Both high school seniors said they have worn the scarves to school for years.
“Students will be permitted to wear the scarves,” said Cara Ann Zanella, communications director for Gateway High School.
The Monroeville school said the scarves would be allowed after a meeting Wednesday involving students, one of the Muslim students’ mothers, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union.
According to CAIR, the school principal said his initial ban on the scarves was an attempt to “diffuse tension” between Jewish and Muslim students.
A school district spokeswoman said three students recently wore T-shirts saying “RIP Israel” and 35 Jewish students responded with a petition saying they felt threatened. She said Al-Abbasi, Al-Sadr and the Jewish students will sit with counselors and discuss their cultural differences.
“We thank school officials for recognizing that all students have the right to freedom of expression and that cultural symbols such as kaffiyehs have nothing to do with hate or terrorism,” said CAIR-Pittsburgh communications coordinator Zohra Lasania.
A kaffiyeh is a traditional Arab scarf worn by men. It is often associated with Yasser Arafat and is considered a symbol of Palestinian identity.
Al-Abbasi said some students and parents recently complained that kaffiyehs are symbols of hate. A recent newspaper article written by a fellow student referred to kaffiyehs as “Palestinian support scarves” and mentioned that many were suddenly being worn after fighting recently erupted in Gaza.
Al-Abbasi said he recently wore a T-shirt that read “Rest In Peace Israel” but said he does not wear the kaffiyeh for political reasons.
Many people, including entertainers, wear the scarves as a fashion statement.
A scarf similar to a kaffiyeh was worn by television host Rachel Ray in a commercial that recently caused controversy, and the commercial was pulled.
Al-Abbasi’s mother, Loretta Riggs, supports her son.
“We feel, at this point, very marginalized,” said Riggs. “I also feel his rights have been violated.”