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Student in hijab wrongly named ‘Isis’ in California school year book

Toronto Star Toronto Star 10/05/2016 Yanan Wang - The Washington Post
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The yearbook photo showed a young woman in hijab, the speckled head scarf framing her smiling face in front of a sunny schoolyard. Underneath, a caption read: “Isis Phillips, 11th.”

For years, Isis has been among the 700 most popular girls’ names in the United States, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration. It is inspired by the ancient Egyptian goddess of the same appellation, an important deity worshipped for her healing powers and her maternal prowess.

But the problem was, the name of the girl in the photo isn’t Isis or Phillips. Not even close.

When Bayan Zehlif, a senior at Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., saw the moniker under her picture, she recoiled. Affixing that name to someone in a hijab could not have been an accident, she thought.

“I am extremely saddened, disgusted, hurt and embarrassed that the Los Osos High School yearbook was able to get away with this,” Zehlif wrote on Facebook on Saturday. “Apparently I am ‘Isis’ in the yearbook. The school reached out to me and had the audacity to say that this was a typo. I beg to differ, let’s be real.”

This was the connotation that emerged in Zehlif’s mind when she saw the page. Trevor Santellan, a student on the yearbook team, told KABC that “Isis Phillips” is the real name of an 11th-grade student who formerly attended Los Osos. She transferred earlier in the year.

In a message to the New York Daily News, Santellan said: “If anything, [Zehlif] is being racist against herself because she misinterpreted it.”

Recently, “Isis” has been more frequently associated with Daesh, than with age-old mythology. The jihadist group that has taken responsibility for terrorist attacks around the world is frequently referred to as ISIS, an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Other names include ISIL, for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and Daesh. The matter has been up for debate.

School officials are investigating.

“If they find that a student acted irresponsibly and intentionally, administration will take appropriate actions,” Mat Holton, Chaffey Joint Union High School District superintendent, told the Los Angeles Times. “The school will assure students, staff and the community that this regrettable incident in no way represents the values, or beliefs, of Los Osos High School.”

The school’s principal, Susan Petrocelli, tweeted an apology.

Also, “We should have checked each name carefully in the book and we had no intention to create this misunderstanding,” the yearbook team said in a statement. “It is our fault and this is absolutely inexcusable on our part.”

A statement from the Council of American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles noted that approximately 200 yearbooks have already been distributed, and that “this may not be the first Islamophobic event to have occurred recently at the school.”

More than 3,200 students attend Los Osos. Zehlif will likely not return until things are resolved, CAIR said.

“We join with the family in their concern about a possible bias motive for this incident and in the deep concern for their daughter’s safety as a result of being falsely labelled as a member of a terrorist group,” Hussam Ayloush, the chapter’s executive director, said in the statement.

Ayloush added: “No student should have to face the humiliation of being associated with a group as reprehensible as ISIS.”

Fellow students are encouraging their classmates with copies of the yearbook to correct the error themselves.

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