Four of the Fourteen American Muslim Principals Featured in the Book
Najla, a female Arab American leader, started her education career as a public school teacher who wore the hijab, known as the Muslim head covering. In 2005, Najla decided to take off her hijab due to her feeling isolated, the surrounding climate, and the pressure that she was receiving from her family to ensure her safety. That same year, Najla began her administration program, which she completed in 2007, and was appointed as an assistant principal at a different school. At the school, she told no one that she was a Muslim unless she was asked. Najla gradually worked toward a higher position, the principalship of a large elementary school that had been experiencing functional difficulties. During her interviews, Najla reflected that her experiences post-9/11 significantly affected her outlook on living as a Muslim in America and working as a professional, leading her to remove her hijab, headscarf.
Najla described how she felt on the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks:
"The TV was on in the auditorium, and several teachers were around it, and I walked by, and
I was like, what’s going on? They didn’t talk to me. Not one person told me what was going on.
They just kind of looked at me up and down, and they were crying, looking at me as if I was at
fault, immediately. I’m like, what’s going on? And then they said to me, “Some Arab Americans
took a plane into a building.” . . . It was a Muslim, and people weren’t talking to me. And friends
whom I knew weren’t talking to me. So I isolated [myself in] my classroom, and I remember crying,
and I went underneath my desk because I was so shaken by everything."
Rula, a female of South Asian background, who wore the hijab started her career as a teacher, then guidance counselor, followed by positions of school leadership. Her particular story highlights the effect that 9/11 had on her work environment and coworkers, leading to traumatic experiences that resulted in her removal from her position and severe health issues and psychological distress.
Rula shares her the executive director’s first week, recalling that the new hire had asked her whether she was a Muslim, to which Rula responded that she was. Rula noted that this was the first and only time that she had been asked about her religion by an employer.
Rula described her interactions with the executive director during the first week:
"She came in, and she wanted to have like a little . . . I guess, a meet and greet during the school
day when she first came in. And she first explained to me that her brother, a fireman, was killed
in 9/11. And I expressed my condolences, and I said, “You know, at my mosque, there was a young
man who was an EMS worker and he’s known to my family. And he was also killed in 9/11.” And
then she said, “Oh, you’re Muslim?” And I said, “Yes, I am a Muslim.” And then she asked me, “Is
your husband a Muslim?” And I said, “Yes, he is.” And she said, “Oh, was he born a Muslim?” And
I was like, “No. No.” I was like, “He embraced Islam in college.” And she’s like, “Oh. Oh. How old
was he?” And she was very interested in that. And she asked me, do I practice Islam and things like
that. So I felt that it was a little bit strange. But, of course, I didn’t want to question it. So I let it be."
Aziz, an African American male principal leading a high school largely african American and latinx with a small number of Muslim students. Aziz shared troubling experiences with coworkers and his overall work environment. Aziz shared valuable views from a racial perspective, as he reflected on his position as not only a Muslim American, but also an African American. He addressed the question of both religion and race playing a role in how he is perceived and lives on a day-to-day basis in American.
Aziz, stated that as a result of Trump’s rhetoric, he had a desire to seek dual citizenship for reasons of safety:
"I think that if Trump becomes the president it might be time to get dual citizenship somewhere
because America’s going down the deep end, a dark road, because we’re fascinated with persona-
lities as opposed to morals and values and specific issues. And that’s a problem. And it makes our
job a little bit more difficult just being a principal, getting our children to think critically, because
they’re exposed to so much pop culture which feeds them the worst part of themselves, which is
Aiman, who has a particularly unique background. Aiman grew up in Pakistan for a large portion of his life and moved to the United States for pursuit of greater professional opportunity and family. He serves as a principal at a school in a prominent metropolitan area. His understanding of Islam and Muslims has been shaped by his experiences growing up around those from other countries who gave him, in what he describes, a very unfortunate and frustrating view of the religion. Aiman does not strongly identify as a practicing Muslim, though he does embrace his Muslim identity. His story offers a unique look into leadership as a Muslim in America, although not necessarily American himself.
When asked about the media in particular, Aiman expressed his opinion that governmental influence plays a role in the coverage:
"Yes, right now, there is Islamophobia, and it’s soon to be replaced by Chinaphobia or Indiaphobia,
any of the above, whenever the State Department decides that it’s time for CNN and MSNBC and
Fox News to start focusing their attention on some other rival that they want to use to unite the
people in the United States and [cause a] mind shift."