Paula Miller began wearing her hijab in the classroom this spring.  She wants her students to see her as a Muslim American. Photo by Sarah Mercier.

The terrorist attacks had an impact on both Shajia and Paula.

Shajia says she sensed the tension after the attacks: “It was always there, just more visible.” But she also saw a lot of reaching out from both the Muslims and non-Muslims.

“Suddenly, [Muslims were] a visible community,” says Shajia. “I feel like this [reaching out] was a good thing for the Muslim community.” Shajia believes that it is important for the Muslim community to talk. “They can’t keep their voice quiet,” she says. “They need to engage in the discussion too.”

But Paula does not tell non-Muslims about Islam unless they ask her. And even when she explains aspects of Islam, she believes that they continue to carry a lot of misconceptions.
Her own mother was no different.

When Paula tried to explain the Muslim burial practices to her mother, she was shocked by her mother’s lack of understanding.

“Can we come to your funeral?” her mother asked.

“She still has this impression that there’s some kind of tribal group that only allows its own people in,” laughs Paula. “She thinks that I would convert to a religion that would not let my parents come to my funeral. Why would I be involved with people like that? Come on, mom!”

Paula shares her faith with her children too. She always says a little prayer before dinner. And when they ask questions, she is happy to answer them. The children, raised in a family where there is a combination of Christianity and Islam, have shown interest in both religions.

“They’re pretty equally interesting,” says Fred, adding, “We live in a more Christianity-accustomed society. I know more about it. So I’m more curious about Islam as I don’t know much about it.”

Giullietta seems equally interested in both religions, “Since my grandma is a Christian and my mom is a Muslim, I kind of just go with both of them. I kind of believe in both of them. I’m just learning about them. Probably later I’ll decide [which religion I would choose].”

Paula is pleased with her children’s interest in her faith, but she does not want to interfere too much with their learning process. “If they became Muslims — that would be great. But I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you can impose on them,” she says. “People need to make their own decisions. I hope some day they’ll be able to talk to other people about [Islam] when they grow up, because their mom was a Muslim.”

Paula now goes out of her way to convey her message to others. But when she started wearing her hijab in public last fall, there was one place where she would not wear it: the classroom.

She soon changed her mind.

“Maybe [the students] didn’t realize I was a Muslim. Now they do,” says Paula. “I’m trying to increase that positive influence. Just one person at a time, that still makes a difference.”