Two weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, Nora decided to remove her headscarf – for good. Weighing on the mind of the 23-year-old were recent assaults against conspicuous Muslims like herself. State suspicion and private violence would only get worse under Trump, she feared. So she hid part of her identity from the world.
Many Muslim men and women, like Nora, choose to conceal their Muslim identity – or express it in a way that is less “threatening” to others. Some take things one step further: they undertake the extreme measure of erasing their Muslim identity altogether by passing as non-Muslim in public.
While this phenomenon predates Trump, he has certainly intensified it. Acting Muslim, today, is especially dangerous.
This is illustrated by the scores of Muslim women “afraid to wear the headscarf” after Trump claimed the presidency, men shaving their beards to diminish detection that they are in fact Muslims, job-seekers changing their Muslim names on résumés to increase the prospect of a job interview, and the known and unknown stories of Muslims passing as non-Muslims at school, work, or the public sphere at large.
This process is also prevalent in Europe, where Islamophobia is more pronounced than it is in the US and fully enshrined into law. The European Union recently broadened France’s 2004 “headscarf ban”, which prohibits Muslim women from wearing the hijab in public schools, to restrict it within the workplace in EU member states.
These policies, combined with the rise of Islamophobic populism throughout the continent, have had a collateral effect on Muslims men and women – pushing many to remove conspicuous markers of religious identity in the public sphere in order to dodge punitive action from the state or bigots on the street.