Immediately after Donald Trump was elected president, I decided to stop wearing my hijab. Despite facing constant Islamophobia over the 12 years I’ve worn a headscarf in America, nothing had ever compelled me to remove it before.
Until Election Day.
America’s next president is someone who’s openly targeted people like me by calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and suggesting we carry I.D. cards. For these reasons, I no longer feel safe at home.
But three days after Trump won the presidency, I was determined to get over my fear, and wore a blue flower-patterned hijab to my doctor’s appointment at a Miami hospital. As soon as I sat down in the waiting room, an older white man one seat away began staring at me. His penetrating eyes made me uncomfortable, but I continued to sit in silence.
Five minutes later, the man took out a pocket knife, opened it, and set it down on the empty seat between us. Terrified, I froze in place, just waiting to be stabbed.
Although I wanted to change seats, I refused to show any signs of weakness, so I stayed put and waited for someone to say something—anything—about the unconcealed weapon beside me. But everyone around us continued their conversations as if nothing happened.
Eventually, the man grabbed the knife and put it back in his pocket. “Deport them all,” he said as he walked away and found another seat far away from me.
Gathering myself, I reported what had happened to the hospital’s staff; they acknowledged that the man shouldn’t have opened his pocketknife, but couldn’t do much because it was no longer unconcealed.
This incident was my worst nightmare come true, but I’d been prepared for it.
On election night, I sat by myself in a hotel room in Washington, D.C., feeling alone and helpless after the results were announced. I cried and worried about the spike in hate crimes that Muslims were sure to now face. Trump’s victory legitimized all the inflammatory rhetoric he spouted during his campaign. Indeed, many of his supporters took it as a green light to confront anyone different from them.
The next morning, I stood in front of the hotel mirror with a hijab in my hands—but I hesitated to put it on my head. For the first time in my life, I was afraid of wearing a hijab, for fear of being harassed or even attacked on the streets. The air felt tense and uncertain.
So, I wore my hoodie instead, and did so for two more days after that.
I’m not the only Muslim woman who’s faced harassment this past week. Fariha Nizam, a 19-year-old living in Queens, New York, said she was riding the bus last Thursday when a white couple harassed her.
“About 10 minutes into the ride, a white couple, somewhere between the range of middle-aged and elderly, got on the bus and came towards the middle section where I was. The two of them started yelling at me, shouting to me to take off my hijab, yelling that it is not allowed anymore,” Nizam wrote on Facebook.
“I never imagined, not even for one fucking moment in my life, that peace of mind is not a basic human right. I never imagined that security and safety were asking too much of a country that claims to be oh so concerned with opportunity, liberty, and love.”
In another Facebook update later on Thursday, Nizam said her father asked that she wear her hijab in a “different manner” for her own safety.
Much like Nizam’s father, my family members have told me to swap my hijab for a hat or hoodie, at least for the time being. Today, I’m not wearing my hijab, but I pray that very soon Muslim women can feel safe enough again to wear whatever we want. It saddens me that I’m forced to hide my religious beliefs just so I can avoid being a target.
The day after Trump was elected president, loved ones flooded my phone with texts, asking me how I felt. Those in America urged me to stay vigilant on the streets and carry pepper spray to protect myself against potential attacks. Those in the Middle East asked if I was going to take off my hijab and move to Canada for the next four years. One after another, the messages piled up.
My answer to them all is: Yes, I’m scared.
But despite everything, I’m still sure of one thing: America is the land of the free and the home of the brave—and I am both free and brave no matter who’s president.
Alaa Basatneh is a human-rights activist and a writer at Fusion focusing on the Arab world. She is the protagonist of the 2013 documentary "#ChicagoGirl."