Acting Muslim

64 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2017 Last revised: 10 Apr 2018

Date Written: March 1, 2017


The election of Donald Trump as the forty-fifth President of the United States ushered in an era of heightened state and popular suspicion of Muslim Americans. Trump’s hardline rhetoric, policy proposals and executive orders – most notably the so-called “Muslim Ban” – enhanced the presumption that Islam is tied to terrorism. In rapid time, the Trump Era intensified a national climate that pressures Muslim Americans to perform their religious identity in ways that make them less identifiable as Muslims, and resultantly, less vulnerable to the suspicion of the state and the backlash of private actors.

This Article defines this identity performance as “Acting Muslim” – the process whereby Muslim Americans strategically negotiate and publicly perform a religious identity stigmatized by counterterror policy. By holding Muslim identity to be presumptive of terror threat, prevailing counterterror policies incentivize expressions of Muslim identity deemed unsuspicious and non-threatening by the state. However, Muslim Americans that confirm their religious identity through outward expression affirm and invite counterterror suspicion, and therefore, are more likely to experience Free Exercise violations. On the other hand, actors that confirm, downplay or entirely conceal their Muslim identity voluntarily choose to diminish their Free Exercise rights in exchange for insulation from state suspicion, surveillance, and punitive action.

By developing a theoretical and conceptual framework of Acting Muslim, this Article equips scholars with the analytical tools to analyze Free Exercise controversies involving Muslim Americans during the Trump Administration, and a war on terror that will most certainly be carried forward beyond his tenure. After framing a theory of Acting Muslim, this Article investigates its attendant four forms – Confirming, Conforming, Covering and Concealing Islam – through case law and case studies.

Suggested Citation

Beydoun, Khaled, Acting Muslim (March 1, 2017). Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (CR-CL), Vol. 53, 2018, Available at SSRN:

Khaled Beydoun (Contact Author)

Wayne State University Law School ( email )

471 Palmer
Detroit, MI 48202
United States

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