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Islamic Headcovering and Political Engagement: The Power of Social Networks

  • Aubrey Westfall (a1), Özge Çelik Russell (a2), Bozena Welborne (a3) and Sarah Tobin (a4)

This article explores the relationship between headcovering and women's political participation through an original online survey of 1,917 Muslim-American women. As a visible marker of religious group identity, wearing the headscarf can orient the integration of Muslim women into the American political system via its impact on the openness of their associational life. Our survey respondents who cover are more likely to form insular, strong ties with predominantly Muslim friend networks, which decreased their likelihood of voting and affiliating with a political party. Interestingly, frequency of mosque attendance across both covered and uncovered respondents is associated with a higher probability of political participation, an effect noted in other religious institutions in the United States. Yet, mosque attendance can simultaneously decrease the political engagement of congregants if they are steered into exclusively religious friend groups. This discovery reveals a tension within American Muslim religious life and elaborates on the role of religious institutions vs. social networks in politically mobilizing Muslim-Americans.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Aubrey Westfall, Department of Political Science, 26 East Main Street, Norton, MA 02766. E-mail:; or to: Özge Çelik Russell, Political Science and Public Administration Department, Gazi University, Beşevler, Ankara 06500, Turkey. E-mail:; or to: Bozena Welborne, Smith College, Government Department, 7 College Lane, Northampton, MA 01063. E-mail:; or to: Sarah Tobin, Middle East Studies Department, Brown University, 1 Prospect Street, Providence, RI 02912. E-mail:
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We would like to thank Paul Djupe and the anonymous reviewer for their useful feedback on this manuscript. This research would not have been possible without generous support from Virginia Wesleyan College and the University of Nevada, Reno. A previous version of this article was presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association.
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