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De Jure Liberty and De Facto Discrimination: The Headscarf and the Politics of (Dis)-Engagement Among Muslim American Women

November 14, 2013

201 Moses

Bozena C. Welbourne, University of Nevada, Reno

Mainstream American perception often associates Islamic headcoverings with a politicized Islam as well as religious radicalism, especially in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001. However, unlike in most European or Muslim majority countries, wearing Islamic headcoverings is neither legally required nor proscribed in the United States. Therefore, the practice of veiling does not engage questions of state authority or political fractioning as directly in the American context as elsewhere. This presentation explores whether the choice to wear an Islamic headcovering has any political motivation among Muslim-American women and, perhaps more importantly, how veiling impacts the political practices and participation of Muslim women in the U.S. Our findings reveal the headscarf has a distinct impact on voting behavior and political party affiliation that is entirely separate from religiosity and more connected to the role of the headscarf as an identity marker. We use a mixed-methods approach including an online survey administered to 1917 Muslim-American women across 49 states, and a series of cross-national focus group interviews to investigate this topic. This scholarship is part of a larger book project, which examines the religious, social, economic, and political motivations underlying the practice of headcovering in the United States.