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MOSQUES, COLLECTIVE IDENTITY, AND GENDER DIFFERENCES AMONG ARAB AMERICAN MUSLIMS Amaney Jamal ß5) Theories on gender and political engagement and participation have found that women in general are less politically engaged than men (Verba, Burns, and Schlozman 1997; Burns, Schlozman, and Verba 2001). Scholars have attributed higher levels of male participation to the availability of political resources as educational levels, income and employment opportunities (Dalton 1988; Scholzman, Burns, and Verba 1984; Rosenstone and Hansen 1993). Few studies have examined the ways in which women of ethnic minorities or, specifically, immigrant women are affected by this gender dynamic (Lien 1998). Immigrant women face a host of obstacles that pose serious difficulties for mainstream political participation in the United States. Learning about politics in a new environment is a process of cognitive reach and behavioral competence, which involves confronting and hurdling numerous barriers: acquiring language, interacting with and in American culture, and reconciling both homeland and American identities in their daily lives. Some immigrants find themselves in networks or communities where they are able to reproduce many aspects of their lives in the homeland. Others find themselves in environments completely detached from co-ethnics. Needing to adjust to a new form of life, immigrants face challenges compounded by the reception with which immigrants are greeted in their new homes. Fear of others with different backgrounds, wariness of those who speak a different language , and unease about the impact immigrants have on the availability of jobs all mediate the way immigrants understand themselves as members of JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EAST WOMEN'S STUDIES Vol. 1, No. 1 (Winter 2005). C 2005 54 ot JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EAST WOMEN'S STUDIES a political society. For immigrants, then, the cognitive and behavioral pathways to ideal citizenship involve specific challenges that those who benefit from birth in the US do not face and that may present themselves differently to men and women. In this plethora of literature on gender and political participation, we know little about the factors that either promote or stifle female immigrant patterns of political participation and engagement. More specifically, very little is known about the factors that encourage or depress patterns of Muslim Arab immigrant political participation in the US. When are Muslim Arab women more likely to exercise their political voices? And which factors mediate their decisions to actively engage the political process around them? In this paper, I argue that the differences in political engagement among Arab Muslim men and women are not solely constructed by factors specific to gender per se; rather, they are mediated by specific patterns of civic engagement and involvement in the US. More specifically, because the Arab Muslim women in my sample of Arab immigrants from the Detroit metro area are more likely than men to be involved in mosques and ethnic organizations , their levels of group consciousness are higher than their male counterparts '. Women see their location in the US as one linked to broader communal Arab and Muslim interests, while men tend to situate themselves vis-à-vis their personal economic success. Further, because these Arab Muslim women see their interests linked to larger communal priorities, they are more willing than their male counterparts to exercise their political voices when they perceive the community is targeted. RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS AND POLITICAL PARTICIPATION The academic community has long been interested in the role played by religious institutions in fostering American civic and political engagement (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995; Calhoun-Brown 1996; Jones-Correa and Leal 2001; Wuthnow 1999; Peterson 1992; Greenberg 2000; Smidt 1999). Dating back to the early 1800s, Tocqueville was fascinated by the direct relationship between church participation and the increased voluntaristic virtues of American citizens. Through church participation, he believed, citizens forge meaningful ties that prevail across pre-existing social cleavages and enhance the potential for meaningful civic involvement. More recent scholarship has focused on the extent to which religious sites bolster the civic skills deemed AMANEY JAMAL ot 55 necessary for democratic forms of participation. Democratic theory, both as practice and discourse, necessitates the involvement of an engaged citizenry (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995). An engaged and concerned person approaches the ideal citizen. Religious institutions are communities, groups of people who...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9579
Print ISSN
1552-5864
Pages
pp. 53-78
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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