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The Impact of Media and Mosques on Political Participation of the Muslim Community


Democracy, with its impact on most countries, is an issue that has raised debates in many parts of the world. Some individuals support democratic ideals, while others view democracy as the tyranny of the elite because it does not represent the interests of the majority in society and puts the interests of elites at the forefront. In fact, some emphasize that justice should always be sought rather than democracy. Many people in the Western world believe that Muslim minorities do not sympathize with democratic ideals, but modern studies show that most Muslims do support democracy (“Most Muslims want democracy,” 2012); although Democracy allows most individuals or majority to rule (of course with minority constitutional protections). Having the ability to participate in the democratic process, Muslims in the United States are involved in the management of parties and others engage in activism, since they believe that human rights are achieved through lobbying. In the Islamic world, the mosque plays a major role in mobilizing and shaping Muslims’ views on political issues and encouraging them to participate. Moreover, democracy means that the public is in a position of power. However, in a world where direct democracy does not exist, the public must select individuals to represent them and advocate on their behalf.

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Hence, when given a right to partake in politics, how do Muslims engage in the democratic process? It is well known that nowadays Muslims receive negative coverage in the media. What we would expect as a consequence of this negative media coverage is that Muslims would keep a low profile and decrease their participation in politics. Also, we would expect that Mosques be on the defensive and encourage Muslims not to participate in politics to distance themselves from more media attention, which tends to be biased against them. It is evident in Muslim majority countries, where Muslims usually decrease their political mobilization when governments begin to oppress them. Indeed, there is a big difference between government oppression and negative media coverage, but what I see is that the latter leads to societal oppression which will have similar results of government oppression. However, what I argue in this proposed research is that negative media coverage of Muslims in the West increases the political role of Mosques in encouraging Muslims to participate in politics. Thus, this research will attempt to establish the connection between religious institutions, such as mosques, and how media shape Muslim minorities’ views on political participation in the Western world. The research will take Muslims in the United States as a case study. It is because the United States is seen as one of the countries that most effectively apply democratic principles. Moreover, the United States has a long history of the development of its institutions as a result of the requirements and attention of its social and demographic issues. One fact that makes the United States a unique democracy regarding domestic politics worldwide is that they consist of immigrants and have large numbers of minorities.

Literature Review

Mosques and Political Participation

The importance of political participation

Some scholars argue that active citizenry is one of the most important features of democracy (Dalton, 2000). The active citizenry supports democracy because it assumes popular interest participation in politics, which contributes to the realization of the social goals. More importantly, it is claimed that the legitimacy and the functioning of democracy are achieved only through public participation in political life (Dalton, 2000).

Rosenstone and Hansen (1993) indicate the direct relationship between the turnout decline and the changes in elite behavior. The authors stress that mobilization becomes a way of active participation in American politics. They emphasize the role of choice in the expansion of the pool of political participants (Rosenstone & Hansen, 1993). Politicians, parties, and interest groups play a crucial role in this process. The attitude of Muslim Americans toward democracy and the political process in the United States is touched upon in the works of Leonard, Choi, Gasim, Patterson, Aydin, Hammer, and other scholars. The urgency of the problem is obvious due to the cautious and twofold attitude of Americans to immigrants from Islamic countries. Such an attitude complicates the integration of Muslims into American society:

“April 18, 2008, Chronicle Review…featured on its front page a picture of a young Palestinian man wearing a black headband and holding up a Qur’an and a rifle. The picture was intended to attract attention to an article contained in the issue titled ‘How Just is Islam’s Just-War Tradition?’ by Evan R. Goldstein (Aydin & Hammer, 2010, p. 1-2). This article is not unique as the problem is widely discussed in the media. The situation is sharpened by the last military conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, and other Muslim countries: ‘Not all Muslim-Americans have diasporic ties to these countries, but each instance serves as an example of why some Muslim-Americans experience frustration or apathy’ (Fatima, 2013, p. 346).

Also, the rise in anti-Muslim crimes makes the American Muslim community more assertive about their American identities (Leonard, 2003). However, they become more mobilized to fight for the preservation of their civil rights and liberties. Social connections play an important role in this context. It is argued that the networks should be viewed not only as of the set of contacts among people but rather as the mutual obligations among them (Putnam, 2000). For instance, the 2004 presidential campaign showed that members of the Muslim communities actively participated in the political process, especially when they had to express their attitude toward salient issues and when they had strong opinions on them (Choi, Gasim, & Patterson, 2011). In this regard, “Muslim American political claims that are not aligned with existing foreign policy and that may speak the language of affective response are often disregarded as epistemically untrustworthy (that is, disloyal and suspect)” (Fatima, 2013, p. 346). Fatima (2013) claims that Muslim Americans should actively participate in the development of American foreign policy as well as inform the public about their participation with the purpose of striving for their loyalties and values.

The majority of the studies focused on the explanation of cross-national differences in political engagement with a particular emphasis on voting. It is not surprising that voting takes an important place as it represents not only the vital element of the democratic political process but also the vast range of turnout data (Dalton, 2000). It has been found that a complex set of institutional factors determines national turnout rates. In particular, such factors as “voter registration systems, electoral procedures, and the degree of political competition in the society and the party system plays a crucial role in the voting process (Dalton 2000, p. 928). Dalton (2000) claims that the patterns of participation in the political process change. He also stresses that the participation ratio in political campaigns and voting decreases in many industrialized countries with developed democracies. However, the frequency of engagement in other activities rises (Dalton, 2000). In addition, political institutions respond to changes and new tendencies in accordance with the political moods of society.

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Scholars outline the individualization of the modern political process. This tendency reflects the fact that although citizens become more interested in political and social activities, they try to engage in these activities for personal gain. Moreover, citizens tend to make their own political decisions regardless of the views of political and social organizations. In this respect, they try to avoid the structured and institutionalized methods of political participation and use the methods of direct democracy, including membership in community groups and social movements. Citizen action becomes a crucial factor in American politics. Such types of individualization of the political process lead to the heterogeneity of the public interest (Dalton, 2000).

Religious institutions and political mobilization

Some scholars focus their attention on the role of religious institutions in political mobilization. It has been found that the church embodies the religious tradition, which has an important place in political mobilization (Smidt, 1999). In addition, church attendance may influence or shape peoples’ attitudes and behavior toward political issues and make its visitors more active in terms of civic participation. The findings of Jones-Correa and Leal (2001) confirm recent studies. In particular, they prove the importance of the role of associational membership for civic behavior. The authors claim that associational membership and political engagement are two closely connected concepts. In this respect, church membership represents an important civic association, engaging its members in political and social processes (Jones-Correa & Leal, 2001).

For Muslim communities, the number of mosques and their participants is increasing. Statistics show that, on average, each mosque includes more than 1,625 Muslims actively participating in religious life (Bagby, Perl, & Froehle, 2001). Furthermore, Dodds (2002) claims that the mosque itself is more than an architectural building because it represents an Islamic community with its functions and specific nature supporting religious life. The majority of mosques are involved in activities other than being a place to pray. In particular, they visit a school or church to present Islam, work with the media, contact a political leader, and participate in interfaith dialogue (Bagby et al., 2001). Mosques often provide cash assistance. Interestingly, many of them participate in counseling and in helping the imprisoned. They also assist the poor by providing food and clothing. Statistics show that more than half of American mosques are associated with other Muslim organizations (Bagby et al., 2001).

It should be stated that “Mosque participants are therefore situated in a unique and multifunctional locale that serves their inspirational, communal, and social needs” (Jamal, 2005, p. 537). The author distinguishes between peculiarities of different Muslim diasporas. For example, the mosques of Arab Muslims are actively involved in politics. They have opportunities provided by their membership in civil society. Furthermore, their activity is characterized by strong group consciousness: “For African and Arab Americans, the mosque serves as a collectivizing forum that highlights common Muslim struggles in mainstream American society” (Jamal, 2005, p. 537). In contrast, “though the mosques of the South Asian nations contribute to the participation of their members in the political process, they do not strive to increase the levels of political engagement as well as the levels of group consciousness” (Jamal, 2005, p. 537).

Media Effect

The literature on political behavior enumerates various potential factors that can affect how people vote. These include long-term factors (such as class, age and gender) as well as short-term factors (such as current issues and the context of each particular election). The rational choice model, in particular, suggests that individuals elect representatives according to one of the following basic factors: ideology, issues, or the likelihood of being better off under a particular candidate (Down 1957). For democracy to survive, individuals must be politically active. The educated, the rich and those with a sense of efficacy are considered more likely to participate in civic actions (Rosenstone & Hansen, 1993). Thus, efforts must be made to inform the less-educated, the poor and the uninterested as to important political issues in order to encourage their participation as well. As the main source of information in contemporary society, the media plays a vital role in shaping public opinion. The media’s crucial function is illustrated by candidates who position themselves and their policies in accordance with media preferences or by the public that forms its voting patterns based on media coverage of presidential candidates. Scholars continue to debate the role of the media. While some contend that it chiefly provides a beneficial service by informing the public of important electoral issues and the credentials of the respective candidates, others perceive the media as negatively impacting the political sphere by manipulating public opinion, and by extension, public voting behavior.

Several previous studies have demonstrated the extent to which Americans are ill-informed with respect to politics. Delli Carpini (2005), for example, offers a survey of the history of public knowledge over the course of the previous fifty years to illustrate that public knowledge of politics in the United States is fundamentally lacking. The level of knowledge among average citizens has been stable in the last half-century, which suggests that Americans have little or no concern about politics today, just as they did fifty years ago. Moreover, Bartles (2005) illustrates this lack of knowledge by drawing our attention to the supportive attitudes among citizens for policies like the Bush tax cuts in 2001, attitudes he describes as irrational and egotistical. According to Bartles (2005), Americans pay inadequate attention to economic inequality and are therefore less informed regarding the implications of economic policies like the Bush tax cuts. Bartles (2005) insists that increasing the level of information among the public will have a significant positive impact on the public’s political behavior. Both these studies indicate that information and education play a crucial role in encouraging ordinary Americans to participate, know more, care more and remain engaged in politics. Therefore, the “media” environment offers unique opportunities for participation and information sharing in democratic societies. Media can spark individuals’ interest, enhance awareness of public activities, and increase political participation in any given society. In the United States, however, since 1964 electoral turnout rates have significantly declined, and some scholars blame the media. Rather than motivate the public to engage politically, the media may discourage such activity. This discouragement should have more impact on Muslim Americans. The news may very well arouse feelings of dissatisfaction with regard to politics and make political engagement appear inconsequential and nasty. Political scientist Robert Putnam (1995), for instance, in his article “Tuning In, Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America,” cites television as the main cause for low civic engagement among Americans. Putnam (1995) argues that attending to political and entertainment media takes time away from the public’s engagement in other activities, especially community activities, which thus inevitably reduces American social capital. According to Putnam (1995), social capital represents those “features of social life—networks, norms, and trust—that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives.” Therefore, following this theory of Putnam’s, the research will likewise demonstrate how the media negatively impacts representative democracy in the United States and compare it with how Muslim Americans have not abstained from political engagement.

The media may negatively impact public attitudes and political behavior in several potential ways. Of particular interest is the manner in which the media can increase political cynicism that then fundamentally decreases political efficacy and trust in political institutions, and results in the public with less motivation to participate in elections (Mutz & Reeves, 2005). Some of the strongest findings in this area are associated with the effects of agenda-setting and priming (Iyengar & Kinder, 1987). According to Iyengar and Kinder (1987), agenda-setting occurs when those watching news programming come to believe that the nation’s most significant problems are those issues that are given the most attention by the news media. Priming refers to “changes in the standards that people use to make political evaluations,” and this phenomenon arises when news coverage and content suggest to viewers that they ought to use specific issues as criteria for evaluating politician performance (Iyengar & Kinder, 1987, p. 63). Agenda-setting and priming allow the media to influence behavior by making individuals focus on certain issues, and telling individuals how to think about these issues. In this way, news media determine the standards by which people make their decisions and evaluate politicians and the political sphere more generally (Iyengar & Kinder, 1987). Other negative impacts of the media can be attributed to highly partisan news television coverage, as in the case of channels like FOX. The selective exposure of such channels has a potentially negative influence on audience behavior. According to Iyengar and Hahn (2009), individuals will choose news that agrees with their political views and beliefs. In this respect, the choice of news coverage reinforces previously held views and increases avoidance of unfavorable news-based opinions. Thus, those who receive their news only from partisan media like FOX are less likely to be interested in a wider range of important issues. It can contribute to further partisan divides in society. Mutz and Reeves (2005) identify another potential negative impact of news media with the term “civility crisis,” which refers to public distrust of politicians inculcated by their uncivil attitudes towards each other. Mutz and Reeves (2005) study the effects of televised incivility on public attitudes toward political institutions. Their findings indicate that people expect political actors on television to obey the same social norms acknowledged by the public. When this fails to occur, however, the public adopts a sense of distrust with regard to politicians and the political process. The use of attack advertisements has a similar negative impact on the electorate’s attitude (Ansolabehere, Iyangar, Simon, & Valentino, 1994). Political candidates have the option of campaigning positively by presenting sound evidence as to why voters should support and vote for their policies, instead of those of their opponent. However, the negative campaign has become a common and effective method for candidates to prevent their opponents from gaining votes. Ansolabehere et al. (1994) argue that campaigns can either mobilize or demobilize, according to the nature of the messages they generate. Their findings demonstrate that because attack advertisements are demobilizing tools, negative campaigning causes an overall reduction in voter turnout.

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Martin (2004) has challenged this research by revealing that negative campaigns can encourage mobilization in the United States, as they stimulate problem awareness, prompt anxiety about candidates, and create the illusion that electoral races are closer than they are (which is consistent with my main argument on Muslim Americans). These three factors offer indirect routes to mobilization. Interestingly, the closeness of an election is related to rational choice theory according to which voters make rational voting choices based on select, self-interested criteria. Martin (2004) insists that “Rational actor models suggest that citizens participate in politics if the utility of their participation outweighs the cost of their effort. And the marginal utility of a vote is directly related to the closeness of a race…Negative campaigns may signal to potential voters the relative closeness of a race” (550). Similarly, Zaller (1998) studied President Clinton’s counterintuitive boost in job rating in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky affair. In so doing, Zaller (1998) demonstrated that the media alone cannot move public opinion. Before news of the Lewinsky affair, Clinton’s job approval rating averaged approximately 60%. After the story broke, the media provided heavy, negative coverage of Clinton. However, ten days after the coverage, Clinton’s approval rating was approximately ten percentage points higher than it was previously. Such an occurrence accords with the rational choice model; individuals support those who are best suited to run the economy and who will ultimately make the voter better off financially. Zaller (1998) thus suggests that the media cannot directly change people’s behavior. While the media maintains some limited influence, it is only one element among a host of influential forces that includes interest groups, partisan opposition, and the economic climate.

Research Questions

  1. To what extent do Muslims minorities participate in the affairs of political parties and interest groups?
  2. To what extent are mosques involved in encouraging Muslim minorities to participate in political issues?
  3. To what extent the media helps or hurt in American representative democracy?


  1. The majority of Muslims participate in the affairs of political parties and special interest groups because they believe in democracy and its values.
  2. The mosque has a great investment in organizing and encouraging Muslim minorities to participate in politics.
  3. Increased negative media coverage of Muslims is associated with increased Muslim political participation through mosques.

Additional Information Needed

To prove the first hypothesis stating that the majority of American and British Muslims participate in the affairs of political parties and special interest groups because they believe in democracy and its values, additional information is needed. In particular, the materials reviewed do not provide a clear insight into the political views of the majority of Muslims in the United States and England.

Besides, it is important to find out to which political parties most of them belong, or to determine whether a clear stratification of the Muslim community in the selected countries on the principle of political preferences exists. It should be identified which political ideology most American and British Muslims follow. Although it is stated that Muslims are becoming more active participants in the political process in the United States and England, their attitude toward democracy is not clear. In this respect, it is vital to understand their interpretation of the term democratic society.

The information presented in the reviewed materials does not address the question of gender discrimination in Muslim communities. It is crucial to know whether it exists among Muslims. Besides, it would be logical to analyze the differences in the views of American and British Muslims on democracy depending on their social and economic status, as well as education. The information presented in the reviewed materials also does not touch upon the opinions of Muslims on the most urgent problems in American and British politics. It should be stated that the literature reviewed is relevant for the research, but additional information is necessary to test the stated hypothesis.


Quantitative research is a kind of study that uses figures to arrive at certain conclusions. In this regard, the research would take the form of a survey whereby the researcher identifies the sample population and sends questionnaires to them. In this study, there would be a comparison of the relationships among variables to establish the cause and effect. It would demand a method that would be objective and able to generalize the findings statistically. A quantitative method is the most appropriate method to use in this research, and it involves the systematic empirical study of a phenomenon by applying statistical tools. It would enable the researcher to test the hypotheses put forth for validity and allow the use of a sample as a representation of the entire population. Moreover, this method would help to determine the views of the Muslim minority on democracy and would also help in finding if there is any relationship between religious institutions, such as the mosque, and political participation.


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