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Madame President

Ingrid Mattson stands to change the way you think about Islam (even if you are Muslim).


Ingrid Mattson stands to change the way you think about Islam (even if you are Muslim).

In September, more than 30,000 Muslims converged on Chicago to hear the inaugural speech of the new president of the Islamic Society of North America. The person who commanded their attention was a diminutive, unassuming 43-year-old professor named Ingrid Mattson-the first woman to head the largest Muslim organization on the continent.That Mattson is not only a woman but also a convert makes her an unconventional voice for the estimated six million Muslims in North America. One of seven children, she grew up Catholic in a working-class town in Ontario. She turned to Islam in college, inspired by Muslim students from West Africa, whom she remembers as being, despite their poverty, "the most naturally generous people I had ever known."Mattson teaches Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary, in Hartford, Connecticut, and in the classroom, as in the world, she encourages people to examine the ways in which societies wield and distribute power. "The most important quality of a human being is self-awareness," she says. In her new role as ISNA president, she hopes to persuade Muslim communities to "rethink" the institutional structures that sometimes limit women's participation.
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Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere who denounce those acts [of terrorism] do so in the name of Islam as well.
Mattson's election troubles some conservative Muslims, who cite a text of the Prophet that warns against entrusting women with leadership. At the other end of the spectrum, a few progressives have questioned whether the traditionalist ISNA, which has been slow to move on the issue of Muslim women's rights, is truly open to change-even with a woman in its highest leadership role.But Mattson's supporters are legion, as evidenced by the robust applause she received in Chicago. And Mattson is more than ready to embrace the challenges of office. After all, this is a woman who survived a confrontation with the Taliban: in the late '80s, while volunteering at an Afghan refugee camp, the radical sect tried to forbid girls from attending her classes. She has been vocal in denouncing extremists ever since. She insists that Muslims in the West have a "special obligation" to speak out against such abuses of Islam.At the same time, she's concerned about how the events of 9/11 have been exploited to cast suspicion on all Muslims. She points out that while some extremist groups claim justification for their acts in the tenets of Islam, "Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere who denounce those acts do so in the name of Islam as well." One of her first acts at the ISNA was to rebuke President Bush for using the controversial term "Islamic fascism." If Mattson has her way, phrases like "Islamic ethics" and "Islamic charity" will soon be part of the conversation instead. "It is difficult to do the right thing," says Mattson. "But God created us free, and the reward for a free act of goodness is great."LEARN MORE isna.net
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