The "religious media" is all abuzz with the news that the largest Muslim group in the country, the Islamic Society of North America has just elected a new president - who happens to be a a woman and a Western convert
The first woman president of the largest Muslim group in North America says that she's proud of her community for electing her.
Ingrid Mattson, a Canadian convert to Islam and an Islamic law scholar at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, was chosen to lead the Islamic Society of North America just ahead of its annual convention, which starts Friday in Rosemont, Ill.
"This is a community that can choose to be whatever it wishes to be, unlike many other Muslims throughout the world who don't live in democratic societies," Mattson said Monday in a phone interview from Chicago. "I think it shows what Muslims can do and would like to do."
Formed in 1963, the Islamic Society is an umbrella group that represents Muslim associations for youth, college students, engineers and others, and also provides support to Muslim chaplains and North American mosques. Its annual meeting regularly draws more than 30,000 people.
The president serves a two-year term, leading the society's committees and executive boards that set policy through consultation with its members. Mattson's election was announced late Friday. The organization, based in Plainfield, Ind., has received a few e-mails objecting to her election since then, "but it's a very small minority," Mattson said.
"It was our membership who elected me," she said. "I wasn't foisted upon their community. Really, this is their choice."
American Muslims hold varied cultural views on the proper role for women in the faith and disagree on how to interpret Quranic verses about the subject.
However "progressive" Ms Mattson's image is, concerns have been raised in the past about how moderate she really is and of special interest is her defense of Wahabhism
Though Dr. Ingrid Mattson appears moderate, she is insidious precisely because she maintains that façade while steadfastly refusing to criticize radical Islamists, claiming that there is no such thing as Wahhabism and that the term "Islamic terrorism" should not be used in the media. Most shocking of all, though, is how little concern she expressed about suicide bombings in an essay she wrote shortly after 9/11.
At a CNN-sponsored "town hall" forum in October 2001, Mattson — with a straight face — claimed that the radical, Saudi-sponsored form of Islam known as Wahhabism was akin to the Protestant movement in Christianity. Wahhabism "really was analogous to the European protestant reformation," she explained.
This wasn't an isolated use of the analogy. At a November 2003 roundtable sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies Conference, Mattson said the Wahhabist movement in Islam is "a very old struggle …between the more theologically austere Muslims who like Protestant Christianity believe that there should be no saints there should be no intervention between you and G-d."
Mattson takes a similar "see no evil" approach to the idea of Islamic terrorism. Mattson was one of several Muslim "scholars" quoted in a Washington Times article shortly after 9/11 who claimed that the media should not use the term "Islamic terrorism." Mattson took this stance despite the fact, as the Times paraphrased her, that "Islamic terrorists themselves use this term."
The reason Mattson is able to pass herself off as a moderate is probably because she clears the low bar set for most Muslims: the ability to explicitly condemn suicide bombings. But she hasn't done so for very long. In a remarkably revealing essay Mattson penned for Beliefnet.com in October 2001, she wrote that, until then, Palestinian suicide bombings "simply did not cross my mind as a priority among the many issues I felt needed to be addressed." She stated it as matter-of-factly and inconsequentially as someone who apologizes for forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning because it "simply did not cross my mind as a priority."
There seems little doubt that Mattson's statements would violate UJA's own standard of refusing to participate in an event with someone who expresses a "reluctance to condemn terrorism without qualification." But still she remains the featured speaker of this weekend's interfaith brunch.
Still in the mainstream media's celebration of Ms Mattson's election, none of these statements were highlighted.