An Interview with New ISNA President, Ingrid Mattson

September 5, 2006

Source: Belief Net

Recently Belief Net reported, "When the Islamic Society of Northern American (ISNA) elected Ingrid Mattson, the director of the Islamic chaplaincy program at the Hartford Seminary and vice president of ISNA, as its president last week, Muslims and non-Muslims took note. Mattson is the first female to head the organization, which is the largest, most inclusive Muslim group in North America, with a sizeable political and social reach. Mattson takes ISNA’s helm at a challenging time when American Muslims are struggling to promote their religion, encourage interfaith dialogue, create standards for their community, and separate themselves from the views of extremists. Mattson spoke with Beliefnet’s Islam editor Dilshad D. Ali about her goals for ISNA, why women’s rights isn’t her primary platform, and the new obligation American Muslims have in the fight against terrorism. [Q:]What does your election mean for the women in Muslim leadership roles? Does it have an impact on religious or spiritual leadership as well? [A:] Certainly, it’s both things. First of all, women have been involved on the board of ISNA for many years. In fact, women were founding members of the Muslim Students Association--MSA national--more than 40 years ago. The presidency is looked at by many people as a form of religious leadership. And to that extent I do believe it’s a significant step for the Muslim community to choose a woman as a leader of this organization... [Q:]A lot of women are seeing this election as a victory for Muslim feminism. What does the term 'Muslim feminism' mean to you? [A:]Feminism--the idea that women have rights, that women and men should exert themselves to ensure that women have a meaningful way to achieve their rights--is a good concept. But it shouldn’t be a defining worldview. My agenda is not a narrow one of only looking at the interests of women. I’m looking at the interests of our whole community. We live in a world where we have to be concerned if anyone is suffering injustice. Muslim women shouldn’t be parochial in the sense of only being concerned about women’s issues... [Q:]What’s the next obligation for the American Muslim community? [A:] We have to keep exemplifying the right way of living as Muslims. We should be working with international organizations that monitor human rights in all places, including those places where our own government is suspected of violating human rights. We should be as diligent in doing our duty as citizens of our country in making sure that our government does not violate its values and laws and international law."