Moving Beyond Tradition

December 10, 2006

Source: The Indianapolis Star

Ingrid Mattson's recent election as president of the Islamic Society of North America gave the organization headquartered in Plainfield a national spotlight it's never known.

The white, Canadian-born woman who grew up Catholic before converting to Islam in 1987 has appeared on CNN and NPR, been written up in The New York Times and was even mentioned in the "Feminist News" column of Ms. Magazine online.

But more than 100 days into her term, most agree it is still too early to tell whether Mattson can help American Muslims overcome the scrutiny and suspicion they've faced since 9/11, or to gauge how she may improve the role of Muslim women in U.S. mosques.

It's even unclear whether she can be much of a force in ISNA, an umbrella group for Muslim organizations that has always been led by men and seen primarily as the representative of immigrants from Asia. Still, ISNA members are proudly holding up Mattson's election as proof that American Muslims are more open-minded about women's rights than they are credited for. It's also been heralded as a sign of generational change -- that Muslim immigrants who arrived as college students in the 1960s and '70s are passing the torch to Muslims who were born in the West.

Mattson, 43, says there is no getting around the fact that the election of a woman is a big step for ISNA.