Hartford Seminary Scholar Named Society's 1st Female President
August 29, 2006
By Staff and wire reports
The largest Muslim organization in North America has elected a Connecticut scholar as its first female president - a watershed that the group says signals support for women leaders throughout their community.
Ingrid Mattson, a Canadian convert to Islam and an Islamic law scholar at Hartford Seminary, was elected to lead the Islamic Society of North America just ahead of its annual convention, which starts Friday in Rosemont, Ill.
"It's a wonderful message to the Muslim community that Muslim women, who are sometimes seen as less, can rise to these positions," said Sayyid Syeed, the secretary general of the Islamic Society.
The election of Mattson, who could not be reached Monday for comment, drew praise from Ian Markham, the dean of Hartford Seminary.
"I think it's a remarkable achievement," Markham said. "She's a very dynamic appointment."
Her election, he said, "speaks to the determination of [the organization] to reflect authentic Islamic values about the importance and equality of women. ... I think they made a wise appointment."
Mattson is a professor of Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations and also heads the Muslim chaplaincy program at Hartford Seminary, where she has been a member of the faculty for eight years. A married mother of two, Mattson earned a bachelor's degree in Canada from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and a doctorate in Islamic studies from the University of Chicago.
Markham described Mattson as a woman of "deep personal faith" and said she will be an important voice in promoting understanding of Islam in a post-9/11 world. "She has been unequivocally clear in denouncing terrorist acts and explaining they are completely incompatible with Islam," he said.
Formed in 1963, the Islamic Society is an umbrella group that represents Muslim associations for youths, 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.
American Muslims have struggled over the proper role for women, debating most recently how far mosques should go in separating men and women during worship and whether women should lead mixed-gender prayer in mosques.
Still, women have had prominent roles outside of religious services, founding and leading some Islamic groups throughout North America.
The Islamic Society president is only rarely called upon to lead prayer, said Syeed, who added that Mattson will only lead ritual worship for women.
"That does not in any way limit her role as president," Syeed said.
Mattson succeeds Sheik Muhammad Nur Abdullah, the director of the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis, as the Islamic Society president.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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