Ingrid Mattson — A New Voice for Islam
March 6, 2008

Ingrid Mattson, the first woman and first convert to lead the Islamic Society of North America, describes her experience of Islamic spirituality, which she discovered in her twenties after a Catholic upbringing. We probe her unusual perspective on a tumultuous age for Islam in the West and around the world.

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Selected Readings

The Axis of Good: Muslims Building Alliances with Other Communities of Faith

The St. Lawrence River is 1,900 miles long. Its wide mouth empties its flow into the Atlantic Ocean where buoyant whales and majestic icebergs drift throughout the summer months.

Discovering (not Uncovering) the Spirituality of Muslim Women

It was almost midnight when I parked my car in front of the low plain building. Clearly there were no meaningful zoning regulations in this neighborhood where an Islamic elementary school backed onto the yard of an auto body shop.

Finding the Prophet in His People

I spent a lot of time looking at art the year before I became a Muslim. Completing a degree in Philosophy and Fine Arts, I sat for hours in darkened classrooms where my professors projected pictures of great works of Western art on the wall.

Stopping Oppression: an Islamic Obligation

The terrorist attacks of September 11th have raised important questions about the role of Muslim leaders in shaping a responsible discourse of resistance to oppression and injustice.

Can a Woman be an Imam? Debating Form and Function in Muslim Women's Leadership

Islamic tradition is replete with references to the responsibility each Muslim bears for finding or establishing a group of Muslims with whom he or she can worship and fulfill communal obligations.

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I feel prompted to add a comment or two about last week's SOF broadcast "A New Voice for Islam," a thought-provoking interview with Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America. I admit to some surprise at the distrust and suspicion with which Ingrid Mattson's comments were heard by some SOF listeners. Perhaps these responses are as thought-provoking as the broadcast.

As I read some of the reflections from the program, to my ears, the voices of anger and mistrust and even outrage sound louder and surer of their correctness than the voices of tolerance and patience and mutual respect.

It is not just in America (although the most quoted, influential and typically loudest voices in this country effectively portray the nation as nearly beyond reproach); it seems that anywhere you listen to the leaders in other countries, it is so much more quotable to polarize than to unite, so much easier to listen to blaming than forgiving, and so commonplace and so ubiquitous to accuse and to point fingers.

Here's my thought: let me challenge the subscribers to SOF to listen to our own voices. When we hear what sounds like a higher-pitched vitriolic volume, regardless of the faith tradition, step back, say hey, "there's a better way." The voices of tolerance and patience and mutual respect, like Ingrid Mattson's, in the long run, have been the voices of the wise, the voices of the saints. Since I'm a Catholic Christian, I'll cite Francis of Assisi who once prayed, "where there is hatred, sow love; where there is injury, pardon; seek first to console; seek first to understand; and (perhaps most of all), make me an instrument of Your peace."

I just received the newsletter for this week's program, "Liberating the Founders," and was distressed to read that you received so much hateful email about Ms. Mattson's interview last week. I have heard previous interviews you have had with her and every time she speaks I feel like she is a woman of great faith that inspires me to live closer to God in my own life as a Christian. It seems that people miss the point about how faith and the divine inhabit our lives. I look at this time of Easter as one of the celebration of the example of Jesus's perfect love and trust in God so that he would live for Him not for himself. Ms. Mattson speaks as one who tries to live a life that would be pleasing to God by showing the same mercy, justice and love for others as she does for herself. Whether she follows the Prophet Muhammed or Jesus Christ, how can anyone see evil in that? I look forward to listening to this week's broadcast and considering the wisdom it extolls about our country 's own shaky history with religious extremism. May you continued to be blessed in your work.

I am a member of the armed forces in Korea, and I regularly listen to your show through podcast format; it helps pass the long watches of the night. I recently became interested in Islam in the past few months from listening to the varied shows you've been doing. I particularly enjoyed the current show, "A New Voice for Islam", as well as the one a while back featuring Mr. Johnston, about Islam and diplomacy. There is, in my experience, a tendency to demonize Islam from most of the individuals in the armed forces, but I have tried to resist this. I think it's far too easy to regard all Muslims as "the enemy", rather than to take the time to understand the culture and faith as a whole. I want to thank you for your show, the episodes about Islam particularly, as they've opened up a new understanding of religion within my mind.

I would like to know if you asked Ingrid Matson about how Islam can be viewed as a tolerant or respectful religion, if it teaches that everyone who refuses to become a Muslim is sent to hell? In fact, although Islamic spokespeople constantly talk about how Islam respects the "people of the book" i.e., Jews and Christians, there are many clear statements in the Qur'an that leave no doubt that if you do not accept Islam you are sent to hell when you die(and literally...to hell with everyone who is not a person of the book-about 4 billion people)

I was recently reading The complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam, also written by an American convert to Islam, Yahiya Emerick. Mr. Emerick was, I believe, trying to put the best possible face on Islam, to promote it as a religion of peace, respectful of other faiths, and open to interfaith dialogue. Yet on page 209, it is clear that Islam, like fundamentalist Christianity, is based on extortion as much as love or respect. He answers a question about salvation by saying "Does this mean that Islam accepts Christianity and Judaism as valid paths to salvation? Yes and no." He then goes on to say that "If a person finds out about Islam, then it becomes incumbent uponhim or her to accept it and leave behind the former religion. This is because Islam is consudered to be God's lastand, therefore, most complete message to the world."

Isn't it time for Islamic leaders such as Ingrid Matson to clearly and openly say that Islam should move beyond the teaching of "Islam or hell", the way the Catholic Church finally took that step with Vatican II in the early 1960's ?

Is it possible for Muslims to respect people of other faiths if they accept the Qur'an's clear teaching that to reject Islam is to choose damnation? Muslims can point to many verses in the Qur'an that seem to teach respect for people of other faiths, and statements such as their is no compulsion in faith, yet there are many more verses that leave no doubt as to the fate of those who choose to remain in a faith other than Islam. They are sent to hell. It is the same as the teaching of Christianity for 1,500 years, and it led to genocide and torture of non-Christians. How can people respect other believers when they are taught by their faith (the one true faith) that God sends them to hell, when those people are the "enemies of God"?

It is time to move beyond the "Jesus or hell" and "Qur'an or hell" models of faith. These teachings are extortion, not respectful, and they won't help heal the world. It is time for serious debate about common values and goals, not about which religion or scripture is the perfect truth. Is Ingrid Matson willing to show the courage and decency to say that Islam is not the only path to salvation, to say that people don't have to choose between the Qur'an and hell?

I was quite impressed with Ms. Mattson's podcast. As a Muslim woman born in the West, there are few role models for me it sometimes seems. I often get lost in the hussle and bustle of life, forgetting my own spirituality even as I teach about my faith to others. Ms. Mattson reminded me of the Muslim I want to be. I don't think I could thank her for that properly. I most especially enjoyed the short speech at the end of the podcast, "look to his people and you will find the Prophet" really moved me.

I just want to thank all of you who work on Speaking of Faith for your thoughtful programs. I have never been disappointed in the content. I use a variety of the archived programs to assist in my course on World Religion. I teach at Lake Superior College in Duluth, MN, and I teach on-line. The programs allow me to offer interesting additions to just reading a text for these on-line students. It gives me great joy to hear these students tell me, every semester, how much their view of the world changes as they learn about the various faiths. In particular, learning about Islam these days really makes a difference. Thank you, once again, for providing me with both professional and personal joy from this program.

I enjoyed the Ingrid Mattson program immensely, particularly the part about her wearing of the hijab as a constant reminder of practicing her faith, of seeing the entire world and anywhere she is as a sacred place. It reminded me of what my spiritual teacher says about there not being our spiritual life and our worldly life — they are one life. She also says that the greatest obstacle on the spiritual path is forgetfulness, which I personally find to be true. I know all the things I intend to do, but sometimes I forget, like when I come across an aggressive driver or a sales clerk in a bad mood. I forget to see them as God too! Anyway, although I know that aspect of her wearing of the hijab is a personal one for her, I can see how it could be used as a great reminder to see the world as a sacred place.

I subscribe to a magazine called Ode, and there is a wonderful interview with Fouad Laroui who wrote On Islamism. I don't recall Krista speaking to him in the past, but he sounds like he might be someone she could use in her effort to balance the information about Islamism in the media. The interview is really good — very informative. Thanks and keep up the great work on one of my favorite radio programs!

I am wondering how the vote by the Supreme Court this past week by the five Catholic justices that denies the woman's equality and freedom so eloquently expressed by Justice Ginsberg could be the basis for any kind of preparation for understanding gender issues? Quite frankly, I felt your guest was entangled in her own misunderstanding of how religion really is only a culture perversion that justifies cultural perversions.

In this week's show you made the comment that Islam is unique (perhaps just unusual, I don't remember the precise wording) because the Prophet was married. I don't know where all religions land on this subject, but certainly among the three related religions — Islam, Christianity, and Judaism — Christianity is, in fact, the stand out on this point. Virtually all important Jewish leaders from Abraham to the present have been married. Moses, the pivotal leader of those who would eventually call themselves Jews was not only married, but inter-married. I think it is important to get this right.

I was astonished and appalled by Ingrid Mattson's comments regarding Mohammed's and Islam's view of women! Furthermore, her statement about the West's treatment of women is, at best, an affront to truth in its misleading and selective content. The only way anyone can make that kind of statement is to be completely ignorant about the subject or a bald-faced liar! The facts are that: Islam treats women as mere possessions.

Here are some parts of the Qur'an that stand in the way of Ingrid Mattson's ridiculous statements:
4:34 - "Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other."
2:223 - "Your women are tilth for you to cultivate so go to your tilth as ye will."
2:282 - "Get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women…"
4:34 - "Good women are to be obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to their beds apart, and scourge them."
I wonder what Mattson would say regarding Mohammad's "love" for women to the fact that he married Aisha when she was six years old, and consummating that marriage when she was nine years old! Or what she would say regarding the fact that in Egypt 29 percent of married adolescents have been beaten by their husbands, and 41 percent were beaten during pregnancy. Or the Pakistan Institute of Medical Science's statement that over 90 percent of Pakistani wives have been struck, beaten, or sexually abused — for offenses on the order of cooking an unsatisfactory meal. Others were punished for failing to give birth to a male child.

Or Mohammed's statement: "A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife." Or his wife, Aisha's, statement about Mohammad's treatment of her after she followed him somewhere: "He struck me on the chest which caused me pain." Or how Allah conveniently tells Mohammed that he can marry however many women he wants and says it is "a privilege for thee only, not for the (rest of) believers." Or how a woman's testimony is counted: In court a woman's testimony is worth half as much as a man's. Or how, after a woman came to Mohammed with a child from an adulterous encounter, he told her to come back after the child was weaned. When she did, Muhammad, that lover of women and peace, pronounced judgment: she was put into a ditch and stoned to death. Or that, if raped, a woman has to produce male witnesses. If she cannot, she can be accused of adultery. As many as 75 percent of imprisoned Moslem women are behind bars because they were raped. Or regarding other facts such as female circumcision, women not allowed to go to school, etc. etc. etc.

Mattson's statements are disgustingly, and chillingly, deceptive. She is either a clueless pawn of those wanting to continue the myth of Islam being peaceful, or a willing accomplice. No, not every Moslem believes in these things, but that is not because of Islam, but in spite of it.

People better wake up and actually study what Islam is about instead of listening to what others tell them. In the late 1930s people like British Prime Minister Chamberlain based his views of Germany's growing power not on facts and common sense, but on what the Germans themselves claimed. "Peace in our time!" He said. We know what the outcome was.

Today we are faced with a threat that has been gnawing at the world for centuries. From its inception Islam has sought to conquer the world and to enslave, rape, and slaughter those who do not submit (Islam means submission). Islam is still at it. Take a little time to search for facts, and the truth, for the predator seldom warns its prey.

I have a couple of questions, but it takes a little explanation. It is in regard to today's show featuring the North American president of the Islamic Society. I heard Ms. Mattson say that some people get confused about what is a cultural practice (like "honor killings") and what is Islam. Then I heard her say that women leaders of groups with non-related male members are not considered a good thing (it was not clear if she thought it was a good thing).

I have not read the Koran, so I don't know anything about Islam. But isn't her leadership of a group of non-related male members of the Islamic Society then considered a bad thing? Is the view about women not being leaders of groups that include non-related male members a part of the Koran? Does the Koran view women as unequal to men? Are they thought of as subservient? Thank you, I really do want to know, I am not trying to be provocative.

I love your Web site and Krista's show. It is so insightful. I received this e-mail the same day I received the latest SOF "A New Voice for Islam." No doubt you have seen some of this going around. But if not, here is the attitude we must contend with. Please keep up the good work:

Can a good Muslim be a good American?
This is something I've wondered about for some time now: How and why do the Muslims hate us and everyone else so much? Doesn't their God teach them to love?

Can a good Muslim be a good American?
I sent that question to a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years.

The following is his reply:
Theologically - no, because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon god of Arabia. Religiously - no, because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256) Scripturally - no, because his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Quran (Koran). Geographically - no, because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day. Socially - no, because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews. Politically - no, because he must submit to the mullah (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and Destruction of America, the great Satan. Domestically - no, because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34). Intellectually - no, because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt. Philosophically - no, because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic. Spiritually - no, because when we declare "one nation under God," the Christian's God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as heavenly father, nor is he ever called "love" in The Quran's 99 excellent names.

Therefore after much study and deliberation… perhaps we should be very suspicious of all Muslims in this country. They obviously cannot be both "good" Muslims and good Americans. Call it what you wish… it's still the truth.

If you find yourself intellectually in agreement with the above statements, perhaps you will share this with your friends. The more who understand this, the better it will be for our country and our future. Pass it on, Fellow Americans. This war is bigger than we know or understand.

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is professor of Islamic Studies and the president of the Islamic Society of North America.

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