- Former president of the Islamic Society of North America
- Former board of trustees member with the North American Islamic Trust
See also: Islamic Society of North America North American Islamic Trust
Ingrid Mattson is a professor at the MacDonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, where she serves as Director of Islamic Chaplaincy.
Mattson was born in 1963 in Ontario, Canada, to Roman Catholic parents. She abandoned her Christian faith as a teenager. In the 1980s she attended the University of Waterloo, Ontario, where she studied philosophy. There she befriended a group of Muslims and converted to Islam during her senior year. Prior to her conversion, Mattson was a self-described "atheist or agnostic, or maybe [someone who was] just simply indifferent [toward religion]."
Following her graduation in 1987, Mattson relocated to Pakistan, where she worked until 1988 with Afghan refugee women. In 1995 she served as an advisor to the Afghan delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. In 1999 she earned her Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago.
In a talk she delivered at a 2000 Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) conference in Canada, Mattson lauded the work of Islamic revivalist and jihadist Maulana Abul A'la Maududi, an author who had written, approvingly, in his 1980 book Jihad in Islam:
“Islam wishes to destroy all States and Governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam regardless of the country or the Nation which rules it … Islam does not intend to confine this revolution to a single State or a few countries; the aim of Islam is to bring about a universal revolution.”
A course taught by Mattson at the Hartford Seminary, entitled "The Koran and Its Place in Muslim Life and Society," featured readings from texts by Maududi and the Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb.
In 2001, Mattson became vice president of ISNA.
At an October 2001 open forum sponsored by CNN, Mattson was asked by a participant to comment on Wahhabism, an extreme, intolerant form of Islam with myriad ties to Saudi Arabia and Islamic terrorism. Mattson responded:
In 2002 Mattson authored a chapter, titled “Stopping Oppression: an Islamic Obligation,” in the book September 11: Religious Perspectives on the Causes and Consequences. She wrote:
“No, it’s not true to characterize Wahhabism that way. This is not a sect. It is the name of a reform movement that began 200 years ago to rid Islamic societies of cultural practices and rigid interpretation that had acquired over the centuries. It really was analogous to the European Protestant Reformation.”
“… Muslims perceive that Israeli aggression against Palestinians continues without American sanction; indeed, enormous financial and military support for Israel has continued. It seems that any Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation is termed ‘terrorism,’ and is responded to with overwhelming force. The result is the Palestinians themselves are increasingly showing less restraint in the force they employ to defend their families and lands.”
Mattson went on to condemn American foreign policy as a negative influence not only in the Middle East, but all over the world:
“The American government has not criticized sufficiently the brutality of the Israeli government, believing that it needs to be ‘supportive’ of the Jewish state. The result is that oppression, left unchecked, can increase to immense proportions, until the oppressed are smothered with hopelessness and rage….”
In a September 2002 interview with PBS, Mattson stated that she did not see “any difference” between Christian leaders criticizing Islam or al Qaeda on the one hand, and Osama bin Laden citing “Islamic theology to justify violence against Americans” on the other.
Not limiting herself to speaking out exclusively on matters related to
religion and international relations, Mattson on occasion has taken up
the cause of environmental activism. In 2003, for instance, she was a signatory
to a letter titled “Global Warming: An Interfaith Call for Repentance
and Renewal,” which specifically blamed the U.S. for the proliferation
of global greenhouse emissions and advocated the creation of “a
sustainable economy” that might help to heal “earth’s wounds.” Other
signers included William Sloane Coffin, Robert Edgar, and Cora Weiss.
In 2006 Mattson was named president of ISNA, thereby becoming the first female and the first Muslim convert to head the organization.
At the opening of ISNA’s 43rd annual convention in 2006, Mattson expressed her dismay that the phrase “Islamic terrorism” had gained such wide popular currency. “I’m convinced that it is not only inaccurate, but unhelpful,” Mattson said, suggesting that U.S. officials should simply refer to “terrorism, crime, [or] violence,” with no mention of any religious connection.
Mattson was an advisory board member for a 2006-2007 Pew Research Center public opinion survey on the demographics, attitudes, and experiences of Muslim Americans. Among her fellow Board members were: (a) Ihsan Bagby, who is affiliated with the Muslim Alliance of North America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Islamic Society of North America; and (b) Zahid H. Bukhari, Project Director for the Islamic Circle of North America.
In a 2007 interview with the Baltimore Sun, Mattson complained that Americans were unduly judgmental of Muslims generally, and that their fear of Islamic terrorism had been blown out of all proportion: “There’s a prejudgment, a collective judgment of Muslims, and a suspicion that, well, ‘you may appear nice, but we know there are sleeper cells of Americans,’ which of course is not true. There aren’t any sleeper cells.”
Speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in March 2007, Mattson stated: “Right-wing Christians are very risky allies for American Jews, because they [the Christians] are really anti-Semitic. They do not like Jews and [they harbor the] fundamentalist belie[f] that it would be desirable for all Jews to return to Israel.”
In August 2008 Mattson was a keynote speaker at an interfaith gathering held at the Democratic National Convention.
In 2008, Mattson was a member of the "leadership group" for the U.S. Muslim Engagement Project, which sought to achieve "a clear and strong consensus on a strategy to enhance U.S. and international security by working more intensively and directly on the underlying causes of tension with key Muslim countries and communities." Other
of the leadership group were Ziad
(and his wife, Daisy Khan), former Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright, and former former U.S.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard
September 2008 the Initiative issued a 154-page recommendation
paper -- a number of whose suggestions (on how to improve
America's relationship with Muslims globally) were eventually adopted
by President Barack
Obama's administration. The paper specifically called
on the U.S. to engage opposition parties (including the Muslim
Brotherhood) in Egypt, and to use intermediaries to immediately
-- in hopes of moderating the terror group.
After the Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders in 2008 produced a short political film titled Fitna, which held that acts of Islamic terrorism could be traced quite clearly to passages and mandates in the Koran, Mattson offered a negative assessment of the filmmaker. Suggesting that he "has directed most of his hatred in recent years at Muslims," Mattson said that "Wilders' actions are designed to hurt, offend, and even intimidate." Further, she decried "the voices of self-proclaimed nationalists – really, racists – like Wilders, [who] often seem louder and more powerful because they are threatening."
In January 2009, Mattson delivered a prayer at the National Prayer Service, one of the events associated with the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
In June 2009, Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett invited Mattson to work on the White House Council on Women and Girls.
Mattson formerly served, along with ISNA’s past president Muzammil Siddiqi, on the board of trustees at the North American Islamic Trust, which has had close ties to both the Muslim Brotherhood and the now-defunct Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development.
In early 2011, Mattson stepped down from her post as ISNA president. She currently sits on the board of
directors at the Universal School in Bridgeview, Illinois, an
institution that has received generous funding from the SAAR Foundation.
In late 2011, Mattson was appointed to an endowed chair in a new Islamic Studies Program at Huron College. That chair was endowed mostly by two organizations — the Muslim Association of Canada and the Virginia-based International Institute of Islamic Thought — both of which are influenced by Islamist ideology.